Before Blue Jackets called, Gaudreau was 'trying to get a deal done' with Devils

Ryan Leslie joins Ken Reid to break down Johnny Gaudreau's shocking move to Columbus, and if the Flames are taking the decision personally.

Warning to fans of the New Jersey Devils, and the Calgary Flames for that matter: you are not likely to enjoy the following quote courtesy of Johnny Gaudreau.

“I was trying to get a deal done with the Devils and then Columbus called.”

That’s what Gaudreau said during an appearance on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast Tuesday, where he explained his thought process behind signing a seven-year, $68.25-million contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency and how he spent his waning hours as a member of the Flames.

“I had like three, four teams that I knew I wanted to play for,” Gaudreau said. “Columbus was obviously high on that list for me but there were a few other teams, and (on the opening day of free agency) I was already talking to two of them, so I was pretty much signing with a different team.

“Most of the day I hadn’t heard from Columbus and then all of a sudden they called at like (4 p.m.) and I told my agent, I was like ‘I want to go here, just try to get this done, this is the spot I wanna be right here,’ and he got it done in an hour and next thing you know I was signing with Columbus. It was as stressful day, but I was super excited.”

New Jersey general manager Tom Fitzgerald told reporters last week he was convinced Gaudreau was going to sign with the Devils before the star forward shocked the hockey world with his announcement.

“I would say I thought because of the conversation that I had with him and his wife Meredith that we really connected,” Fitzgerald said. “I know Johnny Gaudreau. I mean, my older boy (Ryan Fitzgerald) played with him at Boston College and that same son was his brother (Matt Gaudreau's) roommate for all four years. I know his mom and dad well.”

Gaudreau, 28, is from Carney's Point, N.J., and was reportedly hoping to sign somewhere close to home. The Devils were a frontrunner and the Islanders were rumoured to be highly interested, but the Flyers were the team Gaudreau grew up cheering for. Philadelphia’s GM, Chuck Fletcher, informed reporters after Gaudreau chose Columbus the Flyers weren’t involved in the “Johnny Hockey” sweepstakes because the team didn’t have the cap space and would’ve needed to move out multiple other contracts to facilitate a signing.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think I’d ever want to do this again,” Gaudreau joked about testing free agency for the first time. “It was a stressful day. Like, I thought it was gonna be like, ‘Ah, free agency, this team’s gonna want me, that team’s gonna want me, I’m gonna get a call from these guys, that guy,’ and it was nothing like that at all.”

Gaudreau was selected by the Flames in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft. He made an impact immediately, scoring a goal in his NHL debut and was a Calder finalist in his rookie season. He finished fourth in Hart voting in 2019 and in 2022, capping off his Flames tenure by scoring in his final game with the team as they were eliminated by the Oilers in the playoffs.

“It was really difficult,” the winger said of his decision to mull his options. “A lot of people think I was kinda dragging Calgary along, but I thought about signing back in Calgary or going to free agency every day for like a month. I just kept going through it in my head and it was a long month, but it came down to literally the last day. Like, I seriously don’t know what I’m gonna do. I love Calgary so much … but in that final few hours I thought it was going to be best for me to test free agency.”

Gaudreau said he spoke to Brad Treliving late at night on the eve of free agency and informed the Flames GM of the decision to test the open market. Gaudreau added he didn’t contact most of his Flames teammates to give them the heads up since many were overseas spending the start of their summer in Europe.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life, I think, just to let Calgary know I wasn’t going to go back,” he explained.

The 2017 Lady Byng Trophy recipient turned down an eight-year, $84-million offer from the Flames, according to Sportsnet's Eric Francis, settling for an AAV of $9.75 million in Columbus instead of a $10.5 million AAV in Calgary.

That certainly hasn’t gone over well with the fan base.

“I didn’t think I was gonna get it as bad as I have,” Gaudreau said of the backlash directed towards him. “I obviously thought there were gonna be some fans not happy, but I didn’t think I was gonna hear about it as much as I have. … I didn’t expect people to be so shocked by me choosing Columbus.”

Gaudreau skated on one of the NHL’s top lines this past season. He and his linemates, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, combined for a whopping 124 goals and 301 points.

Will he be able to replicate that type success with his new club? After all, he is coming off a season in which he set career highs in goals (40), assists (75), points (115), shots (262), his league-leading plus-64 plus/minus rating, and he was named a First-Team All-Star for the first time in his career.

Gaudreau has not yet discussed potential linemates with Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen.

He did mention having some familiar faces in Columbus made his decision to join a new team a bit easier. He is friends with Blue Jackets forward Eric Robinson and has played with the likes of Zach Werenski, Erik Gudbranson and Sean Kuraly in the past while representing Team USA internationally.

“Players this calibre are not very often available,” Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said last week. “He wanted to come here, so you can’t pass up an opportunity like this. … Once we knew that this was a desired destination for him, we went for it.”

Gaudreau’s contract is the biggest in Blue Jackets franchise history in both total value and annual cap hit.

Only five players – Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl and Brad Marchand – have more points than Gaudreau’s 608 since the start of the 2014-15 season.

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