By Maggie Hsu, August 3 2022—
In hockey, there are only a few things more upsetting than an early exit from the playoffs by a team that looked destined to win it all. A top player not returning to the team after such an electrifying playoff run is up there. But how does a team put the pieces back together when one of its major players chooses not to continue with the organization? That’s the question on many minds across the Calgary Flames fandom.
Coming out of an incredible regular season, the Flames looked like genuine Stanley Cup contenders. The winners of the Pacific Division, the top line all having 100 plus point seasons and a goalie that seemed unstoppable. However, hockey isn’t always about the best numbers. Sometimes, it’s just the way the puck bounces that determines the winner.
Heading into the offseason, there was hope and optimism in the air. Despite a less than ideal second-round exit against their perennial provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, there was a sense that 2023 would be their year. But this hopeful optimism was overcast by the prospect of star player, Johnny Gaudreau, becoming an unrestricted free agent and whether or not he would re-sign with Calgary to make another run at the Cup. Fans were so sure that Gaudreau would re-sign, possibly until his retirement. There were talks of him being one of the greatest Flames players ever, akin to Jarome Iginla or Mikka Kiprusoff. Gaudreau, himself, expressed such love and adoration for Calgary.
The development of Gaudreau choosing to not return and test the free agent market was a shock to Flames fans. The decision caused quite a stir across the hockey world, suddenly focusing in on Calgary and what would now be known as the “Gaudreau Sweepstakes.” But locally, the decision triggered reactions of sadness, anger and confusion. Why had he decided to not come back? The pieces were all there for the Flames to go into the 2022-23 season for another great year that was guaranteed a playoff bid. The decision coming at the 11th hour meant that the Flames wouldn’t be able to receive anything in return if Gaudreau walked away. The least he could do was give management time to put together a trade so they weren’t left with a huge hole to fill.
When it came out that Gaudreau had wanted to play closer to home, it made more sense as fans were aware of how important family meant to Gaudreau. The situation quickly changed as there was even more outrage when it was revealed that Gaudreau had decided to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Gaudreau was born and raised in New Jersey and upon looking at a map, Ohio wasn’t even close to New Jersey at all. So why did he end up with the Blue Jackets?
Gaudreau made a statement through The Players’ Tribune a few days after his signing where he published a personal letter to Flames fans with more details about his decision to move on from the team. It was something discussed with not only his agent but also his family.
“But as much as I love hockey … family is everything to me. It’s the most important connection I have. And a few years ago, I think I started to realize how much you sacrifice when you give 100% to your career. I felt like I needed to do more to center my family in my life after we experienced some hard times,” read the statement.
Yes, it may hurt to let him go but it’s important to remind ourselves that hockey players are people too. Many can argue that this is just “part of the job” but if a job that moved you away from home and then gave you an opportunity to move you back closer to family, that’s an opportunity few would pass by.
So what’s next for the Flames? With the recent development that Matthew Tkachuk will also be moving on from the team, what can Flames fans expect?
Well, the Flames were not completely inactive during free agency in the NHL.
One of the highlights of this month was the trade of Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 first round pick. This addition helped soften the blow of losing two of their star players which helped to push them into the playoffs as Flames retained one member of that line, Elias Lindholm. Prior to the formation of the Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk line, neither Tkachuk or Gaudreau were able to score 100-plus point seasons, leading many to believe that the main catalyst for the increase in point production was actually Elias Lindholm himself.
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for Flames fans this offseason but it’s fairly safe to say that there is a lot to look forward to with the new big additions to the team as well as their other free agent signings. To add on to the excitement, for local and AHL fans, Stockton Heat will be playing out of the Saddledome now. Previously based in Stockton, California, the move to Calgary gives Flames fans an opportunity to be more involved with the organization and get a sense of what can be expected of the team as the players develop for the NHL.
Not all hope is lost, Flames fans. Jonathan Huberdeau is excited to play and looking to sign long term with the Flames. The projected line of Huberdeau-Lindholm-Tofolli would be a point production powerhouse once they are used to each other.
The Flames have not burnt out and there is plenty to look forward to for the 2022-23 season with the announcement of the Calgary Wranglers and signings of Oliver Kylington and Andrew Mangiapane. Both players are looking to play a larger role on the team.