Clearly a significant overhaul is in order for the Calgary Flames.
Responding to the pressures of a tight playoff race by losing eight of their last nine has proven conclusively that after years of being questioned the core of this team needs to be significantly altered.
And that likely starts with Johnny Gaudreau.
Gaudreau has one year left on his contract before being able to walk without compensation, and the organization can’t repeat what it did by letting Jarome Iginla go for next to nothing.
With the intensity of a playoff race ramped up, Gaudreau is floundering once again. We’ve seen similar struggles in his last three playoff performances and we’re seeing it under Darryl Sutter, for whom he’s scored twice and added two assists in 14 games.
A gifted playmaker who has become one of the game’s stars while living on the periphery, he has regressed under Sutter’s demands for grittier, defence-first, dump-and-chase hockey.
After sputtering in last year’s playoffs, the organization made a conscious effort to shelter him and Sean Monahan on the second line. It hasn’t helped, as the two former 30-goal men have combined for a paltry nine even-strength goals this year.
Both former faces of the franchise mark starting points for how the Flames need to drastically reshape a team that has taken turns demonstrating work ethic issues, and now, a stark inability to score goals.
That said, none of the heavy lifting required to reshape the Flames should, or will, be done before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
That is work that needs to be done with 31 potential suitors at the table and devoid of the salary cap/border restrictions that will handcuff GMs who are already burdened by this summer’s expansion draft.
Like most non-playoff teams, the Flames will most certainly attempt to piece off a few bit parts for late draft picks, but don’t expect GM Brad Treliving to take centre stage anytime soon.
Moves of the magnitude required take time.
A look at the Flames’ deadline situation:
Derek Ryan, 34 | $3.125 million
David Rittich, 28 | $2.75 million
Josh Leivo, 27 | $875,000
Brett Ritchie, 27 | $700,000
Joakim Nordstrom | 29, $700,000
Michael Stone, 30 | $700,000
Nikita Nesterov, 28 | $700,000
Zac Rinaldo, 30 | $700,000
2021: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd (from Edmonton), 5th, 6th, 7th
2022: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
New blood. But that isn’t at all on the menu Monday.
Picking up players with term in exchange for third- or fourth-liners is a fool’s errand at this point, as moves to fill in those cracks will follow an off-season of significant change.
Potential assets to move
Sam Bennett: The 24-year-old has a proven track record as a playoff beast, which makes him an enticing add for contending teams in need of some depth in post-season character. He has arbitration rights this summer as a restricted free agent with one more year before he hits unrestricted free agency.
The team was happy to ignore his trade request earlier in the year as he wasn’t a distraction and was considered an important part of what the Flames needed to try getting over the playoff hump they’ve continually stumbled over.
That’s not an issue anymore, as the playoffs are a pipe dream.
Bennett said Wednesday his mindset has changed on his trade request under Sutter and he’s happy with his increased responsibilities.
David Rittich: The long-term signing of Jacob Markstrom means there’s no future in Calgary as a starter for Big Save Dave.
The 28-year-old backup netminder despised the mere suggestion last week he may have played his last game as a Flame, but the reality is the former all-star would be moved in a heartbeat if the Flames could land a mid-to-late-round pick for him.
Derek Ryan: The pending UFA is a competent third- or fourth-line centre who could add important faceoff and penalty killing prowess to a deep contender for a late pick.
Seattle Expansion Considerations
The Flames protected list is straightforward at this point, but that could change dramatically this off-season.
At this point the most attractive forward to be exposed will be Bennett. Moving Bennett would likely cost the Flames even more to convince Seattle not to take exposed defenceman Mark Giordano. Don't expect the Flames to take on anything other than draft picks or prospects who don't need to be protected.