"Johnny Gaudreau is a superstar in the National Hockey League, and we couldn't be happier to welcome him to the Columbus Blue Jackets family," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. "He is an elite player with great character that makes the players around him better. We are thrilled to add a player of his calibre to our group. This is an exciting day for our franchise, our fans and the city of Columbus."
Gaudreau was 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.
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."
In an interview with Blue Jackets.com, Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets found out Wednesday morning that they were "one of his true primary destinations."
"We were like, 'OK, wow, is this real?' Once we realized that yeah, he wants to come here, we got into serious talks," Kekalainen added. "We obviously let him know that he was one of the players that we desired the most, and when it got real serious to where he was like, 'OK, I want to come there,' then we got it through the finish line pretty quickly."
The move is a significant addition for a Blue Jackets team hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 bubble. Gaudreau will give them a premier top-line forward to compliment a core that includes youngsters Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov. The Blue Jackets have one more important piece of business to take care of as star winger Patrik Laine is unsigned as a restricted free agent. The Gaudreau addition is just another move that could help convince the Finnish sniper to extend long-term in Ohio.
"Players this calibre are not very often available," Kekalainen said. "He wanted to come here, so you can't pass up an opportunity like this. That's basically the main reason. I think he was pretty much No. 1 on everybody's board, I would assume, but I can't speak on anybody else's behalf. But once we knew that this was a desired destination for him, we went for it."
Gaudreau, a 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 was due for a big raise after earning $6.75 million last season.
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.
"You need players that make other people around them better, and this is one of those guys," Kekalainen said. "He's a play-driving player that plays like a center off the wing and makes everybody else around him better. He had 115 points last year. He's a six-time All-Star. He's a superstar in this league. I couldn't be happier to have him."