Friends, unless he signs a new contract with the Calgary Flames in the interim, Johnny Gaudreau will become an unrestricted free agent on July 13. The entire situation has been fairly unique league-wide, in that it’s extremely rare that a player has a 115-point season and then becomes a free agent immediately afterwards.
But in the five-decade history of the Flames franchise, Gaudreau departing as a free agent would be unprecedented.
Now, it’s not unusual for the Flames to lose key players to free agency. Heck, in the fairly recent past the Flames have seen players like Martin Gelinas, Craig Conroy, Mike Cammalleri and Olli Jokinen play significant roles and then leave as free agents.
But those players, when they left, had been reasonably short-term Flames – even if they had been important players. Gelinas, “the Eliminator,” played just two seasons with Calgary before signing with Florida. Conroy spent parts of four seasons with the Flames before signing with Los Angeles. Cammalleri left the Flames as a free agent twice: after one season in 2009 (to Montreal) and after parts of three seasons in 2014 (to New Jersey). Jokinen played two seasons on his second Calgary stint before signing with Winnipeg.
In terms of long-term, significant Flames that walked in free agent, only two really fit the bill: Joel Otto and TJ Brodie.
Otto joined the Flames organization in 1984, signing out of college, and emerged as one of the better two-way forwards in franchise history. He was the team’s go-to tough minutes centre for most of the next decade, playing a key role in the unsuccessful 1986 Stanley Cup Final appearance and the successful 1989 Stanley Cup championship team. By the mid-’90s, the Flames’ finances weren’t great and he ended up signing with Philadelphia in free agency because the Flames couldn’t afford to keep him.
Brodie’s situation was a bit more unique. A fixture on Calgary’s top defensive pair with Mark Giordano for several seasons, Brodie was in line for a raise in the summer of 2020 but the Flames were exploring a bunch of different things – including figuring out whether to go with Cam Talbot or Jacob Markstrom in net, a decision that would have implications for whether they could afford Brodie or not. Ultimately, the Flames landed Markstrom and opted to sign Chris Tanev, while Brodie landed closer to home in Toronto.
In terms of long-term, significant Flames, Brodie and Otto are the only ones the Flames lost via free agency for nothing. Virtually everybody else were traded for assets or retired.
All due respect to his predecessors, but Gaudreau is one of the most significant players in franchise history. The list of players in the same breath as him is pretty short – let’s go with Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury and Mike Vernon. Gaudreau leaving as a free agent would be a significant blow to the club from an asset management perspective and, as you can see, essentially an unprecedented development in Flames history.
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