As Gaudreau makes emotional departure, Flames look to avoid knee-jerk response

Eric Francis and Ken Reid discuss the Calgary Flames' loss of Johnny Gaudreau as a free agent, and how the Flames will approach free agency in attempts to replace him.

In the end, there was no deal to be had.

At any price.

Less than 24 hours before the opening of free agency, Johnny Gaudreau ended months of fruitless negotiations by confirming what many long believed he’d eventually do – bolt for greener pastures.

As special a place as Calgary became for the fourth-round pick-turned-superstar, the 28-year-old made a tough phone call to Brad Treliving Tuesday night to give him the ol’ ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ goodbye.

“I had a good long discussion with John, it was an emotional one,” said an ashen-faced Treliving during a hastily-called Zoom chat with the media.

“It’s a disappointing day to say the very least.

“I sat in front of you at the end of our season and I think my line was we would move heaven and earth, I can assure our fans we did everything possible to keep John in Calgary.”

“It’s my strong belief this was a family decision and I respect that fully. John has every right, and we have nothing but respect for John the player and John the person.”

Breakups are never easy, and given how important Gaudreau has been to the franchise, Treliving’s subdued presser mirrored the sadness being felt around a city that spent the last few days celebrating Stampede while worrying this was inevitable.

Gaudreau’s agent told Elliotte Friedman it was indeed a family decision, which gives all the more credence to the long-held belief he’ll soon sign somewhere near the Jersey shores where he grew up.

While no one doubted he loved the way southern Albertans embraced, celebrated and supported him throughout the stellar eight years as the tiniest star the league has ever seen, Gaudreau and wife Meredith are expecting their first child in months.

Being near family makes sense.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense right now for frustrated Flames fans, is why this decision took until the 11th hour.

“I think this was a really hard decision for John,” explained Treliving, who was so convinced there was a deal to be made that he confirmed he never considered trading Gaudreau’s negotiating rights.

“I think everybody operated with the right intentions, but at the end of the day the player gets to make the decision and he made one.

“This isn’t one that was a dollars decision.

“I firmly believe there was nothing more we could have done.”

Oh sure, plenty will suggest Gaudreau should have been traded at pennies on the dollar last summer to avoid losing the team’s best player without compensation.

But then, this city would have been deprived of the franchise reawakening he spearheaded as the lynchpin of the NHL’s undisputed top line.

There would have been no magical, Game 7 overtime heroics against Dallas.

Heck, there likely wouldn’t have been playoffs without his 115-point season-for the ages.

That’s what stings so much now, as it’s unfathomable for anyone to suggest the Flames could possibly start next season with a team as good as it was when he was on it.

It’s with that in mind Flames fans will watch closely Wednesday to see how Treliving responds.

Not dramatically, he hinted.

“The wrong move right now is a knee-jerk reaction is to reach out and replace the player with the wrong response,” said Treliving, all but ruling out the notion some of the $10 million earmarked for Gaudreau might be offered to Nazem Kadri.

“You’re not going out to sign a player to replace John.

“We have to take a deep breath.”

Whatever emotion Flames fans are dealing with as they contemplate the finality of Gaudreau’s decision, there has to be a healthy dose of gratitude for the way the soft-spoken mini-mite used his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame to piece together more than a point a game over 602 regular season outings.

There might not be a flashier, more dynamic playmaker in the NHL today.

With all due respect to the great Flames before him, no one was more creative, or generated more excitement in franchise history when carrying the puck into the offensive zone.

His combination of genius, dexterity, vision and flash simply can’t be reproduced.

“He gave us eight wonderful years here,” said Treliving, as he appeared to be fighting back emotions.

“A lot of memories. It’s difficult right now.

“(I’m) thoroughly disappointed. I don’t know how you cannot be. But we have to move forward.

“The hard part of this business is we have to move on.”

Gaudreau felt he simply had to, and no one should blame him.

On the open market, Gaudreau will land something similar to the $10 million the Flames were willing to pay him annually, but he’ll do it much closer to home.

Remember, he never picked Calgary in the first place - the Flames picked him.

He rewarded them, until he had the chance to choose his destiny.

It’s his right, and his obligation to his family.

No one should begrudge him for that, no matter how late in the game his decision came.

Indeed, his negotiations put all other hockey decisions on hold for the last few months.

But only a fool would believe the Flames haven’t talked extensively about Plan B.

Gaudreau knows he could have re-written the organization’s record book, retired a Flame and raised his family in Canada.

He has different dreams, which doesn’t take away from the special bond he built in Cowtown where you can bet the majority of fans will continue cheering on Johnny Hockey.

“He was very appreciative of the organization and appreciative of the fans and how he was treated, and his teammates,” said Treliving of his talk with Gaudreau.

“We develop a relationship with these players. We’ve been with them a long time.

“He’s a hell of a player. It’s hard. It’s hard for him too.

“If it was easy I don’t think he would have been agonizing over it.”

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.