There’s a lot to unbox, well over three weeks worth of bubble supplies.
Where do the Calgary Flames go from here?
A chinook of change will inevitably blow into Cowtown. From acting coach to a disappointing core, to free agents galore, change is pretty much the only guarantee as GM Brad Treliving and Co. begins a most critical autopsy after another disappointing ending.
Six seasons into the tenure of Treliving – the 10th longest in the Now Hiring League – the Flames have just one playoff win, putting aside the pandemic weirdness of a qualifying round win over the Winnipeg Jets.
The first and most obvious question concerns the immediate future of interim coach Geoff Ward.
It was Ward who said after Thursday night’s crushing loss – the only Stanley Cup playoff game in 102-year hockey history where a team trailed by three goals and won by four – that he felt the Flames “had taken a step forward” as opposed to last year. ”
It certainly was not. The Flames won the Pacific Division last year with 107 points and were on track to finish with a poor 93 this season.
Unlike last spring when the flames were extinguished by Nathan MacKinnon, that series against the Dallas Stars was here for the taking. Calgary was 12 seconds off a 3-1 best of seven advantage before taking a late lead. The Flames appeared to lack the step-throat mentality required to win season two.
If Ward hasn’t done enough to have the provisional tag removed ahead of the pandemic with a 24-15-3 record, it’s hard to imagine his panicked keeper shooting after Cam Talbot blew a three-goal lead helped his case.
If Treliving chooses to start fresh, the Flames’ new bench boss would be Treliving’s fifth in seven seasons and his fourth hire after Glen Gulutzan, Bill Peters and Ward.
What players will Calgary’s next coach have at his disposal?
This is where the temperature rises.
The fingers are already pointing to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the common refrain being that this playoff series would be the once and for all referendum on Calgary’s heart.
These are not unfair questions to raise.
But if this summer has solidified anything, it’s because the Flames are Matthew Tkachuk‘steam. He was already their heart, but missing Tkachuk for the last four and a half games against the Stars was proof that he was their best player too.
The danger of making this distinction lies in the resulting decision. The gut reaction might be to blow it up, dispatch at least one of the main players. The smarter game might be to find a better supporting cast for Tkachuk, relieve Gaudreau and Monahan in the match-up, and maybe make those two lines some of the best two-headed monsters in the league.
To be clear: Johnny and “Mony” are not absolved of contempt. They combined for exactly one evenly matched goal in the series – on an empty net. But they’ve created at least six power-play goals in 10 games, and the scoreboard doesn’t distinguish between even strength and power play – especially in the playoffs.
You can bet Treliving’s phone will ring off-hook, with 23 of the league’s 31 teams able to swap between them by Monday, to see if either one is available.
Their contracts, each under control for at least the next two seasons, are incredibly reasonable compared to their production.
Consider: Over the past six seasons, Monahan has scored 172 goals – the 15th most in the NHL – and over Leon Draisaitl (168), MacKinnon (168), Mark Scheifele (166) and Jeff Skinner (161). Over the past five seasons, Gaudreau has accumulated 380 points – the 11th highest in the NHL – and over John Tavares (368), Claude Giroux (365), David pastrnak (352), Alexandre Barkov (347) and Jack Eichel (337).
Instead, attention could be better spent on the net. The goalie may not have lost the series to Dallas, but it certainly cost them Game 6.
If there is a real blow to Treliving’s tenure, it would be in its inability to respond adequately to the Flames’ goaltenders. Talbot, a free agent on hold, and David Rittich provided Calgary with their best net season in six years, but the Flames have averaged 20th in save percentage over the past six years.
Treliving has drawn 11 different goalkeepers in six seasons: Jonas Hiller, Curry Ramo, Joni Ortio, Niklas Backstrom, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Jon Gillies, Rittich, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack and Talbot.
It’s offseason to cause a stir, with more starting caliber goaltenders likely available than possible starting positions – from Vancouver Jacob Markstrom to the pride of Western Canada Braden Holtby, from a popular teammate Robin Lehner in the playoffs Matt Murray – it should play the annual game of musical chairs to Calgary’s advantage.
With a goal line approach, the blue line is next. The Flames will count on Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki shoulder the first four loads, but what does that mean for TJ Brodie? Travis Hamonic is unlikely to return after disabling return to play, more Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson are also free agents.
The Calgary Chinook of Change is coming. There is no shortage of questions and they will all require careful consideration.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli