Sports

Clock ticking down on Flames as fans wait for word on Gaudreau, Tkachuk

It’s not what the Calgary Flames did at the draft that has everyone talking.

It’s what they didn’t do that is the story.

They didn’t sign Johnny Gaudreau.

They didn’t sign Matthew Tkachuk.

They didn’t make any moves to free up cap space, or make trades to add to their three draft picks.

Sure, there’s still time to make good on three of those four.

But time isn’t on the Flames’ side, with just a handful of days left until the franchise player can walk to any team he chooses on Wednesday.

The only positive thing Flames fans could cling to were the words of GM Brad Treliving before he boarded a plane for Calgary.

“If I didn’t think that it was possible, we’d probably turn our attention somewhere else,” said Treliving of contract talks with Gaudreau.

“That’s not to say it’s a slam dunk, but when you think there’s a deal there to get done you keep working at it.”

He continues to remain optimistic this won’t end in disaster.

“What I’ve found in our business is deadlines push decisions and we’re creeping up on one,” Treliving said.

“I genuinely think everybody’s heart is in the right place. We want to get the player signed and I think he wants to be in Calgary. But they’re big decisions — they’re life decisions.

“He’s earned this opportunity, if he doesn’t sign with us, to look at the market and that’s something he’s got to consider.”

Speculation around Calgary the last few days has revolved around the notion Gaudreau simply hasn’t made up his mind on whether he wants to come back.

If true, it’s stunning given he’s had months to chew on the two obvious options that would present themselves, as they have:

• The Flames are willing to pay market value, as the reported eight-year, $9.5 million US deal suggests.

• Plenty of teams based much closer to his Jersey roots are willing to do the same, albeit over seven years.

It was expected that even if he chose Calgary, he’d drag the negotiations out to squeeze as much as he could out of the Flames.

But this is starting to get uncomfortable, as it handcuffs the organization in so many ways until his situation is resolved.

Treliving admitted as much, saying earlier in the week that his focus revolves around signing Gaudreau and Tkachuk, an RFA, to long-term deals.

Both have offered in their hands, yet the waiting continues.

Surely Tkachuk wouldn’t consider signing anything until he learns of Gaudreau’s fate.

The organization can’t do much of anything else until it knows how much — if anything — Gaudreau might cost.

The obvious question is, at what point will the Flames have to consider the possibility of trading Gaudreau’s rights?

“You monitor it daily – my hope is we’re going to get something done before it gets to that,” said Treliving.

“If it gets to that you have to make decisions, but honestly our focus is banging away and trying to get this done.”

In terms of what the Flames might be able to salvage in a trade, consider pending UFA Ville Huuso was traded by the St. Louis Blues to the Detroit Red Wings Friday for a third-round pick before signing a three-year deal worth $4.75 million annually.

Gaudreau can only be traded one of five places, as per his contract, complicating the chances of getting a pick of any significance this late in the game.

And so, Flames fans wait.

And worry.

One of the only people in the hockey world who isn’t aware of the team’s precarious situation when it comes to Gaudreau is the 18-year-old lad the Flames drafted with their second-round pick Friday, Topi Ronni.

“Obviously I know Johnny Hockey,” he said from his home in Finland, where he walked in after practice to hugs from his parents as his name appeared on TV.

“But I don’t know anything (about his situation). I don’t have any information on that.”

Neither do the rest of us.

Treliving said he had plenty of contact with Gaudreau’s agent, Lewis Gross, while in Montreal, but the two have done well to keep everything about the franchise-defining negotiations under tight wraps.

Because of how much Treliving poured into shoring up last year’s roster, the team arrived in Montreal with just a second-, fifth- and seventh-rounder.

Ronni rounded out his 17-year-old season playing against men in Finland’s top league with Tappara, where the six-foot-two, 181-pound center will play again next season.

“I would say my biggest strengths are my hockey sense and my versatility, my ability to play offense and defense,” said Ronni, who had a point per game playing Under-18 and Under-20 last season before joining the big club where he had two goals and four points in 19 games.

“The physicality is on a different level playing with men compared to junior games, so you have to be better in pretty much everything to play in the league.”

Draft experts peg the youngster, whose idols included Sidney Crosby and Alex Barkov, as a middle-to-bottom-six forward.

The Flames used their fifth-round pick to snag six-foot-four, 201-pound left winger Parker Bell from the Tri-City Americans, where the 18-year-old scored 18 goals and had 49 points in 64 games.

The Flames took another big body in the seventh round, selecting six-foot-three, 197-pound center Cade Littler, who had 20 goals and 45 points in 50 games with Wenatchee of the BCHL.

The 17-year-old is committed to Minnesota State University (Mankato) in two seasons.

Tough to get too excited about the Montreal excursion with so many unknowns as the clock ticks down.

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