Brad Treliving wouldn’t slip when, where, or how he’ll sign star Johnny Gaudreau.
But it’s quickly becoming a blank-cheque situation for the superstar, who, in the midst of his best effort yet, is set to become an unrestricted free agent with the ability to walk onto any of the 31 other NHL clubs — pending cap space, of course — at season’s end.
“It’s the same thing we’ve said all year,” Treliving said in an interview with Tim Campbell of NHL.com. “We’re going to let that take care of itself behind closed doors. So it’s been a non-issue.
“Johnny’s a huge part of our team, drives our offence. We want to get him back. We want to sign him here long-term but we’ve put all the focus on just worrying about playing the games here right now. We’ve stayed in touch with his representatives and we’ll deal with that quietly and away from the spotlight.”
Gaudreau netted a hat trick on Thursday, has scored 13 points (six goals, seven assists) on his current seven-game point streak, and is fourth overall in NHL scoring with 77 points (26 goals, 51 assists) in 57 games.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) March 11, 2022
He is on pace for 37 goals, which would be an NHL career-high.
He’s also trending towards 111 points — not just an NHL-best, but the most by a Flames player in 41 years. In fact, it’d be second only to Kent Nilsson’s 131 points (49 goals, 82 assists) in 80 games in 1980-81.
The 28-year-old may not be at the forefront of discussion, but he’s certainly entered the Hart Trophy conversation.
“Top players have to do that. That’s what the top guys do in this league,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said on the heels of a three-goal outburst from Gaudreau in a 4-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
“He’s a top player in the league. How’s he not a top player in the league? He has a chance of winning the scoring race on a good team. Top guys play on good teams. It makes a difference. That’s what their job is.”
Gaudreau is doing his job in a contract year. As luck would have it, the 5-foot-9 forward is in the final season of a six-year contract he signed on October 10, 2016.
He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 13.
And he’s about to get handsomely rewarded.
“That’s a done deal,” Craig Conroy, Calgary’s assistant GM, either intentionally or accidentally slipping that Gaudreau is going to remain a member of the Flames. “We’re gonna get that done. We’ll get that done.”
If it does get done, it won’t be cheap.
The three players ahead of Gaudreau in NHL scoring are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers.
Huberdeau paces the league with 82 points and commands a paltry $5.9 million on a six-year contract signed in 2017. Not the greatest of comparables for Gaudreau’s next pact.
McDavid is second in scoring with 81 points. He makes an average of $12.5 million on an eight-year deal he also inked in 2017. The figure represents 16.67% of the team’s cap hit, and deservedly so given McDavid is the consensus as the league’s top player.
Again, not the best comparable, nor is Draisaitl’s $8.5 million deal signed in — yep — 2017, and before his back-to-back 100-point seasons and emergence as one of the league’s top forwards.
Instead, more recent signings need to be the consideration.
Aleksander Barkov, Huberdeau’s teammate in Florida, inked an eight-year, $80 million contract in October. The two-way centre, one of the league’s best 200-foot players, has 59 points (26 goals, 33 assists) in 45 games this season, not far off the 1.35 points-per-game pace Gaudreau has put up.
The most recent comparable signing for a winger might be Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who took a hometown deal to remain with the team that originally drafted him in 2011 — the same year Gaudreau was plucked by the Flames in the fourth round.
Landeskog signed an eight-year, $56 million contract with an average annual value of $7.5 million last summer, and has 59 points (30 goals, 29 assists) in 51 games. Again, the contract was under market value to remain on a team that has legitimate Stanley Cup expectations.
Is Gaudreau willing to do the same?
“I love playing here. I don’t think I’ve ever once said I haven’t wanted to be here,” Gaudreau said at the end of the 2020-21 season.
He’s also kept mum on contract talks all season.
“It’s between my agent and [Treliving],” Gaudreau said at Flames’ training camp in October. “I probably won’t answer many questions about that this season.”
He hasn’t answered them off the ice.
Certainly, Gaudreau has on it.
Gaudreau, who moved clear of both Hakan Loob and Guy Chouinard into 10th on the Flames’ all-time goal list on Thursday, is not only the MVP of Calgary’s club but the straw that stirs the drink.
All things considered, Gaudreau is looking at north of $9 million, pending potential discounts, and max term — eight years with the Flames, seven on the open market — the next time he puts pen to paper.
The Flames, with a tight cap situation that also sees pending restricted free agents Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Oliver Kylington needing new deals, and UFAs Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson also needing new deals.
Calgary has just shy of $27 million cleared for 2022-23. Not ideal.
Regardless, Gaudreau will be rewarded as a result with a healthy new contract.
Whether it’s with the Flames or not.
No matter the cost, though, Calgary can’t afford not to ink their best player.