The Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday agreed to terms with star forward Johnny Gaudreau on a seven-year contract, the team announced, landing NHL free agency’s biggest name in a stunning move.
Gaudreau’s deal with the Blue Jackets is for $68.25 million, carrying an average annual value of $9.75 million against the NHL salary cap.
The 28-year-old left wing spent all nine of his NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames, scoring 609 points in 602 games. He had a career high 115 points last season in 82 games, which included a career-best 40 goals. He’s finished fourth in the NHL MVP voting in two of the past four seasons.
“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,” Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a news release. “He is an elite player with great character that makes the players around him better. We are thrilled to add a player of his caliber to our group. This is an exciting day for our franchise, our fans and the city of Columbus.”
Gaudreau informed the Flames this week that he wouldn’t re-sign with them. Calgary spared no expense in trying to bring back their franchise star, putting an eight-year deal with an average annual value of more than $10 million per season on the table.
“We did everything possible to keep John here. It’s my strong belief that this is a family decision, and I respect that fully,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said, adding that Gaudreau is expecting a child with his wife, Meredith Morris, in the coming months.
With Gaudreau hitting the free agent market, three teams came to the forefront for the South Jersey native’s services: The Philadelphia Flyers, who were Gaudreau’s favorite team as a child; as well as the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders.
The Flyers attempted to clear space to sign Gaudreau but were unable to do so.
“We don’t have the space to pursue those high-end free agents,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I talked to a lot of teams about maybe getting cap flexibility. We looked at some different options. The price of moving contracts is really expensive.”
After the NHL’s free agent market officially opened at noon on Wednesday, there were rumors that the Blue Jackets were getting involved in the Gaudreau derby.
There had been speculation that Columbus would be an aggressive team this offseason. Kekalainen watched his team struggle through two non-playoff seasons, having traded away veteran players like Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, David Savard, Nick Foligno and Max Domi. The Blue Jackets were in talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning about defenseman Ryan McDonagh before he was traded to the Nashville Predators.