The Calgary Flames’ disastrous season, where they didn't even come close to meeting expectations, is mercifully over.
Now the fundamental questions about what's next begin.
How much, if at all, will the core change for a team that hasn't won an official playoff round since 2015? How will the Seattle Kraken expansion draft impact the team? Will GM Brad Treliving still be the one in charge and making those calls?
And what about Johnny Gaudreau? The supremely talented winger is two years removed from a 99-point season, tied for 29th in league scoring this season, and led the Flames in goals and assists. But, he has taken criticism for not stepping up in the biggest moments and games. He has been a core player on this team dating back to 2014-15, the last time they won a round, but he's no longer a kid.
Gaudreau will be 28 this August and heading into the final season of his contract. Trade speculation has surrounded him since at least last season, if not longer. Now, as shakeup to some degree is anticipated for the roster this summer, Gaudreau's name is at the top of the list.
Could he instead re-sign?
“If Tree and the owners are happy with the way I’ve played here in the past six to seven years and it’s something we can figure out," Gaudreau said at the Flames' end-of-season player avails. "I would love to do that. I love the city of Calgary. I love playing here. I don’t think I’ve ever once said I haven’t wanted to be here.”
Gaudreau was drafted by the Flames in the fourth round back in 2011 and has been an important player for them ever since arriving as a rookie. But the fact is it's decision time here. Re-sign Gaudreau for a few years at possibly higher than the $6.75 million cap hit he currently has, or trade him by next season's deadline?
The Flames absolutely cannot risk losing him for nothing as a free agent in a year and, if they want until the deadline to move him, the price may not be as high as it could be for a team that gets him for a full season.
Of course, in the unusual times we live in and with the NHL's salary cap flat, it's not even clear what sort of return the Flames could get for a player like Gaudreau on an expiring contract, or if it would be good enough to make a deal happen. After all, this team likely still has designs on returning to the playoffs in 2022.
"If that's something that comes up this summer," Gaudreau said about contract talks, "that's something I'd be very willing to do."