Was this Gaudreau’s goodbye to Calgary? It did not feel like it

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving speaks about Johnny Gaudreau's contract situation, and if it is intertwined with Matthew Tkachuk's contract.

CALGARY — The worrying began years ago, as did the lobbying.

Asked who’s been pressing him the most to stay in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau smiled.

“Probably Tre,” chuckled Gaudreau of GM Brad Treliving. 

“It’s everywhere. It’s such a great city to play in. I mean, my next-door neighbours, pretty sure they were shovelling my snow all year just to get me back. 

“You go to Starbucks, you go out to eat, everyone is so welcoming and really wants me back here. And it’s great. That’s what you want to hear.

“That’s what you want people to think of you, that they want you on their team. It’s a little overwhelming at times, but it’s great to hear. I love it.”

After hearing him speak Saturday, you get a strong sense that the love he’s being shown matters.

And its reciprocal, as he reiterated in his strongest words to date, how much this city and the organization has meant to him.

That won’t be easy to say goodbye to.

If this was his farewell press conference as a Flame, it sure didn’t feel like it.

“Obviously, Calgary has a special place in my heart,” said Gaudreau, 28, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 13.

“I’ve been part of this organization for 11 years now. Ever since Day 1 I got here, the fans, the organization, my teammates, even you guys (the media). Sometimes, when I’m playing bad, you guys give me a hard time. But that’s alright. But everything about this city I love. My wife loves it here. 

“You guys can tell on Twitter, my uncle, my dad, my mom, my sisters, my brother, everyone loves Calgary. It’s a special place in our heart and we love it here, so we’ll see what happens.

“I’ll sit down with my agent this week sometime and figure out what’s best for me and my family.” 

Gaudreau said he said a sad goodbye to all his teammates Saturday morning because “you never know what’s going to happen.” But he insists he hasn’t spent the last few weeks or months with that “last dance” mentality that his time in town is about to come to an end.  

“I didn’t sit in the locker room and keep my jersey on or stare up in the stands,” said Gaudreau.

“That’s something that I didn’t really think of. I do have a big decision and we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks, but I love it here. I love the fans. I love the city. But I never really had that moment where I was like, ‘This is it for me.’”

What’s best for an organization that took significant strides this year, thanks to Gaudreau’s 115-point season, is a long-term deal locking up the pending free agent for the rest of his career.

Treliving knows it, doubling down Saturday on his desire to “move heaven and earth” to get Gaudreau signed.

“I’ve said this, and I’ve said it to John, I think he’s a Calgary Flame and we want to make him a Calgary Flame for a long time, and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make that happen,” said Treliving.

“We saw what he’s capable of. I’ve believed in this guy since the day I walked through the doors here. Certainly, that’s an important piece of business that we’ve got to take care of.

“I think he’s got a chance to be one of the greatest to play in the history of the franchise. And there’s been some great ones. So, we’re hopeful we can get it done.” 

This time there will be no discount, like the $6.75 million deal he’s been playing on for six years.

This time the bidding is against 31 other teams, many with better tax situations and weather, which means that eighth year the Flames can offer (as per the CBA) will likely be instrumental. Eight times $10 million seems a nice round number for everyone.

Money isn’t the real question.

Desire is.

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If he wants to continue playing halfway across the continent from his New Jersey home, it can easily be worked out.

But if the grass appears greener elsewhere, little could stop him from moving.

That said, the man who just scored one of the most iconic goals in franchise history admitted Saturday that his legacy in Calgary matters to him.

“Yeah, it’s important,” said Gaudreau, who would re-write the team’s record book and likely finish as the greatest player in team lore if he stays.

“Whether I’m here for the next years or not, who knows what happens? But when my time does end here, I hope people remember me as a good person off the ice, a good teammate and just a good person. People can think what I did on the ice, but for me personally, I just want people to know how grateful I am for them welcoming me here and hopefully it’s a few more years here and they can get stuck with me.” 

The team’s success this year is also an important piece to this puzzle, as he knows that his return would keep the league’s top line, and a very good core group in Calgary, intact.   

“I’ve been here for 11 years and haven’t got to that ultimate goal and it’s been a while since they’ve won here so I think that would be pretty special, to win a Cup here,” said the club’s fourth round flier from 2011.

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“It’s something that I kind of dreamed about my whole life, and Calgary is a great place to do it.” 

Asked if players generally lobby teammates to stay in town, Blake Coleman’s answer was telling.

“If it’s Johnny Gaudreau, you do,” he smiled.

“He’s such a big part of this team. In my talks with him, trying to have him understand what a legacy he could leave in Calgary if he stays. You could probably already put his jersey up in the rafters. Eight more years of Johnny, he’d be cemented forever. And I think that’s something that’s important to him. 

“However it shakes out, he deserves that, and he deserves to be taken care of with his family. 

“We’re all friends and we want what’s best for each other but we’re all fingers crossed that Johnny’s in red next year.”

It’s now up to him and his wife to decide if Calgary is where they want to raise a young family and finish his playing days.  

“I probably won’t think about it for a couple days here,” said Gaudreau.

“Obviously, it’s still fresh that we lost. I don’t know anything other than Calgary, you know? In September, I fly to Calgary, play hockey. And then at the end of the season, I go home and spend time with family. It’s all I’ve known for the past 11 years and it’s kind of a big decision here and I’m just going to try to figure out what’s best for me first, and my family, and go from there. But Calgary is a special place for me and I do really, really love it here.”

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