After testing the open market as an NHL free agent on Wednesday, Calgary Flames star forward Johnny Gaudreau signed a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a day after a parting discussion that Flames general manager Brad Treliving described as “emotional.”
Despite “moving heaven and earth” to try to keep Gaudreau a Flame, Treliving said the player made a decision to turn down a more lucrative contract offer with the Flames for family reasons.
Gaudreau signed for seven years and a reported US$68 million with Columbus. The Flames were reported to have offered an eight year deal at an average annual salary in excess of $10 million a year.
“Johnny Gaudreau is a superstar in the National Hockey League, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome him to the Columbus Blue Jackets family,” said Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen in a news release Wednesday evening.
“He is an elite player with great character that makes the players around him better. We are thrilled to add a player of his caliber to our group. This is an exciting day for our franchise, our fans and the city of Columbus.”
Gaudreau turns 29 next month and his selection moves him geographically closer to his home state of New Jersey and his wife in Philadelphia who’s expecting their first child.
FLAMES FANS REACT
Flames fans say there’s a range of emotions after one of the best seasons of Gaudreau’s career.
“As much as we love our players you don’t want to see them leave, we understand that even in a multi-billion dollar industry like the NHL, family does come first,” said Chris Wilson.
Rebecca Orr of Olds said her teen daughter met Gaudreau a few years ago, and his kind character charmed them, yet she’s hopeful for the team as a whole.
“It’s not a one-man team. I think the Flames have some really good players and I think that we’re still gonna go up. I don’t think it ends here,” said Orr.
Other fans wonder how the Flames will manage without the team’s best player.
“How are we going to replace a guy liked John who just put up 100 plus points and he seems to walk away from a big contract to want to play back near friends and family? How do you replace that if you’re the Flames?” said Matt McQueen.
Hockey analysts also wonder how this will impact the franchise’s future.
“This is trickle down, this is the entire identify of your team right here. Do they enter rebuild, what do they do?” said Cheryl Pounder of TSN.
Gaudreau was in the final season of a six-year $40.5 million contract at an annual average of $6.7 million.
He played 602 games since being drafted by the Flames in 2011.
Earlier Wednesday, the Flames re-signed Trevor Lewis and added centre Kevin Rooney, among other free-agent signings.
Columbus also signed former Flame defenseman Erik Gudbranson Wednesday to a four year, $16 million deal.
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