Free agency is now in full swing with numerous deals being handed out yesterday, however the Flames and their fans are still reeling from the news their superstar Johnny Gaudreau is heading back home… or rather, Columbus, Ohio. In one of the most influential moves in franchise history, the Flames saw one of their best and most popular players ever turn them down and leave for nothing.
The move will no doubt leave a bad taste in the mouths of Flames fans when it comes to Gaudreau. Once a fan favourite, he’ll now be playing against the Flames on a new team in the middle of his prime. No one would’ve predicted he’d play his last game as a Flame at just 28 years old.
So what is Johnny Gaudreau‘s legacy in Calgary now that he’s left?
An offensive force
There’s no doubt about it, Gaudreau was one of the most offensively gifted players in franchise history. His ability to create offence and ignite a crowd is second to none in the NHL. It’s fair to say he was the most gifted forward the Flames have had since Jarome Iginla. Which makes it hurt even more that he willingly left in the middle of his prime after the best season of his career.
As it stands, Gaudreau leaves the franchise sitting fifth all-time in scoring after just eight seasons on the team.
Right away you notice that his name is up there with Flames legends. However the other four names on the list stand out a lot more. Jarome Iginla of course is the best player and captain in franchise history. He’s an icon in Calgary and spent over 1,200 games with the team.
Al MacInnis is the best defenceman in franchise history, while Joe Nieuwendyk is the best centre in franchise history and both played with the Flames during the team’s best era. Gaudreau has the point totals, but his name certainly doesn’t stand out as much as these other players do because he never had the other accomplishments to go with it.
MacInnis won a Norris, Nieuwendyk won the Calder, Iginla won essentially every individual award there is except for his robbed Hart Trophy. Most importantly all three of MacInnis, Nieuwendyk and Theoren Fleury won a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989. Iginla meanwhile dragged his team to within one win of a cup in 2004.
Iginla, MacInnis and Nieuwendyk all have their numbers hanging from the Saddledome rafters as well—Iginla officially retired, the other two both Forever-A-Flames. A new banner almost certainly would’ve happened for Gaudreau’s number 13 one day before he threw that away too.
Sure Gaudreau racked up the points during his Flames tenure, but no one remembers the fifth highest scorer in a franchise’s history. What hurts the most is the path to becoming a legend in Calgary was very clearly laid out for Gaudreau given the incredible talent he has and what he had done thus far in his career.
It’s fair to say that with the type of player he is, had he stuck around and not bailed in his prime, he very likely would’ve overtaken Iginla as the Flames all time leading scorer. An honour that would’ve placed him as a legend of the franchise alongside the likes of Iginla, and Lanny McDonald. Instead he threw that chance away by leaving at the height of his career.
A lack of success
Probably the biggest reason Gaudreau will leave almost no legacy behind in Calgary is the complete lack of success the team had while he was here. Don’t get me wrong he’s certainly not at fault for that as he was never insulated with proper talent until this season. That said, the fact that he jumped ship as soon as the team was finally starting to put it together certainly doesn’t look great.
In his nine seasons in Calgary, Gaudreau went to the playoffs five times, making it out of the first round twice. Not exactly a great record of team and playoff success during his tenure in Calgary. Again that’s not his fault, but the fact is without any team success or deep playoff runs during his time in Calgary, there isn’t much of a legacy left behind. The goal is to win, and Gaudreau and the Flames didn’t do much of that while he was here whether it was his fault or not.
Think about that 2003–04 run. Fringe players and depth players made themselves household names in Calgary from their contributions during the run to the Cup Final. That’s how you leave a legacy behind. No one on the Flames has done anything like that since.
Gaudreau did produce a respectable 33 points in 42 playoff games during his time with the team. All said he finishes his Flames career sitting 13th all-time in playoff points, having never played past the second round. Not much else to say about that.
Outside of his Game 7 winner this past season, and his tying goal in Game 3 against Anaheim seven years ago there aren’t really any memorable playoff moments from Gaudreau either. By leaving just a month and a half later after losing in the second round, it doesn’t exactly help with the memory of that Game 7 goal either.
While it wasn’t his fault by any means, Gaudreau’s time in Calgary will no doubt be remembered as what could have been when it came to team success. Leaving the deepest Flames team in over a decade at the peak of his prime will only further cement that. A legacy was right there for the taking, and Gaudreau passed that up.
A baffling decision
Last but certainly not least, Gaudreau’s strange decision on where to play for the next chapter of his career will certainly tarnish his legacy in Calgary. It was always rumoured that as soon as he was given the chance, he would bolt off back home to Philadelphia or New Jersey where he grew up to be close to his family.
When news first broke that he would be leaving the Flames and testing free agency, the reason given seemed to be exactly that. Gaudreau’s entire family is out east, so it seemed like it was inevitable at this point that he would be going somewhere close to home.
Then news dropped yesterday out of nowhere that he was shockingly signing in Columbus. Yes, Columbus. A team that has won one single playoff series in franchise history and finished last season 21st in the NHL. To make things even more confusing he signed for well below what both the Flames, and the hometown Devils were offering him.
It just makes no sense on any level and it’s truly a slap in the face to Calgary and their fans after what they had offered him. In the end Gaudreau left around $15 million on the table to not play for the Flames. The Flames were a legitimate cup contender with Gaudreau in the fold and he turned that down to sign for a team that finished 19 points out of the playoffs last year for significantly less money. It’s a mindboggling decision.
By turning down the Flames and signing in Columbus instead, Gaudreau didn’t really go home at all. He signed for way less money, less term, and went to a worse team who is currently in a rebuild. You just can’t help but be annoyed if you’re the Flames, especially after how successful the team was last season.
There’s also this line from Aaron Portzline that rubs some salt in the wound. How early we may never know, but it certainly sounds like Gaudreau had his heart set on leaving the Flames much sooner than a few hours before July 13th.
“Calgary reportedly had offered eight years at $10.5 million per season, but Gaudreau decided early on that he wasn’t going back to the Flames.”Aaron Portzline on Johnny Gaudreau’s free agency decision
Leaving to go home is one thing. Leaving to sign for a much worse team that isn’t even back home all while making way less money makes no sense on any level and puts the nail in the coffin on Gaudreau’s legacy in Calgary. If you truly care about winning and legacy, you don’t make the decision he did this week.
Left high and dry
All said, Gaudreau leaves behind very little in terms of legacy. Sure he was an elite player and one of the most gifted players to ever play for the Flames, but past that there isn’t much else to say. He never achieved great success with the team in the playoffs, and when it finally seemed like they had put it all together he left them high and dry in the middle of his prime.
Not even ending up at home in the end just tarnishes his legacy even further. His decision to turn down the Flames to go to Columbus will be discussed for years as one of the strangest free agency decisions ever in the NHL—or maybe even all of professional sports.
Make no mistake, Gaudreau had every chance to become a true legend in Calgary and finish his career as the highest scorer in franchise history with his number in the rafters, but in the end he turned that all down.
The Blue Jackets will come to town on January 23, 2023 in what should be an emotional night.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire