Johnny Gaudreau hinted at wanting to play closer to his native New Jersey in explaining his decision to leave the Calgary Flames and sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, but was generally vague when asked why he didn't return to Alberta.
“I’ve always wanted to play a little bit closer," Gaudreau said at a press conference after signing a seven-year, $68.25-millon deal with the Blue Jackets.
"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 8-12 years there from when I got drafted to when I started playing. I always dreamed about playing a tad closer to home. 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 was the best option for us and Columbus was right up on top of the list."
Gaudreau was asked several times about Calgary. He said the decision had nothing to do with how he was treated in his former hockey home, adding he loved the Flames fans.
“Calgary’s a special place for me, I was part of the organization for 12 years. I loved every second I was there. But for me, I think it was just time for me to make a little bit of a change. I’ll leave it at that," Gaudreau said.
On Wednesday, Gaudreau said the atmosphere at Blue Jackets games played a big role in convincing him to go to the Ohio capital.
The star winger pointed to the Blue Jackets fans when explaining the decision he made on Wednesday night in an interview with Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.
"I'd never been to Columbus ... until I made it to the NHL so when I started playing there, I didn't know what I was walking into and I was just ... Wow!" he said.
"They've always had great crowds, really into the game. I said to myself then, 'This looks like a really fun place to play.'
"But it was more than that. I played in the world championships with Zack Werenski. I've known Eric Robinson for like 15-20 years. And some former guys, like Cam Atkinson and Dalton Prout ... those guys were just like, 'You're going to absolutely love this place.'"
After Flames GM Brad Treliving said Tuesday night it was a "family decision" for Gaudreau not to return to Calgary on what could have been an eight-year contract with a higher dollar figure, many assumed the forward would sign closer to his New Jersey home than Columbus — which is about an eight-hour drive away.
Gaudreau told Portzline he was unaware that his decision had caused such a big reaction in the hockey world.
"It's all outside noise to me," he said. "I'm super excited about where I'm at. I think it was a great decision for me and my wife and we're just over the moon right now. Super excited."
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told The Athletic conversations with Gaudreau picked up steam late in the afternoon.
"It kind of came out of the blue," he said. "It was like are you serious about this?"