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Since the transition from the powerhouse teams of the 1980s, the Calgary Flames have been consistently defined by their most talented players. The 1990s belonged to Theoren Fleury. The 2000s belonged to Jarome Iginla. Since he signed with the club in the spring of 2014, the Flames’ most talented player has been Johnny Gaudreau.

With a lot of chatter, media and otherwise, about Gaudreau’s future in Calgary, we need to talk about Gaudreau, depth, and the difference between being the most talented and being the best player.

Here’s Johnny

Gaudreau came to the Flames via the 2011 NHL Draft. He was a superb player in the United States Hockey League – before that league really had a great reputation as a proving ground for junior-aged college-bound players – but scouts were concerned about his size.

Then he went to Boston College and shut everyone up with three tremendous offensive seasons. At the same time, in the wake of Justin Schultz spurning the Anaheim Ducks and going to free agency in 2012, fans seemed tremendously nervous that this hotshot prospect would come play in Calgary for a rebuilding team. Gaudreau, meanwhile, was as upbeat as could be – we spoke with him at every development camp for three years and he was complimentary of the organization and city for taking a chance on him in the draft.

In 2014, the Flames sent Craig Conroy and a private plane to convince Gaudreau to sign at the Hobey Baker Award ceremonies. It worked and he made his Flames debut in Game 82 of the 2014-15 season. He scored a goal in a weird game against Vancouver – you may recall that Paul Byron hit a Sedin hard enough that they had to be stretchered off.

And suddenly, depth

Now, uh, the reason why Gaudreau was able to join the Flames in 2014 was because they kinda sucked. The Flames were in the midst of their fifth consecutive playoff-free spring. Sean Monahan took advantage of the team’s lack of center depth by hustling his way to a roster spot out of training camp, but aside from him the team’s prospect depth was iffy. (Sven Baertschi had already bounced between the Flames and the minors for two seasons and would be traded to Vancouver a year later.)

But a funny thing has happened since Gaudreau debuted: the Flames figured out drafting, or at least improved at finding good depth pieces. Sam Bennett came in 2014 and went straight to the NHL. Andrew Mangiapane was selected in 2015 and worked his way up from the AHL to the top six. Matthew Tkachuk went early in 2016 and joined the team immediately, while Dillon Dube took the longer route through the NHL. (We’ll ignore the existence of Jakob Pelletier, Dmitry Zavgorodniy, Emilio Pettersen and Matthew Phillips for now because they haven’t played any NHL games yet so who knows what they could become.)

But here’s the rub: Gaudreau is probably the Flames most talented player. But he hasn’t been their best one.

Including playoffs, Tkachuk had a higher average game score and led the team in regular season scoring. (Gaudreau was second in scoring in both the regular season and playoffs.) But you can make a good case for the past several seasons that Tkachuk or Mark Giordano has been the team’s best all-around player. (Or, at various points, one of the team’s many, many goalies.)

If you remember as far back as 2000, the Flames were a one man show: either Iginla would drag them kicking and screaming to respectability, or the team would be awful. He got a bit of help when Miikka Kiprusoff showed up in 2003, but then the team became a two man show and Darryl Sutter and then Jay Feaster tried to squeeze the last bits of hockey out of each guy. Both guys left – Iginla in a horrid trade with Pittsburgh and Kiprusoff into retirement – and the Flames had nobody waiting in the wings to pick up the torch.

The Flames don’t need to trade Gaudreau. He’s still productive. He has two seasons left on his contract (and his no trade clause doesn’t kick in until the second season). He says he wants to stick around. From an asset management perspective, the Flames don’t need to make a panic move. They can wait to maximize value, if a move is what they decide they want to do.

But this also isn’t the Iginla era of the club where they have one guy who can do things and nobody else. They have plenty of depth on the team, albeit depth without the offensive ceiling that Gaudreau has. If they want to change up the style of the team with a hockey trade or shake up the locker room, that would make sense (as long as the trade doesn’t see them get fleeced).

Long story short, the Flames still have some weapons at their disposal. Moving Gaudreau, potentially their most potent weapon, would need to be done carefully, calmly, and in a manner that makes the team better.

In other words: just do the opposite of what Sutter did with the Dion Phaneuf swap.