This past Thursday was extremely disappointing for both the Calgary Flames organization and its fans. After getting off to a solid start in this year’s playoff bubble, it appeared this team would be able to go on a bit of a run. Instead, they failed to make much noise yet again, and were eliminated in Game 6 by the Dallas Stars. The loss felt very similar to years past, and was further proof that this roster needs a big change.
Top Players Disappointed
Overall, it was an extremely disappointing performance by the Flames’ top-end players over their 10-game playoff run. For Johnny Gaudreau, when he was able to score his first playoff goal since 2015, it felt like this year may be different for the 27-year-old. Instead, he ended up finishing with just seven points. Then there was Sean Monahan, who despite being tied for the team lead with eight points, was a non-factor in many games.
Team captain Mark Giordano went goalless and had just three points, and also forced his team to play shorthanded often, taking six minor penalties during their short run. Elias Lindholm was also unable to pop off, putting up just two goals and six points, while Matthew Tkachuk didn’t produce at his usual rate prior to going down with an injury, posting just two points in six games.
While there were times that the Flames looked quite good during the 2020 Playoffs, it generally wasn’t because of their top players. Guys like Sam Bennett, Dillon Dube, and even more unexpectedly Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder were often the team’s best players. No disrespect to them, but they had no chance at going very far with that being the case. Of course, it should be mentioned that another reason for them looking good at times was the exceptional play of goaltender Cam Talbot, who was no doubt their best player for the entirety of the playoffs.
With yet another short-lived and disappointing playoff exit, it seems like a near guarantee that some big changes are coming to this roster. It would be hard for general manager Brad Treliving to explain keeping the entire core intact, as the team has only managed to win one playoff series over Gaudreau and Monahan’s tenure. This begs the question, who should go?
One thing that is important to remember is that despite potentially moving a piece of their core, Calgary is doing this to shake things up rather than to rebuild. They still have a solid roster that they can turn into a more serious contender with the proper moves, meaning whoever they trade they would need to bring back a solid return.
For example, Giordano is a very good defenceman who many teams would love to have. However, he will be 37 by the time next season starts, meaning teams will not be willing to give up a ton, especially a current roster player who would help the Flames. Most likely he won’t be moved. There is also Lindholm, who has disappointed in his two playoff showings with the team, putting up just 8 points in 13 games. While this certainly isn’t great, he is on a great contract that pays him just $4.85 million per season for four more years. Trading him doesn’t make sense right now.
It doesn’t even need to be said, but Tkachuk certainly isn’t going anywhere. Sure, his 2020 Playoff stats were disappointing, but he is without a doubt this team’s best player, and it was clear the team missed his presence in the lineup during the final four games of the Stars series. One player who could be moved is Monahan, who has disappointed on many occasions in the postseason. The problem there is that he has a 10-team no-trade list starting next season, which makes things somewhat trickier. Still, it wouldn’t come at all as a surprise to see him in a different jersey for the 2020-21 season.
Johnny on the Move
Even though a Monahan trade may happen, the player who makes the most sense for the Flames to deal is Gaudreau. The skilled winger has been a highlight-reel machine for the team over the years, but always seems to get shut down come playoffs. Standing at just 5-foot-9, he often seems to shy away from the physical game, which gets ramped up in the postseason.
While his 7 points in 10 playoff games doesn’t look horrible, both he and Monahan were unable to put up a single even-strength point during the six-game series versus the Stars. That is simply unacceptable for a player like Gaudreau, who is often regarded as one of the best left-wingers in the game. In 30 career playoff games, he has just 19 points, which translates to .63 points per game. This, compared to his .96 points per game during his regular season career (445 points in 464 games) suggests he is a player who is not able to elevate his game when it matters the most.
This past offseason, Treliving made a very controversial trade when he sent James Neal to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Lucic. At the time, the move was made in hopes of having players like Gaudreau not pushed around as much and given more space. It certainly didn’t work, as he had his worst regular season to date with just 58 points, and of course had similar production in the postseason.
Teams Will Line up
Despite his disappointing 2019-20 season and lack of playoff production to this point, many teams would be interested in acquiring Gaudreau. Just one season prior, the former Hobey Baker winner put up a career-high 99 points. He is in the prime years of his career right now, and still has two seasons remaining on a very team-friendly deal paying him $6.75 per season.
Gaudreau has been an exceptional player for the Flames, and has had many great moments during his career to this point. While the team’s lack of success certainly doesn’t fall directly on him, he is one of the team’s top players and has not been there when they have needed him the most. This core needs a shakeup, and while it is a difficult decision, trading their former fourth-round pick is the right move to make.