The off-season comes upon you quickly in today's NHL. One minute, you're in a playoff series, hanging on against the No. 1 team in the conference, and the next thing you know, it's summertime and the living is easy. Or, if you're Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau, you're off to Boston Thursday to enroll in summer school and keep the promise you made to your mom when you left school early to go pro – that you'll eventually get your degree.
Gaudreau is majoring in communications. With teammate Brandon Bollig helpfully holding a microphone and asking questions on behalf of Flames TV during Tuesday's player exit interviews, Gaudreau mentioned that he might eventually be looking to do an internship with one of the local media outfits.
Or he could just keep building off his excellent rookie NHL season, for which he is a Calder Trophy finalist. He'll have to duck out of classes in late June and travel to the annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas to be on hand to accept if he happens to win.
As usual, the cone of silence relating to injuries is finally lifted once the season is over. Turns out T.J. Brodie was playing with a sprained ankle. Jiri Hudler had a sore neck and back. Micheal Ferland played with a painful strained oblique muscle, limiting his ability to hurl himself into opposition defencemen. All are expected to make full recoveries, and all are expected to return, hungrier than ever, when training camp opens in September.
By then, if all goes well, the Flames will have made defenceman Mark Giordano a member of the league's gazillionaires club. Everybody at a certain level of NHL achievement becomes a millionaire, but Giordano is to Calgary what Jonathan Toews is to the Chicago Blackhawks – a player whose leadership skills add value beyond what he contributes on the ice, which is also considerable.
Giordano was tied for the league lead in scoring by a defenceman when he tore a biceps tendon in March. He was a huge factor in many of the Flames' early-season victories that propelled them into playoff contention, and he was also a big reason why they developed the culture they did, with a blue-collar work ethic that endeared them to their fans.
So getting Giordano signed is priority No. 1, according to general manager Brad Treliving.
Calgary has the salary-cap space to get it done, but must spend judiciously all the same. "We need to be surgical in our approach," Treliving said. Part of being a good manager in the salary-cap era is being a shrewd accountant and saving room in the budget for the years ahead. Sean Monahan's entry-level contract expires after next season. Two years from now, the same will happen with Gaudreau and Sam Bennett. They will likely be in line for big raises.
Keeping the dollars available to sign core players is critical, so that down the road, when the young nucleus approaches its prime, they can take advantage of a three-year to five-year window to push for a championship.
The Flames understand that these are still early days in the rebuild, a point Treliving and coach Bob Hartley reiterated at their end-of-season press conference. Yes, they had a great run, but it could easily go sideways in the ultracompetitive Western Conference, or until their young players mature.
By then, they hope to have figured out a No. 1 goalie, too. It won't be Jonas Hiller, the veteran who has a year left on his contract; it could be Karri Ramo, if they decide to re-sign the potential unrestricted free agent; or maybe it's Joni Ortio, who looked good in a handful of cameos this season.
Long-term, the solution might be Jon Gillies, who led Providence College to the NCAA championship and just signed his first pro contract. Gillies is 6 foot 6 and is following roughly the same career arc as New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider. The Flames will want him to be their starter in the minors for the next two years, and slowly work his way up to the NHL.
Over all, Calgary's 97-point season will be a hard act to follow, and that isn't stop-the-press news in the Flames organization – or dressing room.
"There's a ton of good teams that didn't make playoffs this year and will be hungry to get back in next year," said Giordano, who added: "We're close, but in saying that, it's so tough to predict in the league from year to year, with how tight it is. It's on us next year – the No. 1 storyline is going to be 'Can we do it again, and can we get back to the playoffs?' We have to prove that to ourselves – and to everyone else, too."
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