LOS ANGELES — This weekend will be a nice reprieve for Johnny Gaudreau.
The diminutive Calgary sniper won’t face many hacks, whacks, slashes or shadows when he participates in the league’s annual All-Star Game.
In fact, he probably won’t face any.
But when Gaudreau returns to the Flames and the regular season resumes, he’ll once again be subjected to targeting, something that’s become a major narrative this year.
“It’s part of the game,” Gaudreau said at Saturday’s All-Star media availability. “It’s not going to go away.
“It’s not going to be the first slash or the last slash I’ve taken. I’ll just play my game and try not to worry about it, try not to get frustrated.”
Just prior to this weekend’s festivities, the Gaudreau situation was front-and-center in Calgary.
After Toronto’s Leo Komarov blasted Gaudreau with a huge open-ice check, ex-Flames tough guy Brian McGrattan followed up a series of angry tweets by telling the Herald “sticking up for each other and being a team is crucial for morale,” adding “it goes so far in the dressing room.”
More, from the Herald:
“Those skilled players get enough abuse as it is as they’re against number one defensive pairings and the top checking line,” said McGrattan. “But with nobody sticking up for them, they’ll get that even more.
“He knows it’s going to happen again in the next week because teams know they can do whatever they want to this guy and nobody is going to do anything.”
The Komarov hit came just weeks after Anaheim center Ryan Kesler acknowledged he was intentionally targeting Gaudreau, and months after Johnny Hockey missed 10 games with a broken finger — which, per Flames GM Brad Treliving, happened on the 11th slash Gaudreau received in a game against Minnesota.
Treliving has emerged as an important figure in all this.
He’s clearly been displeased with how his star player has been treated — after the Wild game, Treliving acknowledged he spoke with NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom — and, in the Herald piece mentioned earlier, Treliving said he was “looking at everything right now” in terms of adding toughness.
Gaudreau touched on his GM’s remarks.
“Brad’s obviously looking into a lot of things, but I don’t think that’s really my call to make,” he said. “The game’s changed today, with speed and skill. At times it’s smarter to have that out there, and sometimes it’s smart to have your toughness out there.”
The strange part with this dilemma that, on paper, Calgary has plenty of guys to answer the bell. The Flames have fought the sixth-most times in the NHL this year (20), and often dress the likes of Deryk Engelland, Garnet Hathaway and Micheal Ferland.
Another enforcer-type, Brandon Bollig, is with the club’s AHL affiliate in Stockton.
So perhaps Calgary’s response won’t be a transaction — perhaps it will guys already on the roster heeding the call to keep the files off Johnny Hockey.
“I don’t really want to complain about it or anything, but some teams like to give it to other players,” Gaudreau said. “At times there’s definitely frustration.”