Tough decisions ahead for Flames

Flames teammates celebrate a first period goal by TJ Brodie (7) during game five between the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames in Calgary on Friday, April 19, 2019. Jim Wells/Postmedia

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Change is coming.

The Calgary Flames know it.

The only question, really, is how much change is on its way?

With any hockey team, it’s inevitable that the roster will face some upheaval in the off-season. The Flames are no exception.

“It’s hard,” Flames head coach Bill Peters said. “It is a tight group, and guys are intelligent. The way the world works and the National Hockey League in the salary-cap era, you never bring back the same team. Ever.

“You’ve got RFAs, you’ve got UFAs, and guys make decisions, right? And you’ve got the salary cap to deal with, so that’s the reality — and they’re well aware of that.”

In the hours following the end of their season, there were calls for the Flames to trade everyone from TJ Brodie to Sean Monahan to Johnny Gaudreau.

With a little time to reflect and a day to let the pain of Friday’s season-ending loss to the Colorado Avalanche fade a little bit, most people will surely back down from the more outlandish statements they made in the wake of the Flames’ early — and surprising — elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Yes, the Flames were outmatched by the Avs and lost in five games in Round 1 of the National Hockey League post-season. It’s disappointing.

But the truth is there’s just no way to make a serious argument that Flames GM Brad Treliving should blow it all up, especially when Mark Giordano played the best hockey of his career this season and should have a few more good years left in him.

The time to ‘go for it’ is right now, and the hard part for Treliving this summer may be deciding what ‘going for it’ looks like.

Is it fair to question whether the Flames are ever going to be able to win a Stanley Cup with Monahan as their top-line centre and Gaudreau as their most dangerous offensive weapon? Yes, that is absolutely fair.

The two combined for a grand total of three points in five games against the Avalanche, and their last playoff showing two years ago in another quick ouster at the hands the Anaheim Ducks was disappointing, as well.

Until they prove otherwise, there are going to be lingering doubts about whether they can lead the Flames to the promised land.

The Flames saw firsthand what a dominant, best-in-class, first-line centre really looks like in their five games against the Avs, but while it’s easy to say the Flames need a guy like Nathan MacKinnon, guys like him don’t just become available on the trade market.

Even players in the tier or two directly below MacKinnon are going to come at a steep price.

Ultimately, Gaudreau has progressed steadily in every season of his NHL career, and with 99 points this season, he represents incredible value for the US$6.75 million the Flames are paying him.

Monahan’s 82 points in the regular season are nothing to sneeze at, either, and most guys around the league putting up similar numbers are making more than the $6.375 million the 24-year-old makes a year.

Both guys are entering their primes, too. With Elias Lindholm getting paid less than $5 million a year for the next five seasons and Matthew Tkachuk hopefully signing a new longterm deal with the Flames this summer, the team has a very good, young core of high-end forwards. There’s no debate there.

The question, though — again — is whether they are enough to really contend for a championship and whether it’s possible to get the player who will take the Flames to the next level without trading one of them — and that would probably have to be Gaudreau or Monahan.

Treliving has proven over the past couple of years that he’s not afraid of making a big deal, and the trades he’s made have generally turned out quite nicely.

Sending Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and the rights to Adam Fox to the Carolina Hurricanes for Noah Hanifin and Lindholm last summer worked out well for both teams.

Treliving gave up a big haul of draft picks to get defenceman Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders in 2017, and Hamonic has been a steady presence on the blue-line and is a leader on and off the ice for the Flames.

With the Flames goaltending situation unclear heading into next season and a number of highly-regarded young defencemen ready to take on bigger roles, Treliving has a lot of work to do this summer.

Again, change is inevitable.

The biggest question, though, is whether he’ll feel the need to pick up the phone again and work on another blockbuster.

With the way the season ended, it’s hard to imagine he won’t — at least — consider it.

daustin@postmedia.com

www.twitter.com/DannyAustin_9

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