Why the Flames must act on Johnny Gaudreau’s future now

Brad Treliving talks about the Calgary Flames working on a contract extension with Johnny Gaudreau this summer.

Johnny Gaudreau’s trademark quickness is about to be tested.

If the 27-year-old Flames winger intends to make good on his declaration he’d like to sign an extension with the Calgary Flames, things will have to move quicker than you might think.

The two sides will essentially be working with a deadline of July 28 – NHL free agent day – which is the earliest a new deal could be formalized and announced.

Even though Gaudreau has one year remaining on his contract, if the two sides can’t come to terms by then there will be significant pressure on the Flames to trade him before that day.

Here’s why.

On July 28 his modified no-trade clause kicks in, limiting the number of teams the Flames can swap with to the five clubs of Gaudreau’s choosing.

To avoid being handcuffed much the way the team was when they essentially gave Jarome Iginla away, the Flames have nine weeks to decide the face of the franchise's fate.

Trading Gaudreau as a pure rental during next season limits the number of suitors to playoff contenders who are generally heavily restricted by the salary cap.

A trade of this importance should happen in the summer when no restrictions are hampering the best possible return.

The window to make a deal with Gaudreau is smaller when you consider the expansion draft goes July 21 and the Entry Draft is July 23-24.

That’s traditionally when GM Brad Treliving does most of his heavy lifting, which is only eight weeks out.

If negotiations aren’t progressing with Gaudreau by the end of June the Flames will need to start putting in the significant time and focus required to start piecing together possible deals for him.

If Flames ownership opts to replace Treliving in the next week or two, the window gets even smaller to make inroads on a Gaudreau extension as the team’s new architect would need time to get settled.

It’s quite the quandary for the club, as the most prudent approach is either to re-sign him or trade him.

He’s too important an asset to let walk into free agency or play into his final year, when the trade market shrinks.

Gaudreau made headlines last week after doubling down on his comments from a year earlier when he said he was happy in Calgary and would love to extend his stay.

Saying he wants to stay is easy.

Making it happen won’t be.

Gaudreau is one year away from being an unrestricted free agent, opening the door for him to negotiate with 31 other teams bidding for his services.

With that freedom comes the hammer in negotiations with the team.

If the Flames aren’t willing to meet or come close to his ask, he knows he can shop himself to teams with more cap flexibility in one year. By then, with fans back in the stands for a season, there should be more clarity on what the salary cap might do moving forward.

Pegging a value on Gaudreau one year out won’t be easy, especially in a flat cap world.

Does his 99-point campaign three seasons ago put him in line for a raise on his $6.75 million salary?

You bet it does.

How much has his value come down over the last two seasons (58 and 49 points), which included another disappointing playoff struggle?

Are the Flames keen to commit upwards of $8 or $9 million annually to the playmaking genius?

Or is that money better spent elsewhere for a franchise that will have to qualify Matthew Tkachuk at $9 million next summer when his contract expires?

It appeared Gaudreau’s fate was sealed in March when he responded to the coaching change with just two goals and two assists in his first 14 games under Darryl Sutter’s tight-checking system.

However, give him full credit for fighting his way back into being relevant again, picking up 22 points in his final 16 games.

Separated late from Sean Monahan, who was dealing with a hip injury that required recent surgery, Gaudreau certainly upped his value with a strong finish.

If he does return to the team there will be plenty of excitement around a top line with Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, which was potent after being pieced together down the stretch.

Gaudreau would certainly have to forego the bigger dollars in free agency to stay in Calgary, which would demonstrate unequivocally his desire to stay with the NHL club that was rewarded handsomely by taking a chance on the diminutive college star in the fourth round.

In the meantime, you can bet Treliving will look hard into what Gaudreau’s value is on the trade market, where it is hard to fathom the Flames could land the type of value the former top-ten scorer might have previously garnered.

“At the end of the day it has got to make sense for him and it has got to make sense for us,” said Treliving last week when told of Gaudreau’s wishes to extend in Calgary.

“We’ll see where everything goes. Certainly that’s something we’ll have to discuss as the days and weeks go by.”

The clock is ticking.

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