Johnny Gaudreau wasn’t one of the Flames staffers who arrived in Montreal earlier this week for the draft.
However, it’s the team’s star winger who looms largest over everything the Flames do the next few days.
With just eight days remaining before Gaudreau is eligible to officially test the open market, the Flames continue to remain optimistic they’ll be able to re-up the 28-year-old superstar.
Every day he waits, he gains more leverage, which is why no one should be surprised the negotiating process has lasted this long.
The initial offer on the table has long been believed to be eight years at $9.5 million U.S.
Given the season Gaudreau just had, the organization has made it crystal clear it is committed to continuing the relationship … within reason.
Gaudreau said all the right things before departing for his New Jersey summer home, but even if he, too, is committed to remaining a Flame, there’s little downside for him and his representative to prolong talks.
The pressure is on the Flames here, as losing the franchise cornerstone for nothing on July 13 would be a tremendous blow.
Is Gaudreau simply improving his bargaining power by making the Flames sweat, or is he primed for a move closer to home?
One of the questions looming as the clock counts down is whether Flames GM Brad Treliving could ultimately draw a line in the sand, insisting that at a certain date the Flames must move forward under the assumption a deal can’t be made and his negotiating rights must be traded.
After all, it’s clear Gaudreau’s situation is holding up any efforts to try signing restricted free agents like Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington, as well as desirable returnees like UFA Erik Gudbranson.
Given the fact Gaudreau has a five-team trade list, the return for a few days of negotiating rights would be negligible, which is why Treliving may instead be willing to keep negotiating with Gaudreau right up until the deadline, and even beyond.
Don’t be fooled by the recent deal that saw the L.A. Kings send a prospect and first-rounder to Minnesota for Kevin Fiala.
Although the 25-year-old was without a contract, Fiala was a restricted free agent, still under team control.
It’s a much different situation than the Flames find themselves in with the league’s most prized free agent.
And so, the wait continues.
In the meantime, the team will proceed with a draft itinerary that won’t see Treliving doing a lot of grip-n-grinning with 18-year-old draft selections this week.
Thanks to efforts to bolster the division leaders last season, the Flames have just a second, a fifth and a seventh-round selection starting Friday.
With 31 other GMs gathered for the first in-person draft in three years, you can bet Treliving will work the room in search of ways to find more cap space, including the possibility of parting with pricey fourth-liners Sean Monahan and Milan Lucic.
It won’t be easy or cheap to rid the team of the final year of their respective $6.3 million and $5.25 million cap hits, but eliminating at least one of them could be key to opening space for several others in line for big raises, including yet-unsigned you-know-who.
• 2nd round (59th overall)
• 5th round (155th overall)
• 7th round (219th overall)
Potential Round 2 targets
Noah Warren, RD
At 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds, you can bet the Flames are eyeing up the 17-year-old Gatineau Olympiques defender who had 24 points in 62 outings.
Devin Kaplan, RW
With a coach who covets size, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound winger with the U.S. National Team development program would be an intriguing pick. He is committed to Boston University next season.
Bryce McConnell-Barker, C
The 6-foot-1, 193-pound centre with the Soo Greyhounds could give the Flames decent size and skill up the middle. He had 23 goals and 49 points in 68 games as a rookie in the OHL.
Last year’s first-round pick: Matt Coronato
Since being drafted 13th overall last season, Coronato has continued to bolster his stock with a solid freshman season at Harvard, where the goal-scoring machine had 18 goals and 36 points in 34 games, including an overtime goal to clinch the ECAC championship.
Easily amongst the very best rookies in college hockey.
The 19-year-old informed the Flames in April he’ll be returning to school for one more season, and is a lock to play for the U.S. in August at the world junior do-over tourney.
For those who may be asking to have the former USHL star packaged up in a deal, don’t bother: he’s untouchable at this point.
Those spots can’t be addressed with draft picks, nor do the Flames vary from their vow to disregard positional needs and stick with selecting the best player available.
The Flames will undoubtedly need help on the blue line this season, as pending UFAs Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson have both likely priced themselves out of Calgary.
While Connor Mackey is likely destined for one of those spots, the Flames will want to add size and experience to the back end.
There are a few free-agent defencemen the Flames would like to add, but if the team is able to come to terms with Gaudreau on a new deal, the budget will be tight.
That’s where Treliving, who loves the art of the deal, may have to work some magic at this year’s draft.
He won’t have much in the way of draft pick equity to throw around for this year’s draft, but he still owns first, second, and fourth round picks for next summer.