Even with Flames out of answers, trading a star shouldn’t be on the table

Things have not been going well for Johnny Gaudreau in 2019-20. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Things have not been going well for Johnny Gaudreau in 2019-20. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The good news is the Calgary Flames are almost certainly not dumb enough to sell low on Johnny Gaudreau in the midst of a career-worst slump.

The bad news is that fans and local media are going to keep suggesting they do so for the foreseeable future.

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The #TradeGaudreau movement — three guys, one of which is more or less a “Twitter egg” — got its first big talk-up in the local media this week, with Gaudreau sitting on just five goals and 18 points from his first 24 games. This largely happened because the Flames were shut out in back-to-back games, the offense as a whole is sputtering, and no one seems to want to accept that the team’s depth really just isn’t that good. So because no one apparently learns anything in Alberta, locals have to gin up something that’s all too reminiscent of “Trade Taylor Hall for help elsewhere.”

The argument, of course, is that Gaudreau makes $6.75 million a year, and the Flames are well off the pace from last year, when they had just about everything go right for them all season — on top of just generally playing well — to finish second in the entire league. Then came the playoffs, in which a Colorado team seen as bigger and meaner came into Calgary and swept them, sparking a descent into Big Body madness.

They traded James Neal (fair enough) for Milan Lucic (hmm) and before Tuesday night’s loss to Colorado (of course) they called up… Zac Rinaldo? We can obviously toss any argument that Lucic would make every “soft” player on the Flames “play a few inches taller” because the only thing Lucic has done this year is stand idly by while the other team either pounds the puck-carrier or scores on him. But if you’re Brad Treliving and you’re looking for offense, why do you call up Rinaldo so he can get like four minutes of ice time, instead of, I don’t know, the 21-year-old who’s scoring a point a game so far this season? Oh right, it’s because he’s listed at 5-foot-7.

The argument that trading Gaudreau is something the Flames could or should even consider in the midst of a horrendous scoring drought — they have just 60 goals in 24 games — is ridiculous and anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like a trial balloon). The team is shooting eight percent in all situations, well below the league average. And that’s with some premium offensive talent.

Gaudreau individually is shooting 7.8 percent, meaning he’s worse than the Flames’ rank and file, and that’s compared to a career conversion rate closer to 12 percent. His PDO right now at 5-on-5 is under 94.

The idea of selling Gaudreau to address the team problem is laughable. You can think whatever you want about Mark Jankowski as a player, but the fact that he hasn’t been on the ice for a single Flames goal in his 21 games — out of the team’s 24 — is an indicator of just how far this bad luck stretches. He may only be getting 10:17 a night, but for any NHLer to go longer than the running time of “The Irishman” or so without a goal for is a bigger problem than “he’s not an NHLer” (which, from what he’s shown so far this year, he is not).

None of this is to say Gaudreau is playing well this year. He’s not personally doing enough to generate the offense he’s paid for, with his individual high-danger chances dropping significantly on a per-hour basis. But this is so far outside what you would expect from a player who has posted borderline-elite individual numbers — at least — throughout his career, to go from three straight years of improvement to cratering (albeit through 24 games) at age 26 that you can almost certainly write it off as a fluke. Particularly because some of his underlying on-ice numbers still look good, and especially when compared to what the Flames do when he’s on the bench.

The #TradeGaudreau brain genius pod, I think, does not understand the value of stars in this league, and the idea that you could ever have too many high-talent players is a great way to put yourself in a position to get the next Connor McDavid, if you follow my meaning.

These are, however, the same people who see a Flames team last year that looked great but also had the sixth-highest PDO in the league and said, “Finishing second in the league was not a fluke.” They also unequivocally thought the 2014-15 Flames were the world-beaters they appeared to be for 85 percent of the season, right up until they weren’t. But we didn’t hear much from them about that after the fact.

As with Gaudreau’s white-hot individual output last year, some of what the Flames did last year was sustainable, and some of it wasn’t. The team inarguably got worse over the summer, and Bill Peters doesn’t seem to be overflowing with ideas for how to fix what’s wrong with either Gaudreau or the team writ large.

Independent of all other considerations, we can be assured of this: Trading the guy who’s 12th in the league in scoring since 2016-17 is actually not the miraculous solution to the Calgary Flames putting more pucks in the net.

Even if three guys did tweet about it.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats/salary info via Natural Stat TrickEvolving HockeyHockey ReferenceCapFriendly and Corsica unless noted.

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