It was a total meltdown for the Calgary Flames during their final game of the season. The Flames built a 3-0 lead on goals by Andrew Mangiapane, Johnny Gaudreau, and Rasmus Andersson. But then things fell apart and the Dallas Stars scored seven straight goals to win the game 7-3. Like that, the Flames were doused from the postseason.
The Stars advanced to the second round and the Flames were eliminated in the first round for the second season in a row and the third time in four seasons. The only season of those for in which there wasn’t a first-round exit was 2018, but that’s because the team didn’t even make the playoffs.
Flames forward Mikael Backlund admitted, “It’s tough. It’s an empty feeling. You’re wondering what happened. Things just turned so quickly. We just couldn’t stop the bleeding, and it happened so quick. It’s hard right now.” (from “’An empty feeling’: Flames’ season ends with ugly collapse in Game 6,” The Calgary Herald, 21/08/20)
Item One: Is Johnny Gaudreau on the Trade Market?
Already the rumors have started that Johnny Gaudreau will be traded during the 2020 offseason. Gaudreau’s been a valuable part of the Flames lineup for six full seasons, but it seems as if his time might be up. His problem is that, although his scoring during the regular season seems to be just fine, he doesn’t show up during the playoffs. Because opponents play tighter defense, it seems difficult for the 27-year-old Gaudreau to find room to play his game.
Since the 2014-15 season, Gaudreau has only scored four goals and 10 points in 19 playoff games. He did score seven points in 10 games this postseason; however, he didn’t have an even-strength point in six games against the Stars. Obviously, he’s talented enough; however, the Flames might be tired of his lack of offensive production when it matters the most.
If Gaudreau is destined to leave the team, Flames fans shouldn’t be surprised if others might leave with him. There’s a rumor that big changes are coming to the Flames roster this offseason. Certainly, those rumors center on Gaudreau’s future with the team and they will likely intensify because the Flames suffered yet another early playoff defeat. Gaudreau grew up near Philadelphia, so, might the Flyers be in play?
Item Two: Cam Talbot Takes the Blame for the Flames’ Loss
Cam Talbot went into Game 6 against the Stars hoping to break a two-game losing streak. The veteran goalie entered the game with a 5-4 record, a 2.17 goals-against average (GAA) and a .934 save percentage (SV%). The Flames even started well and led 3-0. But Talbot couldn’t shut the door, and was replaced by David Rittich after he let in four goals on 15 shots. Rittich didn’t fare much better, saving only six of nine Stars shots.
As Talbot admitted, “When we needed it the most, I wasn’t there.” For the most part, Talbot played well during the playoffs and the Flames weren’t eliminated specifically because of his play.
The 33-year-old Talbot will likely become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason. My guess is that he won’t be back with the Flames when next season begins. The Flames will likely look at the team’s roster carefully and they’ll seek a top-flight goalie.
Item Three: Sean Monahan Believes This Flames Team Is Getting Better
Although the results were no different than they’ve been for several seasons, Sean Monahan is optimistic. He believes this season’s Flames were a better team than their predecessors.
Monahan suggested, “I think we had a much better team this year. We played together more. I thought we played pretty well here, in spurts during the playoffs. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. You feel that after you lose.” (from “What now for Calgary Flames? A dandy start undone by penalties, goalies,” The Calgary Herald, 21/08/20)
As I noted, there’ll be some hard looks at the Flames roster during the offseason, and Flames fans will likely see a number of different players whenever the 2020-21 season begins. But, it’s positive that there’s a strong young core of players. And, sometimes as the basketball giant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted, “You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.”
That said, losing every season can become the norm within an organization and the Flames don’t want losing to become the expected.
Item Four: Matthew Tkachuk Missed the Team’s Last 4 Games
It certainly didn’t help the Flames playoff cause when Matthew Tkachuk was deemed “unfit to play” for the final four games of the series. Missing Tkachuk was a huge blow for the team. He’s both their leading scorer and energy-producer.
Regardless of who returns and who leaves the team, Tkachuk is going nowhere. The Flames aren’t the same team when he’s out of the lineup and they missed him down the stretch.
What’s Next for the Flames?
The Flames are still a young team and are likely to be contenders once again next season. But the Flames have key questions to address. Should the team stay the course and trust its core? Or, is it the time to make significant changes?
It will also be the first offseason Geoff Ward will be in charge of the team, and he’ll likely have a philosophy he’ll hope to address. Will that philosophy include Gaudreau?
It’s not as if the team is far off. They were seconds away from taking a 3-1 series lead on the Stars but imploded at the end of Game 4. They did the same in Game 6. The answer for that ailment will be the subject of talk during the offseason. I see changes coming.