It’s the biggest storyline of the Calgary Flames offseason.
Hell, Johnny Gaudreau was the biggest storyline of the regular season, too.
After the best year of his NHL career, the 28-year-old winger is facing the biggest business decision of his life with his contract expiring and unrestricted free agency just around the corner.
Gaudreau would easily be the top name available – assuming he gets to the open market. There, he could make upwards of $10 million a year. Only Calgary can offer him an eighth year, however.
“I’ll sit down with my agent this week sometime and figure out what’s best for me and my family,” Gaudreau said on Saturday at the Saddledome.
Is it winning? Money? Creating a legacy? We’ll find out in next month or so.
Gaudreau scored 115 points and finished tied for second in the Art Ross scoring race. In the playoffs, where his play has been criticized in the past, he scored three goals and 14 points in 12 games – including the overtime series-winner in Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in the first round.
Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said this season the team will “move heaven and earth” to bring their best offensive player back to Calgary. Treliving added on Saturday that he’s been quietly working with Gaudreau’s agent on the numbers.
“He’s a Calgary Flame and we want to make him a Calgary Flame for a long time,” Treliving said at his end-of-season availability.
But the choice is ultimately Gaudreau’s.
You’ll read his words, watch the video and can draw your own conclusions about where his head is at. Speaking candidly and earnestly with the media in Calgary on the day they hoped they’d be playing Game 6 in Edmonton after losing the second, Gaudreau made it sound like there’s a very good chance he’ll be back.
He made it sound like he wanted to be back.
Flames organization has “special place” in his heart
“Calgary has a special place in my heart. I’ve been part of this organization for 11 years now. Ever since Day 1 I got here, the fans, the organization, my teammates, even you guys – (sometimes, when I’m playing bad, you guys give me a hard time, but that’s alright – but everything about this city, I love.
“My wife loves it here. You guys can tell on Twitter my uncle, my dad, my mom, my sisters, my brother, everyone loves Calgary. It’s a special place in our heart and we love it here, so we’ll see what happens.”
Gaudreau joked that Treliving is probably the guy who has been lobbying hardest for Gaudreau to stay with the Flames. But don’t count his neighbours and the community out as important voices.
“It’s everywhere. It’s such a great city to play in. I mean, my next-door neighbours, pretty sure they were shovelling my snow all year just to get me back,” Gaudreau said. “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.
“It’s a little overwhelming at times but it’s great to hear. I love it. It’s just nice to hear everyone wants me back. It’s great.”
Count Blake Coleman as another player making a pitch to Gaudreau about sticking around to build on a season that feels unfinished.
“He’s such a big part of this team. In my talks with him, (I’m) trying to have him understand what a legacy he could leave in Calgary if he stays,” said Coleman. “You could probably already put his jersey up in the rafters. Eight more years of Johnny, he’d be cemented forever. And I think that’s something that’s important to him.”
Gaudreau could cement his legacy in Calgary
Gaudreau agrees the Calgary Flames legacy is something he thinks about.
“Yeah, it’s important. Whether I’m here for the next years or not, who knows what happens, but when my time does end here, I hope people remember me as a good person off the ice, a good teammate and just a good person. People can think what I did on the ice but for me, personally, I just want people to know how grateful I am for them welcoming me here and hopefully it’s a few more years here and they can get stuck with me.”
The city would celebrate his re-signing. It would be a critical piece of taking another step forward next year when it matters most. It’s also what matters most to Gaudreau. Despite his small stature and relatively shy personality, he’s arguably the most competitive player to wear the jersey since Jarome Iginla.
“I’ve been here for 11 years and haven’t got to that ultimate goal. It’s been a while since they’ve won here, so I think that would be pretty special — to win a Cup here,” Gaudreau said. “It’s something that I kind of dreamed about my whole life, and Calgary is a great place to do it.”
There is a business element at play, and a salary cap the Calgary Flames have to balance. But that sounds like a guy ready to sound on the dotted line.