Jesse Bonello The Hockey Writers
Flames’ Disappointing Performances Headlined by Gaudreau
The Calgary Flames head into the NHL All Star break in a four-way tie for second place in the Pacific Division standings with 57 points, just one point back of the first-place Vancouver Canucks.
Despite being in the midst of a very tight Western Conference playoff race, the Flames are just one year removed from leading the Pacific Division with 107 points and an impressive 50-25-7 record.
Last season saw Johnny Gaudreau lead the Flames in scoring with a career-high 99 points (36 goals and 63 assists), but this season has been a much different season for Gaudreau and his teammates.
The Flames were banking on repeat, or even better, performances from some of their big weapons to lead them back to the top of the division standings. This season, it seems like most of the roster is on pace to fall short of last season’s numbers, with Gaudreau leading the charge, as we look at some of the Flames’ biggest disappointments this season.
After being considered a candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player last season, there were high hopes that Gaudreau would lead the Flames to similar success this season. The Flames ended last season on a sour note in the playoffs, getting blown away in five games against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, but many hoped that Gaudreau would bounce back to his MVP-like form this season. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened.
Johnny Hockey has struggled to find offensive consistency this season. He has 38 points (13 goals and 25 assists) in 50 games this season and has seen his points-per-game (P/GP) average fall from 1.2 last season to 0.76 this season.
Eclipsing the 70-point mark could be a tough task for Gaudreau this season, and it’s a far cry from finishing one point shy of the 100-point mark just over a year ago.
Related: Flames Relying Heavily on Top Dogs
Gaudreau was gaining offensive momentum at the start of the New Year, picking up seven points (three goals and four assists) in five games, but he’s since been held without a point in the team’s last three games.
The Flames will be looking for Gaudreau to find his groove again, and in quick fashion, following the All-Star break. The Flames schedule picks back up right away with a match-up against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 28 followed by back-to-back games against the Edmonton Oilers.
Earlier in the season, there were rumors and suggestions of Gaudreau getting shipped out of Calgary to shake things up. There were, and still are, serious doubts regarding a Gaudreau trade, especially since the Flames are still right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff battle. However, depending on how the season unfolds, it could be a move that Brad Treliving considers in the offseason if the return is right.
The former first-round pick (21st overall) in 2012 made good strides in his game last season, putting up 32 points (14 goals and 18 assists) and was plus-six in 79 games with the Flames. Those numbers were an improvement from the previous season when he put up 25 points (17 goals and eight assists) in 72 games with the Flames in 2017-18 as a rookie.
Now, in his third year playing for the Flames, Jankowski has struggled to stay in the lineup and has had an even harder time getting on the score sheet. He has just one goal and one assist in 39 games this season to go along with being a minus-12.
When he’s in the lineup, Jankowski is often slotted on the Flames’ top penalty kill unit, where he provides the most effective use of his skill set. Aside from his penalty killing, his performance this season has been all-around disappointing. The Flames have been plagued with a lack of depth scoring this season, and Jankowski has been one of the struggling components in that problem. The fourth-liner is on pace for career-lows in goals, assists, points, plus-minus, and faceoff-percentage.
Jankowski was once featured alongside TJ Brodie in a deal last season that would’ve sent Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Flames, which was reportedly blocked by Kadri. Now, the Flames would likely be happy to receive a late-round draft pick for the former first-rounder. If there’s still interest around the league in Jankowski, Treliving might want to take advantage of it during this season’s trade deadline.
Backlund has provided the Flames with at least 45 points for the past four seasons, but this season the former 2007 first-round-pick is on pace to fall short of the 40-point mark.
Backlund has 22 points (six goals and 16 assists) in 50 games for the Flames this season. His faceoff-win-percentage of 46.31 is his lowest since the 2011-12 season, but he’s found himself playing on the wing alongside Gaudreau and Sean Monahan as of late.
The expectations aren’t sky-high for Backlund, but what makes his numbers and play seem so disappointing is that it comes at a high price. The 30-year-old is set to make $5.35 million for another four seasons, which is a hefty price to pay for a player that is currently struggling to eclipse 40 points.
Backlund’s contract also features a no-move-clause, which could complicate a potential deal in the future if the Flames decide to move on from him. Without an offensive resurgence, the Flames will be very hard-pressed to find a trade partner that would be willing to take Backlund’s contract on without Treliving retaining cap. Backlund and Milan Lucic take up around $10.5 million in cap space, which will likely be a headache for Treliving throughout the next few seasons.
Hanifin’s ability to provide defensive reliability, along with his ability to generate offense, was showcased last season, and it had many people eager to see how the young two-way defender would develop his game this season.
This season, generating offense has been a bit of a struggle for Hanifin who has 14 points (five goals and nine assists) in 50 games. Despite averaging the most ice time of his career at 21:25 minutes-per-game, Hanifin is currently on pace for his lowest offensive output since his rookie season, four seasons ago, when he put up 22 points (four goals and 18 assists) in 79 games.
Offense aside, Hanifin has also struggled to provide consistent reliability defensively. His poor positioning and high turnovers have led to what many have considered a disappointing season for the young defender. Hanifin is currently tied with Mark Giordano in giveaways among Flames’ defenceman with 43, but Giordano averages three more minutes per game on the top pairing.
Darren Dreger has recently reported that Hanifin could be a defender that Treliving considers moving, but I don’t think that makes sense for Calgary. Hanifin is just about to turn 23 years old – he has plenty of time to improve and grow, and his contract will be a bargain for years to come while he’s a mainstay as a top-four defender for the Flames. Hanifin is set to make $4.95 million for four more seasons, which compares to Niklas Hjalmarsson, Andy Greene, and Danny DeKeyser who all make $5 million.
Hanifin showed what he is capable of as a top-four defender just a season ago and, unless the return is too good for the Flames to refuse, it doesn’t make sense to move a young defender with good term like Hanifin.
Brodie and Travis Hamonic are pending free agents, and their names have also been thrown around when talking about potential trades.
Both Hamonic and Brodie have reportedly been linked to potential trades involving a familiar partner – the Leafs. The Flames are in need of scoring depth and they could look to move either Brodie or Hamonic to acquire names like Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson, but it’s merely speculation at this point.
Trade talk is starting to heat up around the league and many eyes will be on Treliving, eagerly waiting to see if a roster shake-up is coming for the Flames as they fight to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff race.
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