Why Johnny Gaudreau doesn’t ‘enjoy’ contract talks

Watch as Johnny Gaudreau scores his 30th goal of the season against the Edmonton Oilers.

TORONTO — Poised to vault from a million-dollars-a-year player to a multi-millions-a-year one, Johnny Gaudreau flashes a smile at the familiarity of the contract question.

“I get asked that all the time,” Gaudreau told Sportsnet at Gatorade’s GCamp Tuesday, not visibly fatigued by the topic in the least.

The hockey player already contributed his part to the negotiations, which began way back in February and threaten to drag on into August. A Calder Trophy finalist in 2014-15, Gaudreau dodged the so-called sophomore slump in 2015-16, scoring 30 goals and 78 points, shining in the All-Star Game, finishing sixth in NHL scoring, and becoming Brent Burns’s kid’s favourite player.

The five NHLers more productive than the (cough) 5-foot-9 (cough) Gaudreau last season all played more games, all padded their stats with more power-play points, and all but one (Joe Thornton) saw more ice time per game. Most telling: All five of those certified stars are at least four years older than Gaudreau, 22.

Consider the list of upper-class RFA forwards who have finished their contract business this summer. Nathan MacKinnon, Filip Forsberg, Mark Scheifele, Mike Hoffman, Brayden Schenn, Chris Kreider, Jaden Schwartz and Kyle Palmieri have all reaped their payday.

Yet Gaudreau, and linemate-slash-buddy Sean Monahan, have yet to receive their raises from the Calgary Flames. Six million per year? Seven? More?

Both sides say they want to commit long-term, that they see a wonderful fit and bright future. The Flames, who have about $14.97 million in 2016-17 cap space, let go of Joe Colborne, Kris Russell, Jiri Hudler, Josh Jooris, Joni Ortio, and David Jones this year at least partly to clear room for a pair of should-be monster contracts.

Both Gaudreau and Monahan received qualifying offers and did not have an arbitration card to play.

General manager Brad Treliving had no update on Gaudreau’s negotiations to offer reporters Wednesday at Brian Elliott’s introduction, joking that it’s merely a matter of term and money. So, talks between Treliving and Lewis Gross, Gaudreau’s agent, go on.

“Honestly, I’m not even involved,” Gaudreau said, “I try to stay out of it as much as possible. I don’t like getting different numbers in my head. Hoping for this, hoping for that, how many years—it’s just, I don’t really enjoy that stuff. Whatever my agent thinks is best for me is what I’m going to do. He does a really good job with his players, so I have all the faith in him that he’ll get something done.”

Gaudreau flew in to Ontario from his home in South Jersey this week to surprise the under-20s at GCamp but made sure to spend time with his boy Monahan in London, Ont., before making his way to Toronto.

“I’m not sure how his deal’s going, but we’re on the same page,” Gaurdeau said. “We’re both really excited we’re in Calgary. It’s a great city that’s so passionate about hockey, and the fans are great to us. We both want to be there for a long time with how great that city’s treated us the past two years.”

Monahan was quiet, even with Gaudreau, until he got to know him better. Then he opened up. Their friendship is real.

“He’s an amazing hockey player with a great shot. I just love playing with him. He’s a great centreman and an even better guy off the ice. He was an assistant captain for us last year and did a great job of that,” Gaudreau said. “He’s great for us younger guys.”

“Johnny Hockey” comes by his nickname honestly. He took one month off from the ice after a disappointing Flames season to travel with his family — and the Jersey boy hits the shore with buddies on weekends — but he’s most likely, like Tuesday with a group of under-20 contest winners, spotted stick-handling through a rink.

“I work out a fair bit, too, but I just love being on the ice and skating as much as I can in the summer,” he explained. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, that’s your job,’ but I love scrimmaging with my friends.”

Gaudreau is still a communications student at Boston College, the source of many friendships and scrimmage players. He’s picking away at a degree — hours of reading, he says — that should be completed next summer. Mom will be happy with that.

The player will be happy that he need only wait until Sept. 4 in Montreal, where Team North America will begin its World Cup minicamp, to start skating in meaningful games.

North America’s head coach Todd McLellan addressed the marketing scheme of a roster — under-24s from both Canada and the U.S. — on a conference call last week to talk hotel arrangements and style of play: fast, which will suit Gaudreau just fine.

“Throw all the names in a hat, pick out two, and I’ll still be excited to play with them. Think of the names on our team: It’s all young, fast, skilled guys. It’s something to get excited for. It doesn’t matter to me who I play with, as long as we find a good connection,” Gaudreau said.

North America will have to survive Finland, Sweden and Russia in Group B if they are to advance to a showdown with Canada and/or the U.S., but Gaudreau doesn’t believe they’re underdogs.

“Honestly, I don’t think so. We have a good young team, and some of the names on the list, you’ve seen what they’ve done. We have all-stars on our team [Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad, John Gibson, Dylan Larkin, Brandon Saad]. We have Stanley Cup winners [Saad, Matt Murray]. We have a good group,” he said.

Gaudreau’s fondest international hockey memory is winning the 2013 world juniors in Ufa, Russia. He scored seven goals in seven games that tournament, savouring the two he potted in a 5-1 win over Canada in the semifinal. Now he’ll be siding with some of those same Canadians he battled.

“It’s really weird. You’re going to be playing against your own country and trying to beat your own country. It’ll be weird at times. Then when we play Canada, I’m American so I want to beat the Canadians, but the Canadian kids on our team are used to rooting for these guys,” he explained. “It’s a weird little setup, but it’s cool for us to play against the best players in the tournament. A lot of us younger guys, it would’ve been tough to make our respective countries’ teams, so this gives us more of a chance.”

In addition to a new contract, Gaudreau will be skating under a new coach in 2016-17. The winger was surprised by Bob Hartley’s firing and made a point of attending his former bench boss’s hockey camp this month.

“It came out of nowhere because the season had ended and it came like a month after. Next thing you know, he was let go,” said Gaudreau, noting that it was great to catch up with Hartley last week in Pennsylvania.

“Bob did so much for me my first two seasons there. I could’ve ended up on different teams and different situations, but Bob did a great job with me. He gave me a ton of power-play chances,” Gaudreau said. “He taught me how to play in the defensive zone, where to put my stick on the ice.”

New coach Glen Gulutzan made a trip east to meet with players when Gaudreau was out out town, but the two caught up over phone, plotting a playoff return.

“Everyone, personally, has got to play better,” Gaudreau says. “We have to be better in the defensive zone, help out our new goaltenders better than we did last year.”

Locking up a 30-goal superstar is a good place to start.

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