After an emotional departure, Johnny Gaudreau returns to Calgary on Monday night
Photo credit:Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike10 months ago
On Oct. 8, 2014, college hockey star Johnny Gaudreau played his first regular season home game at the Scotiabank Saddledome. On Jan. 22, 2023, after 300 additional regular season home games, he finally plays a game at the Saddledome as a visiting player.
Following an emotional off-season departure this past summer, Gaudreau makes his return to Calgary as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. It feels likely that he’ll get booed, but hopefully not too much.
Gaudreau’s last game appearance at the Saddledome was back in May, in a Game 5 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers that eliminated the Flames from the post-season.
Gaudreau became a bit of a meme, particularly to the folks who run OilersNation, for his perceived coverage lapse on Connor McDavid’s overtime winner. (Disclaimer: Within the Flames’ system, the left wing is meant to slide up to guard against the pass to the point, which Gaudreau did properly. McDavid was meant to be covered by the centre on his line, Elias Lindholm.)
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Earlier in Game 5, Gaudreau scored what ended up being his final goal wearing a Flames jersey, beating Mike Smith to tie the game at 3-3 in the third period.
About seven weeks after the Flames were eliminated from the post-season, Gaudreau’s lengthy negotiations with the Flames ended with him opting to go to free agency. The Flames announced Gaudreau’s decision with a late night press conference by general manager Brad Treliving on July 12, the eve of free agency. Gaudreau signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets the following day, and it wasn’t until a week later that a Gaudreau-penned letter to Flames fans appeared in the Players’ Tribune explaining his decision.
In his letter, Gaudreau cited a desire to be closer to family – especially in light of his father’s recent heart attack and the then-upcoming arrival of Gaudreau’s first child with his wife, Meredith – as the reasoning behind leaving Calgary. (In other venues, he noted that Columbus was “close enough” to his family but not “too close.”)
“As much as we both love Calgary, I think Meredith and I just felt that it was going to be very hard to continue living as far away from our families as we’ve been living — especially as we’re starting a family of our own.It’s the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make.”
If you want to criticize anything about Gaudreau’s move to Columbus, the messaging around his departure from his camp is the thing to be cranky about. During his introductory press conference (and other interviews), he noted he was going to do “something” for the fans of Calgary. Sending a farewell message a full week after his departure wasn’t ideal, and probably left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. Sending out some kind of goodbye as soon as he signed probably would’ve gone over better.
But beyond that, Gaudreau made a completely logical decision for reasons that make sense from a family and personal standpoint. Financially? The Flames’ initial offer to Gaudreau was eight years at $9.5 million. The Flames’ final offer upped the cap hit to $10.5 million. He signed for seven years at $9.75 million in Columbus. He probably left around $15 million on the table. From a hockey perspective? Neither the Flames or Blue Jackets are where they thought they were, though the Flames are battling for a playoff spot and the Jackets are hunting for Connor Bedard.
Gaudreau was a gamble in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft. Through hard work and the opportunity provided to him by the Flames, he became one of the premier players in the NHL. He played a lot of good hockey for the Flames and was one of the most entertaining players in the league to watch and cover.
It’s natural to be disappointed that he’s returning to Calgary wearing a different jersey. If fans want to jeer him a bit here and there, they’re well within their rights. But when that video package comes up on the Energy Board during the first TV timeout, hopefully everybody gives him a well-deserved round of applause for all the good things he did while wearing Flames colours.
And if you’re still a little bitter about how it all played out, just remember that he probably still gets spooked every time that damn cannon goes off in Nationwide Arena.
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