It feels like way longer, but it’s been just over a month since Johnny Gaudreau opted to leave the Flames as a free agent and sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since then, Gaudreau’s decision, and what led to it, has been heavily scrutinized…to say the least.

Now that emotions have cooled down a little, I’ve put together a comprehensive timeline mapping out how things came to their conclusion. Combining what I know of how negotiations played out and public comments during the process, I think this timeline illustrates two things: how undecided Gaudreau was throughout and how committed Calgary was to retaining their superstar player.

May 28: Locker clean-out day

With wounds of a five-game series loss to the Edmonton Oilers only two days old, select members of the Flames, including Gaudreau, met with the media at the Scotiabank Saddledome on a Saturday afternoon for locker clean-out. The day’s hottest topic was Gaudreau’s future in Calgary and he was asked directly about it.

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“I’ll sit down with my agent…this week sometime and figure what’s best for me and my family,” Gaudreau said. “Obviously Calgary has a special place in my heart. I’ve been a part of this organization for 11 years now, so…everything about the city I love. My wife loves it here…my uncle, my dad, my mom, my sisters, my brother, you know everyone loves Calgary. It has a special place in my heart and we love it, so we’ll see what happens.

“It would be pretty special to win a Cup here. It’s something that I kind of dreamed about my whole life and Calgary is a great place to do it.”

Johnny’s first public comments about his future kept optimism high for Flames fans going into a long, crucial offseason.

Early June: The initial offer

It didn’t take long for general manager Brad Treliving to put the wheels in motion on negotiations with Gaudreau. At some point in early June, around two weeks after their season came to an end, Calgary presented Gaudreau’s camp with an initial proposal. That first offer was widely believed to be for eight years at $9.5 million annually, which is also my understanding.

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Some have been critical of that first offer, which I don’t quite understand. Negotiations are a two-way street and starting with a floor of $9.5 million was fair and competitive. As we’d learn as the weeks went on, the Flames were open to moving on that number.

Early July: The offer goes up

Calgary’s initial offer remained with Gaudreau’s camp for a number of weeks. The two sides stayed in touch, but I don’t believe there was much movement at all until about a month later. As free agency moved closer, the Flames upped their offer in early July. I’m not entirely certain how much larger that next offer was, but it’s a safe bet it was hovering around $80 million over eight years.

July 7 and 8: The NHL Draft

Less than a week from the opening of free agency, all 32 teams descended on Montreal for the first live NHL Draft since 2019. Treliving and Calgary were in the spotlight during the week and the team was surrounded by rumour and innuendo surrounding both Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Treliving had kept very quiet until he spoke with Sportsnet 960 at the team hotel on the morning of day one.

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“We want to sign both players,” Treliving told me. “We’ve made long-term proposals to both players. We’ve tried to do everything to get them signed. Ultimately.….the player’s got that decision to make. We just continue to work at it.

“From our end, our only objective is that we want to sign them. If that becomes not feasible…then you pivot. Just so everybody’s clear, the only place we’re spending our calories right now is trying to get both these players signed to long-term commitments. We’ll continue down that path until told otherwise.”

The Flames went through the 2022 NHL Draft without much fanfare. The team made their three selections and returned to Calgary on Friday night to prepare for one of the biggest weeks in franchise history.

July 12: Business picks up

The day before 2022 free agency opened was perhaps the wildest day I’ve ever covered. It started with intel that Gaudreau’s camp had put a counteroffer on the table, either on Monday night or Tuesday morning. I’m not exactly certain what that counter looked like, but it came in higher than where the Flames were and set a ceiling for in intense day of negotiations.

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Then the grind began. As Tuesday afternoon went along, Calgary and Gaudreau’s camp moved closer and closer to common ground. The Flames proved beyond a shadow of a doubt they were ready and eager to make Gaudreau one of the league’s highest paid players. And, even a day before free agency, Gaudreau was still fully undecided and the door remained open for a return to Calgary.

Then all hell broke loose in the early evening. In the moment, multiple indications suggested the two sides were extremely close to a deal between 5 and 6 p.m. mountain time. As such, Elliotte Friedman’s tweet breaking the news Gaudreau was headed to free agency was one of the biggest swerves I’ve ever encountered doing this job.

So what actually happened? Well, here’s what I’ve been able to piece together over the last month. The Flames, and many around the league, believed Gaudreau was ready to sign an eight-year deal at $10.5 million annually. I’m not sure if there was a verbal agreement or not, but Calgary thought a new deal was going to happen.

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A short time later, however, Gaudreau informed Calgary with his final decision: he was going to test free agency. Treliving spoke to the media later that night and the toll of the day was visible in his face. It was a devastating outcome and Treliving was wearing it, and you can understand why.

July 13: Free agency day

Free agency opened at 10 am mountain time Wednesday morning and Flames fans were justifiably crushed. In saying that, the intrigue surrounding Gaudreau’s next destination was still the biggest story of the day in Calgary. Was he going to New Jersey? Would hometown Philadelphia get it done? As we’d find out, the answer to both those questions was no.

Interestingly, though, even with free agency wide open, the door hadn’t fully closed on a return to the Flames. Despite skepticism from Treliving the night before, the two sides had circled back and I believe a seven-year deal at $11 million was on the table. I’m not certain if it was Gaudreau’s camp or Calgary who initiated that re-engagement, but Gaudreau later confirmed a return was still being considered prior to making his final decision.

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That final decision, of course, was a seven-year deal at $9.75 million annually with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It surprised everyone, and I mean everyone. The decision stunned the Flames, the league, and as a Columbus behind-the-scenes video showed, it even came as a surprise to them. As that same video showed, Gaudreau’s deal with the Blue Jackets came together very quickly.

Conclusion

All along, at least for me, one thing was non-negotiable for Calgary: they had to do everything in their power to retain Gaudreau. If Gaudreau opted not to re-sign, Flames brass had to be able to look in the mirror and say “we put it all out there and he turned it down”.

Well, with proposed AAVs of $10.5 and $11 million, I fully believe they did just that. As a fan, I think there’s enough evidence to suggest Calgary left no stone unturned. With some of Gaudreau’s public comments, especially since his initial news conference, it feels like some of the anger from Flames fans has subsided, too.

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I guess we’ll know for sure Jan. 23 when Gaudreau returns to the ‘Dome for the first time.

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