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What Now? Flames Look into Bleak Immediate Future

Calgary has been forced to start over

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It truly is the darkest of times right now for fans of the Calgary Flames as they have lost their two top superstar players in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk within a couple of weeks. With Gaudreau now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets and a Tkachuk trade pending within the week, the Flames have been essentially forced back to square one.

While it was always going to be a possibility that they would leave, it really feels like the Flames are now a team that has no real plan going into next season. They have spent the better part of the last decade building this club towards being a contender and really took a big step forward last year to becoming that annual NHL powerhouse. Adding in guys like Blake Coleman and Jacob Markstrom in the last two free agency periods backed up that plan.

Now Calgary is down two players who combined for 82 goals and 219 total points. Oof.

During the Gaudreau press conference last week, Brad Treliving re-iterated that all the Flames can do now is simply move forward.

The first step in that process begins with the trade of Tkachuk and what the potential return ends up being. There is no doubt that the Flames should get a haul for Tkachuk assuming an extension is involved. He is a very unique player who’s skillset should be coveted by the majority of teams, but biggest question is whether or not he’s willing to re-sign with whoever would be acquiring him.

The best guess is that the Flames probably acquire ~$5M of salary back for him plus a good prospect or two and a high pick or two. There’s a lot up in the air right now so speculating the final details of the trade is a tough game, especially given that we don’t know the direction the Flames are choosing with this move.

And that decision is really at the crux of everything right now. Are the Flames staff, management, and ownership ready to accept that a teardown is likely the best path forward for the club, or will they attempt to remain competitive in a difficult situation?

It seems pretty clear that rebuild or at least heavy retool is probably the right call heading into this season. Calgary should be able to re-coup some solid assets for guys like Tyler Toffoli and Chris Tanev along with exploring the options of trading guys like Mikael Backlund or Jacob Markstrom too.

The other question is what the plan is behind the bench. When Darryl Sutter joined the club, it was pretty clear that he was doing so to win a Stanley Cup but he’s now facing the prospect of coaching a club entering a rebuild. Do we see him step away from coaching and making way for a younger coach like Ryan Huska to take the reins?

Huska has been groomed by the franchise through the Stockton Heat and has been behind the Flames bench for a number of years now as well. He has grown as a coach alongside a number of the Flames current players like Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, Oliver Kylington, and Rasmus Andersson. It is clear that the succession plan was always going to be Huska, but the date for that plan may have just moved up a couple of years.

As the Flames move into this summer and the Tkachuk trade is completed, the priority should move to locking up Mangiapane as an RFA to a long term deal and also getting Kylington back on board at a reasonable price. Once that is done, Calgary might be able to turn to the UFA market to round out their roster if they are aiming to be competitive or they might just step back and re-evaluate the roster across the board.

The right decision for this club is to rebuild now, and anything other than that will be doing a disservice to the long term health of the franchise. What has gone on over the last two weeks has really sucked, but doing anything other than tearing it down and starting fresh would only compound the pain that these departures have caused.