Pandemic Punts: Patience running out for Flames’ Giordano-Gaudreau combo?

Pandemic Punts: Patience running out for Flames' Giordano-Gaudreau combo?
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Different NHL teams come into the 2020-21 season with different expectations. Yet, with COVID-19 looming to throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans, PHT asks: what if each of the NHL’s 31 teams had to “punt” their 2020-21 season? Some situations are more realistic than others, but hopefully this serves as an interesting exercise. In the latest edition of Pandemic Punts, PHT looks at the 2020-21 Calgary Flames.

For previous editions of Pandemic Puntsclick here.

Is the Giordano – Gaudreau era in danger of ending if Flames don’t go on a run?

Following another playoff disappointment, rumors were swirling about the Flames possibly shopping Johnny Gaudreau. Luckily for the Flames and their fans, cooler heads prevailed.

Well, those heads stayed cool … for now.

With another clunker of a postseason (or worse), the calls to trade one or more of Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will only get louder.

For a GM known as a “riverboat gambler,” Brad Treliving made some interesting additions to the Flames.

Most prominently, Treliving rolled the dice that Jacob Markstrom could be the true go-to goalie Calgary’s been lacking. (The 30-year-old needs to be, as that six-year deal with a $6M AAV isn’t exactly a modest swing.)

Adding to their Canuck-nabbing, the Flames also said hello to Christopher Tanev (with another deal featuring risky term), and said goodbye to T.J. Brodie. Your results will vary on the wisdom of that shift (personally, I think it could end up being a pretty significant downgrade.)

Unfortunately, Treliving didn’t really throw any darts at a problem that’s likely to continue plaguing the Flames: depth scoring.

It’s one thing to lay all of the blame at the feet of the likes of Gaudreau. That certainly turns the temperature up on your takes, and makes for more sizzling headlines.

But as much as the postseason is about stars etching their legendary lore, just about every deep run demands unsung heroes to break through. When Gaudreau, Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk falter (or get hurt), will anyone else step up?

It’s tough to say. Maybe the Flames can just limit the opposition so much that Gaudreau, Monahan, and Tkachuk merely need to score just enough to win?

Flames structure points to two big shots, but no guarantees

Logically speaking, it sure feels like the Johnny Gaudreau + Mark Giordano combination has two more big shots at a serious run. That said, a lousy 2020-21 season could prompt the Flames to shrink that window, too.

Barring an incredible offer, it’s tough to imagine the Flames winning any trade involving Gaudreau or Giordano. That’s because Gaudreau carries a paltry $6.75M cap hit for two more seasons, while Giordano’s $6.75M (also through 2021-22) should be easy to justify, even at age 37.

Perhaps you can sell high on one of them, but most likely, you’d be trading from an area of weakness if you decided to move on.

Either way, two years is that big flashing light at the end of the tunnel.

After two years, Gaudreau is nearly certain for a substantial raise, while Giordano — who knows? Maybe he’d go Chara-style with one-year installments; maybe he’d retire altogether. But even beyond that, Matthew Tkachuk is headed for a bump up from his $7M. With his $6.375M AAV running through 2022-23, Monahan breaks the two-year trend, yet the clock is ticking there, too.

Now, none of this absolutely shuts the door on this core making runs beyond 2021-22. (Granted, Giordano’s role would almost certainly be reduced as he approaches 40, if he doesn’t retire.)

But it sure feels like that could be a truly pivotal moment for the Flames’ franchise, unless they address that fork-in-the-road even sooner. That likely boils down to how the Flames fare in 2020-21.

An interesting structure

Either by design or coincidence, the Flames present a pretty interesting overall salary structure.

For one thing, Elias Lindholm (26, $4.85M for four more seasons) is really the only forward with significant term who the Flames would be wild not to trade. Mikael Backlund and especially Milan Lucic stand out as aging players whose contracts should make Calgary worried. (Backlund might age well, but at 31, we’ll see if the decline hits soon.)

Meanwhile, when it comes to trying to keep the puck out of the net, the Flames are locked-in.

Again, Markstrom brings a lot of risk, but potentially a lot of reward. Beyond Giordano’s short deal, the Flames have a lot of term locked up in their defense:

  • Noah Hanifin, 23, $4.9M cap hit through 2023-24.
  • Rasmus Andersson, 24, $4.955M through 2025-26.
  • Christopher Tanev, 30, $4.5M through 2023-24.

So, while the Flames’ forwards group is up in the air, they’re fairly secure “in their own zone.”

The youth of Hanifin + Andersson could really make these decisions sing, at least if they deliver. As someone who’s been lukewarm on Hanifin at times, it was heartening to see some of his underlying numbers looking reasonably solid. Judging by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM even-strength charts for Andersson and Hanifin, maybe you can mix and match them based on their strengths, and receive nice results?

Pandemic Punts: Patience running out for Flames' Giordano-Gaudreau combo? Anderson Hanifin Evolving Hockey RAPM
Some evidence to lean on Andersson defensively, and Hanifin on offense. RAPM Chart via Evolving Hockey

Now, it doesn’t seem like the Flames boast an obvious No. 1 defenseman whenever Mark Giordano ages out of that role. But if Calgary can figure that out, Andersson + Hanifin could have some use, at least at reasonable prices. And, ideally, Markstrom would clean up all of the rest.

Maybe the Flames should just play it cool?

Look, it’s understandable that the Flames might want to make changes. It had to be frustrating to see them get bottled up by the Stars after being throttled by the Avalanche in the previous postseason. And you can advance the argument that Johnny Gaudreau might be closer to “star” than “superstar.”

Blowing things up would likely only make things worse, though. Instead, the Flames should hold off on punting in 2020-21, and probably through Gaudreau’s current contract.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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