CALGARY – Shortly after the local debate shifts from Nick Ritchie’s shootout selection to whether Matt Coronato should debut in Game 82 on Wednesday, the Calgary Flames and their fans will dig into much meatier issues.
Like the future of the franchise.
After all, this is a club that has one more year with the core of the club intact, before having to contemplate the possibility of a rebuild.
Depending on who is calling the shots in the front office and behind the bench, a significant retooling could happen even sooner.
At this point, neither GM Brad Treliving nor coach Darryl Sutter are a cinch to return.
Flames fans who thought last summer’s dramatics couldn’t be topped will want to keep their Sportsnet notifications on for the next few months.
Treliving’s contract is about to expire and the well-respected GM may very well choose to walk for any number of reasons.
He could choose to help run his father’s Boston Pizza/investment empire, and/or field any number of offers he’d receive from other teams anxious to make him their GM or president of hockey operations.
He’s that well-thought of.
The two-year extension Sutter earned by way of his Jack Adams Trophy win last summer is set to start this fall at over $4 million annually.
But before that, plenty of questions will be asked by ownership about a culture the coach has built that failed to get the most out of his team.
Frustrated newbies Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, who represent the two biggest personnel investments the organization has made, both found ways to make their unhappiness with the coach public.
Does that, or missing the playoffs, help cloud Sutter’s future?
If a rebuild is in store anytime soon, Sutter isn’t your man, as his handling of the Jakob Pelletier and Matthew Phillips call-ups left no one happy.
It’s a theme in the Flames dressing room, where Sutter’s tough-love approach has taken its toll on modern-day players whose tolerance has dropped.
Should either bigwig not return, you can expect significant change in support staff too, as all of the team’s assistant coaches and assistant general managers are on contracts expiring this summer.
Will Huberdeau, Kadri or anybody else under contract ask the GM for a trade if Sutter stays?
Will any of the core players destined for unrestricted free agency next summer, including Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov, consider extending their stay?
How many of them will make it crystal clear they’re disinterested in staying in Calgary and be swapped out early, a la Matthew Tkachuk?
Will any one of the veterans on expiring contracts be re-upped, including Ritchie, Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, Troy Stecher or Michael Stone?
What will Oliver Kylington’s status be as he enters the final year of a contract that leads him to unrestricted free agency next summer?
How will the team approach talks with a revelation like Walker Duehr, who is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights?
Most of the answers will lie with whoever wears the GM hat – a question sure to be answered in the next few weeks.
Until then, the hand-wringing and debate will continue.
How will Jacob Markstrom, Huberdeau and Kadri bounce back next season?
Why wasn’t this group able to capitalize on the large shot volume that left them with a league-leading 30 one-goal losses, including 17 in extra time?
Where was the air-tight defensive structure this team was supposed to thrive under?
Why couldn’t they beat the league’s bottom-feeders?
Does the team’s late push for a playoff spot mean anything moving forward?
Were expectations unreasonably high for the defending division champs?
Those are the sort of questions that will be asked Thursday or Friday when player exit meetings and final media availabilities are held.
The answers will help shape whatever comes next.