Johnny Gaudreau was one of Calgary’s best players Thursday, but the Flames still dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to visiting Edmonton and were eliminated from the Western Conference semifinals.
The speedy 28-year-old from South Jersey had a goal and a team-high eight shots on goal — he had 12 shot attempts — and now it’s fair to wonder if the player known as “Johnny Hockey” has played his last game for Pacific Division champion Calgary and is coming home to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gaudreau, a prospective unrestricted free agent, picked an opportune time to have a career season. He set career highs in goals (40), assists (75), points (115, second in the NHL) and plus-minus rating (league-best plus-64).
In the past, he has said he would like to wear the Orange and Black at some point in his career.
“Everyone wants to play for their hometown team eventually,” Gaudreau once told me at an event at his alma mater, Gloucester Catholic High, in 2016.
That was a long time ago, but Gaudreau still has strong connections to the area, and he is close with Flyers center Kevin Hayes, his former Boston College teammate.
Gaudreau owns a home at the Jersey Shore, and his wife and his family have ties to the region, so he seems like a natural fit for the Philadelphia Flyers, who desperately need a player with his deception, skill, and creativity.
They also need a drawing card because attendance dwindled this season.
It’s probably now or never, because Gaudreau, who turns 29 on Aug. 13, figures to sign a long-term deal. He made $6.75 million annually over the last six years, and that number will probably be in the $9 million range in his next deal.
Ah, but there is a stumbling block.
For one, Calgary GM Brad Treliving has said the Flames will “move heaven and earth” to keep him.
For another, the Flyers have salary-cap problems. Big problems.
Despite having a weak (and injury-riddled) team that finished last in the Metropolitan Division, the Flyers have little cap space.
In other words, they have overspent for the quality of players on their roster.
Even shedding Claude Giroux’s $8.25 million cap hit hasn’t helped much.
According to capfriendly.com, the Flyers have just $5.1 million in cap space, and that’s with money committed to just 18 players. Teams carry 22 or 23.
In other words, general manager Chuck Fletcher is going to have to do lots of roster maneuvering before he can even think about adding Gaudreau.
Trading James van Riemsdyk ($7 cap hit) would free up lots of cap space, but finding a partner to take his huge contract won’t be easy. If the Flyers bought out JVR, they would still have a $4.3 cap hit this season and a $1.3 cap hit next season.
Among the myriad of other possibilities, they could also deal Travis Konecny ($5.5 million cap hit), who had a team-high 52 points but just 16 goals last season, for prospects and/or draft picks and save money.
Stay tuned. The Johnny Hockey Watch is just getting started.