Johnny Gaudreau, the diminutive forward whose dominant season helped drive the Calgary Flames' hopes for a 2022 Stanley Cup run, has decided to test free agency, radically changing the franchise's outlook for the rest of its off-season.
In a media availability on Tuesday night, Flames general manager Brad Treliving all but confirmed that Gaudreau would not return to Calgary, thanking him for "eight great years."
"It's a disappointing day to say the very least," he said. "I can assure our fans that we have done everything possible to keep John in Calgary ... I want to wish him and his family the very, very best.
"It is my strong belief that 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."
Gaudreau is one of the top unrestricted free agents after tying for second in the league in scoring last season with 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists), helping the Flames capture the Pacific Division title.
The native of Salem, N.J. had three goals and 11 assists in 14 playoff games as the Flames advanced to the second round before losing to the Edmonton Oilers.
The five-foot-nine, 165-pound winger is due for a big raise after earning $6.75 million last season.
Among the teams interested in signing him are the Philadelphia Flyers, who cleared cap space on Tuesday by buying out forward Oskar Lindblom. Philadelphia is just a one-hour drive from Gaudreau's hometown.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman previously reported the Flames had offered Gaudreau $9.5 million a year over eight years. Treliving said Tuesday: "This was not a situation where there wasn't enough money in the deal. But I'm not going to get into the numbers."
Gaudreau has 609 points (210 goals, 399 assists) in 602 career regular-season games, all with Calgary.
The Flames selected Gaudreau in the fourth round (104th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Treliving, who had remained optimist until Tuesday that a deal could be reached with Gaudreau, said he will make some calls Wednesday morning and check what's available, but that he wasn't going to spend recklessly to replace his star player.
"You're not going to just go out and sign someone to replace Johnny. ... The wrong move right now, I can tell you, is to knee-jerk reaction and just try to rush out and replace the player with the wrong response. We just have to take a deep breath. It's been a long process,''
Beyond replacing Gaudreau, the Flames also have to sign star restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk, 24, is coming off a three-year, $21-million deal with the Flames, who drafted him sixth overall in 2016.
Last season, he posted a career-best season, scoring 42 goals to go with 62 assists for 104 points in 82 games.