Since arriving on the scene in 2014, Johnny Gaudreau has been the offensive heartbeat of the Calgary Flames. In short, the Flames were going to go as far as Gaudreau’s prowess could take them. But last season his usual goalscoring prowess was complemented by clever two-way play and supported by a team style of play that seemed to accentuate his contributions.
The result was probably the best single-season offensive performance of any player in Flames franchise history.
There are two things that have been consistent with Gaudreau from his days in junior hockey: he was always considered undersized for the level he played at, and he always ignored size talk and produced at a high. offensively level.
He stood out with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, posting huge offensive numbers on a championship team. This was before the USHL had really built a reputation as a solid junior league, so between that and his size, Gaudreau’s NHL draft stock was considered moderate (rather than high).
The Flames took advantage of this and, after some scouting gimmicks – they only spotted him in road games and sneaking out the side door to hide their interest in him – they selected Gaudreau 104th overall. in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Gaudreau spent three seasons at Boston College after the draft. He was a very good freshman varsity player — it took him about a month to figure out NCAA play — then became an elite sophomore and junior varsity player. Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy was sent to the Frozen Four in 2014 to sign Gaudreau and teammate Bill Arnold; he was successful and Gaudreau made his NHL debut in the final game of the 2013–14 season.
Joining the Flames full-time in 2014-15, Gaudreau initially struggled in his first few games – he wasn’t terrible, he just couldn’t generate an offense. But after a healthy scratch, he figured things out, and he’s since launched a string of pretty productive NHL seasons, even though he never progressed beyond the physical tag of “undersized.” .
Gaudreau established himself as the club’s most dynamic (and most consistent) offensive player fairly quickly, and he quickly became a fixture on the Flames’ front line – from 2014-15 to 2018-19, essentially the line on which Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were by default. front line of the Flames.
Gaudreau was voted to the All-Rookie Team in 2014-15 (and was also a Calder Trophy finalist) and was voted the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner in 2016-17. Sometimes other clubs used physicality (and hand slashes) to keep him outside the home plate zone in the offensive zone, but generally speaking Gaudreau used his speed and creativity to always be a good (and sometimes excellent) offensive player. .
The Flames hired Darryl Sutter as head coach midway through the ill-fated 2020-21 season, and changed much of the rest of the staff in the 2021 offseason – assistant coach Ryan Huska and goaltending coach goalkeeper Jason LaBarbera were retained.
With Sutter as head coach and Kirk Muller as assistant coach directing the forwards and power play, Gaudreau had his best season as an NHL player. From afar. Gaudreau had 40 goals, 75 assists, 115 points and a league-leading +64 plus/minus rating. (He finished tied for second in the entire NHL in points and led squarely in even strength points.)
So what has changed?
In terms of team systems, the Flames used a more active forechecking system than in previous seasons, which meant they had more of the puck. If you give the puck to Gaudreau more often, he will do good things with it. It’s also important to note that the four defenders Gaudreau has played with most often – Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson – all had great seasons, and they played a moving transition style. of puck which gave many strange to the line of Gaudreau. -man rushes, and the foursome were also very active in the rush and engaging in cycling in the offensive zone, both of which led to more goals and more points for Gaudreau.
He also played most of the season alongside Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. Lindholm had a fabulous season, with his clever two-way play and superb slot shot, complemented by Tkachuk’s style and hard-nosed tenacity, and the trio elevated each other’s game during almost the whole season. They were probably the best line in the NHL, and Gaudreau was arguably the best player on that line.
But while the systemic changes have definitely favored Gaudreau’s style of play, credit should be given to him for his work within it. Gaudreau earned the ironic nickname “Johnny Backcheck” this season because he frequently chased the puck in neutral and defensive zones. He was never a Selke-level defensive player, and he occasionally fumbles for the transition pass long before the Flames got the puck, but his attention to detail and tenacity away from the puck have been noticeable this season. .
According to Natural Stat Trick analysis, Gaudreau had the best offensive season of his career based on expected goals for 60 and expected individual goals for 60. According to modeling by Evolving Hockey, he had the best season of his career in terms of the above goals. replacement, in the offensive and defensive components of the GAR.
In short? Gaudreau was everything you could have wished for in the regular season. He was also superb in the first round against Dallas, while he was one of many Flames who weren’t good enough against Edmonton in the second round.
I don’t know if you’re heard, but Gaudreau’s current contract expires at the end of the day on July 12 (midnight ET) and he will become an unrestricted free agent. That is, unless he joins the Flames.
Gaudreau, who doesn’t have a straight face based on local media dealings with him, said he would be open to returning and spoke at length about his love for the Flames and Calgary in general. General manager Brad Treliving, who is all poker face, said the club would do everything they could to bring him back. If Gaudreau stays, the Flames have a high-flying forward who can anchor their offense. If he leaves, they have a gigantic hole in their lineup.
Both teams seem to have the same goal: to lock Gaudreau into a long-term deal that keeps him in Calgary. All that needs to be understood, as Treliving often jokes about free agent negotiations, is money and time.
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