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Flames aren't distracted amidst Gaudreau negotiations

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- He has been the 157-pound elephant in the room for some time now.

And ringmaster Mark Giordano is cautioning everyone eagerly awaiting the tent poles on the Big Top to go up to accept the fact that the circus may not roll into town by Wednesday.

"We have to prepared to start the season without him,'' acknowledged the captain on Red Rally day at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

There. It's been said. Out loud.

Johnny B. Goode could be Johnny B. Late.

"It's tough,'' sighed Giordano. "I'm sure it's not a comfortable situation for Johnny to be in. We know as a team, as an organization, that we love him and we want him to be there Game 1.

"But this is a business, too. People forget that, but it is. Johnny's situation is a little bit different, not being here at camp but every (player's) been through it.

"Now there's a threat that he's not going to play in that first game. I've never been on a team where a guy hasn't been there … has been in a holdout situation.

"So it's kind of new to all of us.

"If he's here, great. We'd all like nothing more. But if he's not, we've still got a game to play."

Contract negotiations for Johnny Gaudreau are ongoing as the days dwindle down to the Flames' seasonal curtain raiser at Rexall Arena up north on Wednesday night.

Replacing the sort of offence, the degree of offensive panche that Gaudreau accounts for would be difficult for any team among the 30.

He led the Flames with 30 goals and 78 points over his second full season, finishing sixth on the NHL scoring charts.

"He's one player,'' reasoned first-year boss Glen Gulutzan. "Obviously there's some chemistry with him and Mony (Sean Monahan). But it hasn't been a distraction for me because I haven't had him at all this year. In fact, I've haven't had him at all.

"Certainly we know he's not there. But we've got other guys we've got to put in those spots and come together collectively.

"If Johnny happens tomorrow, or a week from now, or whatever, we're just going day by day with what we think are the best units in power play and lineup.

"We have good players here and we're going to put the best lineup, the best line combinations, we can and the best power play-PK units we can.

"That's no different than if there's a trade in January or somebody's injured, you just put your lines together and when you get somebody back or somebody gets signed, you just do it again."

The depth of the chasm isn't exactly unprecedented.

Just scroll back two years, of course, to when the Flames were deprived of a certain vital player to a torn pectoral muscle as they pounded down the stretch in search of a playoff berth. 

And they didn't fold, feel sorry for themselves or curl up in a foetal position and whimper silently.

They hunkered down, manned up and reached the post-season, against all expectations but their own.

"That's a good point,'' replied that certain vital player, Mark Giordano. "The message we can take from that is that our team really came together and did it by committee.

"That's what we have to do. We're not going to have a 50-goal scorer in our lineup but a lot of guys can contribute and go from there."

"Whoever's here, starts,'' says assistant GM Craig Conroy. "It's a great opportunity for other guys to play on a top line, on the powerplay.

"That's a big-minutes spot.

"You can't start slow in this league. We found that out last year. So we can't use anything as a crutch. Sure it's a game but it's a business, too. You wish everybody was always the way you'd like it, but this is part of it. You live with it.

"You love the player. He wants to be here. We want him to be here.

"It'll happen … sooner than later would be better. Until it does we have to keep going.

"It gets magnified because he's a top player in the NHL. But our guys have been really good about moving on.

"You saw in practice today, we're going to have different line combinations, things are mixed up. But our team is not built around one guy, no matter. Even when Johnny's here."

A sputtering start a year ago played a significant part in condemning the Flames to the rank of playoff outsider. That isn't lost on anyone as they ready for Game One, Johnny Gaudreau or no Johnny Gaudreau.

"The one thing I can say about the room,'' chimed in Conroy optimistically, "is that it's been focused on inside the room and not anything on the outside.

"Our guys have been getting to know the new coach, with everything going on.

"I haven't been down here as much but from what I've seen, there hasn't been a lot of talk about (Gaudreau). It's been about getting better.

"The guys think that they can make the team with him maybe not being here? They're excited.

"They'll bring juice. Bring energy. Gio's made it known that whoever's here, we've got to win with that group. You have to pick it up. You HAVE to pick it up.

"It does no good sitting around what if-ing. Don't worry about it. You put it out of yours mind. You focus on your job. You go out and play.

"At the end of the day, we have to win hockey games … that's our job. To prepare to win those games and get off to a good start, we can't use (Gaudreau) as a crutch. I think we have the guys in here to 

"I know through the pre-season, the (lack of) goals are the story but I really like the way we're playing. Especially things like defending the rush and making plays in our own zone."

There's still hope among Gaudreau's teammates that a deal can be struck between now and Wednesday. But the fact remains that Johnny B. Goode may well wind up being Johnny B. Late.

"The story's not going to go away,'' acknowledges Giordano. "We've been around long enough to know it's a story that'll keep coming up until something gets settled.

"But there's always a story, right? There's always something.

"We're hoping, obviously, he's in the lineup ASAP. Fingers crossed.

"But all we do this week is prepare that he's not going to be there for that first one."

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