But in the end, while there was still a chance to remain in Calgary, Gaudreau said that he was trying to find a balance between being an NHL player and also being around for his family.
In an open letter written in the Players’ Tribune, Gaudreau explained that when his father had a heart attack in 2018, he started to realize how living far from his family was tough for him. He also wanted to make it clear that simply “hopping on a plane” was not an ideal solution for him and his family.
“I’m incredibly grateful to be an NHL player, and to be making the salary that I make. I don’t take it for granted for a second. Which contributes to why money was not the main deciding factor for me. But the idea that Meredith and I can just fly to and from home, or have our loved ones visit no problem, because we have money? It’s not that simple.” Gaudreau explained. “Our families still work full time. Our siblings have their own lives. Our nieces and nephews are in school. It’s a tough trip for folks to make, and it’s only gotten tougher with the pandemic. And it’s hard for us to get out East as well. It’s things like missing your grandfather’s funeral, or having very sick relatives, that make the distance so painful — and you remember that feeling when planning out your future for your family.”
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.
The Columbus Blue Jackets winger wanted to make it clear that he did not make up his mind about leaving the Flames well before free agency. He said it really did come down to the final moments before free agency began that he decided to stop negotiating with general manager Brad Treliving.
“I’ve heard people say that I was using Calgary for leverage, and that I “always knew” I was leaving. I’ve heard people say that, with the kind of money I’m making, and with how easy it is to hop on a plane, location shouldn’t be an issue,” Gaudreau said.
“…For what it’s worth, I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do up until the last hours of the last day. Man, even after I turned down the eight-year deal from Calgary, I still thought about going back and trying to work on a seven-year deal to stay. It was all on the table for the entire process. Maybe that seems messy … but life is messy, you know?”
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.
He knows that when he makes his return to Calgary, there will be boos but he will be excited to play in front of Flames fans again and hopes they not just remember him as a hockey player but as a person who loved the city and grateful for the opportunity the franchise provided him.
“I know stuff like this is what every player tells a fan base when they leave … but it’s like I said: My story isn’t the story of every player. Not every player was a five-six, 130-pound USHLer when one of the NHL’s most storied franchises took a chance on him.”