Columbus? Really? Gaudreau won't ever be viewed the same in Calgary

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Johnny Gaudreau speaks on rumours that he was interested in playing closer to his home in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania area, saying that geography did not play a role in his choice to leave the Calgary Flames.

CALGARY -- Fun.

Johnny Gaudreau thinks Columbus will be a lot of fun.

That’s the hollow answer the longtime Flames star offered up when asked the question everyone in the hockey world is asking: why Columbus?

He offered up even less when it came to why he left Calgary.

“It’s something I was not going to talk about today and I was hoping to get to that after,” said Gaudreau at his surreal introduction in Ohio on Thursday.

“Calgary was a special place for me. I was part of their organization for 12 years, and I loved every second of it.

“It was just time for me to make a little bit of a change, I think.

“I’ll leave it at that. But it was a special place for me. The fans were great to me."

They won’t be after everything he’s said and done the last 48 hours to dramatically alter his legacy in town.

Anyone who reads this space knows it long seemed inevitable the talented New Jersey native would leave this summer, most likely to sign closer to his family.

Although sad and frustrating for Flames fans, they understood the desire to be near the eastern seaboard as he and wife Meredith prepare to have their first child.

Let’s face it, Calgary is cold, it’s far from home, and it’s in another country.

But Columbus?

Clearly it's his prerogative, but the deception and the destination are what now stick in the craw of Flames fans and an organization that deserved better from the former face of the franchise.

As is his right, his ABC approach (Anywhere But Calgary) saw him turn down $84 million (eight years at $10.5 million) to accept a $68.25 million deal (7 x $9.75 million) in a city that is still a 75-minute flight from home.

That doesn’t sit well with a fan base and franchise that waited patiently, in good faith, for a “negotiation” that held up everything else on the Flames’ to-do list.

So, we wondered, why did it take so long before he pulled the plug at the 11th hour, giving the Flames no time to trade his rights?

"It was a tough decision,” he said.

“I mean, it went right down to probably 11 o'clock the night before free agency where I decided I wasn't going to go back. It was a really hard decision. It's something me and Meredith talked about for a long time there. Calgary was a great place to me and my wife, but in talking to my family, talking to Meredith, it was the right move for us. That's all I can really tell you guys.”

As sought-after as he was as the league’s second-leading scorer, it sure seems like when the music stopped on free agent day, there was Gaudreau scrambling to find a chair, no matter how unfamiliar that seat was.

His only connections in Columbus are Zach Werenski and Buddy Robinson’s brother, Eric; he only learned of the world-class facility upgrades the organization is making upon his arrival; he couldn’t cite a centre he looked forward to playing with; and he made the vague suggestion he was excited about some of the young players in an organization that will still be in tough to make the playoffs next year.

“I’ve gotten to play here many times and every time I play here it’s a lot of fun to play here,” said Gaudreau, when asked, “why Columbus?”

“The fans are into it. They’ve got a lot of buzz there in the arena, so I was really excited about that. They’ve got a good young group here. I think that attracted me a little bit too. Me and my wife thought it was a really good fit for us.

“We looked at some other options but we thought it was the best one for us personally for where we are in our life. It just made the most sense.”

What else does he know about the city, other than the fans at Nationwide Arena are supportive?

“For me I only got to play here once a year, and it was from the hotel, back to the rink and back to the hotel and I had never been to Columbus before that,” said Gaudreau.

“Throughout the summer, I did my homework on places I thought were for me and talked to some former players and after hearing some of the things. After every time I talked to a different person about the city, it seemed like the person I was talking to was more excited than the last person I was talking to.

“It sounded like the perfect spot for us.

“We’re so excited. It’s going to be a special place for us.”

It’s not home, but closer.

"I've always wanted to play relatively a little bit closer,” he said of a destination that sits an eight-hour drive from home.

“I think the east was, you know, I grew up here ... not in Columbus but on the east coast. It's somewhere I always wanted to play. I was in Calgary for eight-to-12 years there from when I got drafted to when I started playing. I always kind of dreamed about playing a tad closer to home, but, I mean, it didn't matter where I was signing. Our decision was it was best for us not to go back to Calgary, and then we decided to figure out what the best option for us, and Columbus was right up at the top of the list there. It had no reason on whether it was close to home or not.

“They were a team that I was really excited about."

Guess Flames fans will have to take his word on that.

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