- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
Free-agent forward Johnny Gaudreau, the premier name in this year’s NHL free agent market, has agreed to join the Columbus Blue Jackets, sources confirmed to ESPN Wednesday night.
According to multiple reports, the deal covers seven years with an average annual value of $9.5 million for the superstar who has only played for the Calgary Flames in his career. The agreement was first reported by SportsNet.
The Flames reached unprecedented levels of offense last regular season, with three forwards topping 100 points, and Gaudreau highlighted that triple play, along with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
A New Jersey native who played college hockey at Boston College, there was wide speculation — as soon as the Flames exited the postseason — that Gaudreau, a smooth skater in the offensive zone with a flair for the dramatic when the puck is on his stick, would listen to offers from some Eastern Conference teams who had some salary-cap space available and a glaring need for a goal scorer.
The New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers figured to be among those teams, but Gaudreau’s suitors were hardly relegated to some of the local clubs that he grew up around. By all accounts, the Blue Jackets entered the mix later in the day, not long after Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said his team was no longer in pursuit of Gaudreau.
The Flames also made sure they’d be in that mix at the end of the season, when Calgary general manager Brad Treliving spoke adamantly of the team’s commitment to keep the player often referred to as “Johnny Hockey.” “We’re going to move heaven and earth, and do everything we possibly can, to get Johnny back here,” Treliving said after Calgary lost to the Edmonton Oilers in Round 2.
And on the surface, at least, Gaudreau — in his end-of-season media availability — spoke glowingly of the Flames and the Calgary community overall. “You go to Starbucks, you go out to eat, everyone is so welcoming and really wants me back here. And it’s great. That’s what you want to hear. That’s what you want people to think of you — that they want you on their team,” he said. “It’s a little overwhelming, at times but it’s great to hear. I love it. It’s nice to hear everyone wants me back. It’s great.”
Ultimately, on Tuesday night just before free agency began the following day, Gaudreau informed his former club that he would not be staying.
Gaudreau has authored 222 points in his last 208 regular-season games, had 14 points in 12 playoff games, and can easily anchor a top line on most teams in the league. The Blue Jackets finished with just 81 points last season in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division, failed to make the postseason, and could use Gaudreau’s presence in even-strength and power-play situations.
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