After emotional breakup, Flames must find a way to move on without Gaudreau

Frank Seravalli joins Ken Reid to break down Johnny Gaudreau's surprise signing with the Blue Jackets, why other teams failed to acquire him, and where this loss leaves the Flames moving forward.

CALGARY — The sadness and frustration Calgary Flames fans felt over losing Johnny Gaudreau "for family reasons" on Tuesday was replaced by fury and confusion Wednesday when the former Flame signed with Columbus.

Yes, the Blue Jackets.

After years of speculation he’d likely sign closer to home, news of Gaudreau’s new employer did not come with a photo of him wearing Flyers or Devils jammies, a la John Tavares.

Columbus is an eight-hour drive from his family’s New Jersey home, making it an unexpected choice.

Odder still is the fact his seven-year, $68.25 million pact is more than $15 million less than the eight-year, $84 million offer from the Flames.

Jilted Flames fans have every right to be perplexed.

Yet, Gaudreau has every right to make the decision he did.

And there it sits.

The Flames organization has been gutted by the abrupt departure of its franchise player, and a devastated fan base has plenty of questions, spread out amongst vitriolic tweets.

Understandably, emotions are running high.

Breakups are never easy.

Some want Johnny Hockey stuffed into the Cannon at Nationwide Arena, others save their condemnation for GM Brad Treliving for letting another star player go without compensation.

(Yes, it was less than a year ago they lost captain Mark Giordano in the expansion draft).

Although he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation, Gaudreau’s rationale for the move will have to wait until Thursday at 11 a.m. MT when the Jackets plan to unveil their shiny new star at a press conference.

Whether Gaudreau will make the morning commute from Jersey for it remains to be seen.

Treliving addressed the media Wednesday after signing a handful of depth players aimed to create competition amongst fourth-liners and sixth defencemen, including Nikita Zadorov who re-upped late in the day for two more years at $3.75 million annually.

Hardly the type of excitement other teams generated throughout the day with splashy signings adding hope and firepower to their squads.

At a time when the Flames’ top player left more than $15 million on the table to leave town, players like Evander Kane and Brett Kulak are taking less to join Calgary’s northern rivals.

These are tough times in Cowtown, no doubt.

Compounding it all is the fear Matthew Tkachuk may soon follow in Gaudreau’s footsteps, which would surely trigger a rebuild.

A story for another day.

On Wednesday, Treliving did his best to put on a brave face to explain there’s only one way to try recovering from the blow the franchise was dealt at the 11th hour by Gaudreau:

“You get up and get to work — you can’t have a funeral,” said Treliving, who warned a night earlier it was foolish to suggest it was possible to replace Gaudreau.

“Yesterday John made a decision to move on.

“You can write stories and it can be all doom and gloom, but we have to move on.

“Not everything gets solved today, so the idea we’d, quite frankly, blow our brains out today didn’t make sense.

“Today is not the last day to build your team.

“We’ve got some flexibility right now.”

And plenty of time.

Some of the $10 million previously earmarked for Gaudreau can be weaponized to perhaps trade with other teams dealing with cap issues.

“Because you have it you just don’t go spend it,” he said.

“There are different numbers out there in terms of what we have in cap space but we have some RFAs to sign and you have to leave placeholders for what you think they’ll cost.

“In a flat cap world it’s an advantage. You want to be judicious with how you spend it.”

Most of what’s left will help sign RFAs like Oliver Kylington, Andrew Mangiapane and Tkachuk, although it’s quite possible neither of the latter two will sign anything longer than a year.

Earlier in the day Treliving lost Erik Gudbranson, who will join Gaudreau in Columbus for $16 million over four years.

“Erik had a hell of a year – good for him,” said Treliving.

“He got himself a hell of a deal and I’m really happy for him and his family. I’d love to have Erik here, but it has got to work into your budget.”

The Flames also lost Glenn Gawdin (Anaheim) and Luke Philp (Chicago) from their Stockton roster.

What the Flames added were beefy centres Kevin Rooney and Clark Bishop, large defenders Dennis Gilbert and Nicolas Meloche, as well as goalie Oscar Dansk who will leave the KHL to be Dustin Wolf’s AHL backup.

Trevor Lewis was also signed to another one-year deal.

“I’m not worried about expectations, I’m worried about making our team better,” said Treliving.

“We’ve been aggressive in free agency in the past and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

“There’s rumours we talked to all these guys and most of it is BS. We certainly looked at some opportunities and to this point there hasn’t been a fit.”

“We’ll keep plugging away.”

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