It was on April 13, 2014 when the Calgary Flames met with the Vancouver Canucks for the season finale. Both teams were out of the playoff picture so only pride was on the line in the game. The Canucks beat the Flames dominantly in a decisive 5-1 victory. Who scored the Flames only tally that night? Their offensive core for the future, Johnny Gaudreau.
Coming off of a Hobey Baker award winning season and a trip to the NCAA “Frozen Four”, Gaudreau signed an Entry Level Deal with the club on April 11, 2014. Just two nights later, he made his NHL debut.
A lot of people didn’t know who Johnny Gaudreau was until he won the Hobey Baker award, awarded to the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player. However, even that didn’t surpass something holding Gaudreau back. Size. Standing at 5’9 and weighing just 157LBS, many people did not believe Gaudreau could compete in the NHL. They were wrong.
After scoring in his first NHL game and last game of the 2013-2014 campaign for the Flames, lots of eyebrows were raised and people began to look at Gaudreau as a serious high end prospect. Being drafted 104th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, he wasn’t seen as having star potential. Yet the Calgary Flames took the chance on the kid from Salem, New Jersey and it’s a good thing they did.
Going into the 2014-2015 campaign, the Calgary Flames were on the rise but no one thought the Flames would have a chance at the playoffs. However, Gaudreau and the Flames were on a mission to prove everyone wrong. The Flames started the year off nicely with a 3-2-0 record. Gaudreau wasn’t much part of the success as he was held pointless in all 5 games. On October 17th, Calgary coach at the time Bob Hartley made Gaudreau a healthy scratch. It seemed as if Gaudreau would need time in the minors, but it was the spark he needed. In the teams next game against the Winnipeg Jets, Gaudreau tallied a goal and 2 points as the Flames beat the Jets 4-1. After that, it didn’t slow down and he would eventually join a line with Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler.
Johnny Hockey put up points steadily as the Flames were battling to get into a playoff spot. In the teams final game before Christmas break against the Los Angeles Kings, Gaudreau would score a natural hat trick and the Flames would go on to win 4-3 in overtime. This game was constantly brought up as the teams momentum boost for the second half of the season that took them to the playoffs.
Come January, Gaudreau was selected as a rookie for the NHL All Star game and even found a way to shine there, with a little help from Jakub Voracek that is.
Calgary finshed the season 3rd in the Pacific division and earned themselves a playoff spot. Johnny Gaudreau finished his rookie season with an incredible 64 points, which tied him with Ottawa forward Mark Stone for lead in NHL rookie points.
It took him some time but he was able to transfer his season success into the playoffs. In round 1 the Flames eliminated Vancouver in 6 games where Gaudreau had 6 points. The cinderella season ended with the Ducks knocking Calgary off in a crushing game 5 overtime defeat. In the only game the Flames won in that series, it was none other than Johnny Hockey who scored with a beautiful shot with less than 30 seconds remaining in the 3rd period to tie it and send it to overtime.
Going into 2015-2016, there was many questions in the “C of Red.” Can Calgary continue their magical season from the previous year forward? Can their goaltending hold up all year? The biggest question though was, can Johnny Gaudreau stay out of the sophomore slump? Gaudreau made sure that wouldn’t be the case.
Just 3 games into the year Johnny had 5 points in 3 games. That wasn’t the end. Gaudreau made the All Star ballot again but this time, it wasn’t as a rookie. From February 15-29, he had an 8 game point streak which was the biggest streak of his career and season. Johnny scored 2 hat tricks in the year, one of which was a 4 point night against the Bruins and had an astonishing 20 multi point games. He became a 30 goal scorer on the dot and added 48 assists on top of that which gave him a total of 78 points in 79 games for the season. Only one point shy of a point per game player. He led the Flames in points and was 7th in the entire NHL in scoring. Not only did he beat the sophomore slump, he killed it.
Even after a disappointing season in which Calgary missed the post season, Gaudreau still had a chance to shine when he was announced as one of the players for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Though the young guns team was eliminated in the preliminary round, Gaudreau led the team with 4 points in 3 games including an absolute beauty against Team Sweden.
Now come the 2016-2017 season, with training camp underway and teams getting ready to play, Johnny Gaudreau is a restricted free agent and still trying to negotiate a contract with the Flames. He has made his case in his two full NHL season. From 2014-2016, Johnny Gaudreau has scored 142 in 159 games which puts him in 12th overall for points in the last two seasons. He is a two time NHL All Star and arguably one of the most exciting players in the game today. The case can be made defensively as well, Gaudreau can take the puck away and turn it into a goal or offensive chance. Watch as he strips Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook and puts a nice move on to freeze Scott Darling and win the game in overtime:
So with that being said, what is Johnny Gaudreau worth? Some comparables are Vladimir Tarasenko of the St.Louis Blues and Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets. Tarasenko is 2 years older than Gaudreau and signed an 8-year, $60 000 000 contract with the Blues prior to 2015-2016 with a $7 500 000 cap hit. Johnny and Vladimir are separated by 5 points over the last two years but the difference between the too? Tarasenko is a bonafide goal scorer when Gaudreau plays a more all around game play. Someone more similar to his style is Blake Wheeler. In the past two season, the pair of them are only separated by 3 points. Gaudreau with 54 goals and 88 assists, Wheeler with 52 goals and 87 assists. Wheeler who just turned 30, is in the midst of a 6 year, $33 600 000 contract which carries an AAV of $5 600 000. Something that can be said about Wheeler though, is he did not hit the 60 point plateau until after he played 2 full NHL seasons. Gaudreau did it in his rookie year. That has to count for something.
All the arguments have been made and one thing remains the same. Johnny Gaudreau is the next big thing and the Flames can’t afford to lose him. According to General Fanager, the Flames have a projected $8,594,601 in cap space. The Flames will also clear up just under $15 000 000 in cap space after this season from the contracts of Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, Ladislav Smid and Brandon Bollig. The Flames can pay Johnny Gaudreau and with reports saying that they do not want to pay more than Mark Giordano’s cap hit of $6 750 000 cap hit, things don’t look good. If they want to pay him that little, the deal wouldn’t be any longer than 3 years max. Luckily, under the NHL CBA rules, Gaudreau cannot be offered an offer sheet which is beneficial to the Flames during negotiations.
With the NHL season just 10 short days away, can Calgary and Gaudreau reach an agreement?