CALGARY â€” The momentum from the back half of their season halted by a quick and early exit from the playoffs, the Calgary Flames face a goaltending dilemma for the second off-season in a row.
Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are both unrestricted free agents after one season in Calgary.
General manager Brad Treliving acquired Elliott from St. Louis in a trade and signed Johnson as a free agent last summer in hopes the duo was the answer to their goaltending woes then.
They were in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Elliott gave up soft goals in three of the four losses to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.
He was pulled in the opening minutes of Game 4 and replaced by Johnson, who gave up an early goal in relief in a 3-1 loss.
Elliott, 32, and Johnson, 30, both expressed interest in re-signing.
“I’ve always had deals done pretty quick or during the season,” Elliott said. “This is kind of new for me to end the season with nothing on the table as far as contracts.”
Johnson, a Calgary native who supplanted Elliott for a stretch early in the season, made it clear he no longer wants to be a backup.
“My heart is here. There’s no denying that,” Johnson said. “I want to be a 1a goalie. I think I’ve proven I can be a 1b. “
The Flames were slow out of the gates in 2016-17 as they adjusted to new coach Glen Gulutzan, assistants David Cameron and Paul Jerrad as well as unfamiliar goalies.
Winger Johnny Gaudreau missed training camp because of a contract dispute before signing a six-year deal worth $6.75 million annually. The Flames added forward Kris Versteeg to the team on opening day.
But Calgary’s special teams and defence eventually came together.
The Flames posted one of the best records in the NHL after Nov. 15 (40-23-3), en route to claiming the first wild card playoff berth in the Western Conference with a 45-33-4 record.
“We started to believe in the second half of the season we were a good team,” captain Mark Giordano said. “We were right up there with any team in the league. It’s good we’ve laid down that foundation.”
“Obviously getting into the playoffs was huge for our organization, but now it’s time to take that next step.”
The Flames went 10-4 in March, but 1-3 the final week of the regular season. The division-winning Ducks were on more of a roll going 8-0-2 into their series.
“We kind of limped in after making the playoffs,” Elliott. “You can be proud of yourself to clinch a spot, but you also have to be clicking.
“You look at Chicago and they went 1-4-1 going into the playoffs after having an unbelievable season, thinking ‘these guys could win the Cup again’ and (they’re) out in four games.”
Versteeg, along with Michael Stone, Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman will also be unrestricted free agents July 1.
Wideman, 34, won’t likely return. He and the Flames are being sued by NHL linesman Don Henderson.
Wideman is alleged to have deliberately shoved his stick in Henderson’s back during a regular season game during the 2015-16 season.
Henderson has filed a lawsuit over multiple injuries he said he sustained in the incident.
“It’s a legal proceeding in front of the courts,” Treliving said. “We’re just not going to comment on it.”
Calgary’s restricted free agents include Sam Bennett, trade-deadline pickup Curtis Lazar, and wingers Michael Ferland and Alex Chiasson.
Sean Monahan, 22, and Bennett, 20, were top playoff performers.
Monahan scored four power-play goals in as many games. Bennett played an abrasive game and had two goals.
Monahan, who signed a seven-year contract last summer, led Calgary in goals this season with 27.
The centre was invited to play for Canada at the upcoming men’s world championship, but declined to undergo wrist surgery.
Mikael Backlund had a breakout performance with 22 goals and 31 assists and a plus-nine rating that put him in the conversation for the Selke Trophy.
Gaudreau ran hot and cold this season in part because of his absence from training camp and a hand injury in November. The 23-year-old led the Flames in points with 61 in 72 games.
Playing on a line with Monahan and Ferland, Gaudreau was held without a goal in the post-season.
“I look at the quality chances they had, that line specifically and Johnny, I’m happy with the way they played,” Gulutzan said.
“They created the most offence for us in the series, actually the most in the series. It just never went in.”
Contractual issues extend into management as Treliving is at the end of his. He believes the Flames are on the cusp of being a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup.
“But our message to the players is, it doesn’t happen because we think we are,” he said. “It doesn’t happen because we’re going to be a year old and a year wiser. It happens because we’re going to put the work in.
“I think it’s time we raised the bar.”
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press