There likely haven’t been many NHL fanbases anxiously checking their phones as often as Calgary Flames faithful. After a great 2021-22 regular season, there is plenty of reason to believe they could be Stanley Cup contenders once again in 2022-23. However, in order for that to happen, they will need their top players to stick around.
Though there is still more than two weeks until free agency begins, Johnny Gaudreau has yet to sign an extension with the Flames. While he did make sure to mention at season’s end how much he has enjoyed his time in Calgary, many believe he wants to test free agency.
There is also Matthew Tkachuk, who is a restricted free agent (RFA) and could be unrestricted as soon as next offseason if he chooses to sign just a one-year deal. A big part in what he decides to do could come as a result of a Gaudreau decision. Given that they are undoubtedly the top-two players on the Flames’ roster proves just how pivotal of an offseason this could be for the organization.
Flames Facing Tough Decisions
With all the rumors running rampant each and every day, Gaudreau could very well sign an eight-year extension in the coming days, or perhaps hours. However, with each day that passes, it feels more and more likely that he is indeed wanting to test out the free agency market. While that still wouldn’t rule out a return to the Flames, it certainly decreases the odds.
General manager Brad Treliving has said that while he wants to do everything he can to re-sign Gaudreau; he would also like to know where he’s at so the team can begin to make other plans if need be. One of those plans could be to trade the 28-year-old’s rights if he makes it clear that he is wanting to sign elsewhere.
While a return for a player’s rights is generally just a late-round pick, something is better than nothing. Perhaps one of the two teams he has been rumored to be interested in — the Philadelphia Flyers or the New Jersey Devils — would entertain giving up a draft pick in hopes of negotiating a deal with Gaudreau before free agency begins. This obviously isn’t ideal for the Flames, but is something that very well could happen if an extension isn’t worked out soon.
Similar to Gaudreau, Tkachuk has stated recently that he loves being a Flame, and would be open to signing a long-term extension. While it seemed genuine, there have been rumors in the past that he has considered playing elsewhere, and one has to wonder if that is why the two parties haven’t agreed on a long-term extension to this point.
As far as why he would want to stay, there a number of reasons. First off, he was already a fan favorite in Calgary prior to his 104-point outing. Fans love the mix of skill and physicality he brings to his game, as does the coaching staff and management. If he does choose to sign long term with the Flames, it seems like a no brainer that he would be named their team captain.
All that said, there are plenty of reasons for him not to sign as well. As good as his 104-point season was, the unanimous MVP of the Flames this past season was Gaudreau, who finished the year tied for second in league scoring with 115 points. Without him, the Flames are not a 50-win team like they were in 2021-22. If Gaudreau does indeed leave via free agency, this roster will be much worse off, which may have Tkachuk hesitant to sign a lengthy contract.
While not as key of a piece as Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane’s future is also surrounded by question marks. Like Tkachuk, he is an RFA, meaning that getting him re-signed isn’t as urgent just yet. What causes one to feel nervous when it comes to him, however, is that his agent is on record saying he is going to suggest taking a short-term deal, so that he would have the option of testing the free agent market next summer. Again, he isn’t as important of a piece as Gaudreau, but he is coming off of a 35-goal campaign and is undoubtedly one of the team’s best offensive producers. His uncertain future, paired with Gaudreau’s, has to have Tkachuk feeling a bit uneasy at the moment.
The hope is that it doesn’t get to this point, but if Tkachuk makes it clear he is unwilling to sign long term and would instead prefer a one-year deal, the Flames would be better off trading him. Given that he is coming off of a career year, his value throughout the league has never been higher. While dealing him isn’t what anyone in Calgary wants, it makes far more sense than keeping him around on a one-year deal and potentially losing him for nothing next summer.
Treliving In a Tough Spot
Reactions to trading two of the team’s most productive players in some time will likely be hostile. After what was such a great regular season, it is tough to picture a potentially far less competitive team in 2022-23. Regardless of one’s thoughts on what the next move should be for this organization, one thing that everyone can agree on is that these next few weeks will not be easy for Treliving.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.