The unfortunate and unsurprising news was released today, that Johnny Gaudreau has a broken finger that requires surgery and is going to miss weeks of games.
Johnny Gaudreau. Broken finger. Will require surgery. Flames' season just getting worse.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) November 16, 2016
Losing their best player is a devastating loss for a Flames team coming off one of their better games of the season last night. While Gaudreau had a tough start to the season after missing the entirety of training camp due to contract negotiations, he showed flashes throughout the season and as of late was looking very much like the Johnny we have become accustomed to over the past couple of seasons; an extremely skilled and dominant offensive player.
The problem that many Flames fans (myself included) have with this, is the fact that this was unfortunately inevitable. Gaudreau gets slashed constantly and it is sickening. He is faster, smarter and more skilled than most players in the NHL and his size makes him very good at avoiding physical contact from the opposition. So, players around the league have decided that the way they can slow Gaudreau down is by hooking, tripping and slashing him. All 3 by the NHL rulebook are penalties. How regularly are these infractions called when performed on Gaudreau? I have no number to give you, but based on the eye test I think it is very safe to say well under half of them. Last night for example, Gaudreau was slashed many times, including one by Ryan Suter that resulted in him leaving the game temporarily, before later leaving permanently after a slash from Eric Staal. What penalties were called regarding the conduct on Gaudreau yesterday? An interference penalty by Suter that occurred before the more serious slashes transpired. What kind of message does it send to opposition players if they are allowed to slash Gaudreau without being called for it? It tells them that they have a special way to stop this player, since they cannot through the legal avenues of the game. According to a real good article by Darren Haynes, the Wild slashed Gaudreau 21 times yesterday. 21 times. 0 calls.
I don't know if you can insure wrists, but if I'm Johnny Gaudreau, I'm looking into it. The hack count tonight is well into double digits.— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) November 16, 2016
This is not the first time that Gaudreau has missed time as result of an injury from a slash. Last year near the end of the season, Duncan Keith wildly chopped at Johnny’s ribs, which resulted in him missing a handful of games. They were vicious, attempt-to-injure slashes, but once again, no call. It is absolute trash. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most exciting players to watch in the NHL. He is tied with Mark Giordano for the team’s highest paid player. He is the team’s best player, their driver of offense and is the catalyst in a substantial portion of the team’s wins. It is unfair to him, it is unfair to the team and it is unfair to the fans.
So What Can Be Done to Prevent This From Happening Again?
Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe the NHL could actually step up and regularly call slashing infractions? Enough of this “game management” garbage, call penalties when a penalty happens. If that means calling 7 penalties a game on a team for slashing Gaudreau, then so be it, because there have been games where that really should have happened. People watch the NHL to see the stars of the league, so maybe the NHL should do a better job of protecting them from dirty plays. Gaudreau is not the only victim of this; I regularly watch Winnipeg Jets games and a similarly skilled player in Nikolaj Ehlers is frequently victimized by such plays. It happens to many smaller, fast players throughout the league. It is on the NHL to make it stop, regularly calling penalties would be a good first step.
Some may argue that the Flames should make teams pay for going after Gaudreau and in a sense I agree, but what exactly are his teammates supposed to do about it? Good on Sam Bennett for hunting down Suter later in the game and giving him a good crosscheck, but that does not negate what happened to Gaudreau. The Flames have players like Micheal Ferland, Troy Brouwer and Deryk Engelland that can make teams pay physically, but are they supposed to go take retaliation penalties that will put the team at a further disadvantage and not really help prevent such a thing from happening again in the future? Gaudreau was slashed all the time last year when the Flames regularly dressed Brandon Bollig and Lance Bouma. Are the Flames supposed to go and mercilessly slash other team’s skilled players to even the playing field? That does not sound like a good solution. There are no winners in that scenario.
The Flames were already a team struggling to find their way, losing their best player for weeks will not make things any easier for them. This is a detrimental blow to their relatively small hope of fighting their way back into the playoff picture. Never say never, I guess, but I do not feel too confident the Flames are going to suddenly be a much more successful team without their best offensive weapon. Players like Matthew Tkachuk, Hunter Shinkaruk and Micheal Ferland will be called on to step up, but there are no other Johnny Gaudreau’s in the organization. There is just one Johnny Hockey and he is missing the next few weeks because he got slashed one time too many. Maybe the NHL can get it together and help minimize the likelihood of this occurring again, but honestly, I doubt it.