This has been a turbulent week for the Calgary Flames and their fans alike to say the least. The fans (myself included) have had to struggle seeing undoubtedly their favourite NHL player leave their favourite team high and dry, and then continuously hear the side stories afterwards.
If there was one silver lining, one small glimpse of positivity, it was waiting for the new 32 Thoughts Podcast to drop after free agency to hear what Elliotte Friedman had to say on the matter.
It did not disappoint.
Here is everything you need to know from the podcast:
Johnny Gaudreau’s contract negotiation with Calgary
To preface his quotes, Friedman did start off by saying that a lot of people within Johnny Gaudreau’s inner circle and the Flames did not want to pour gasoline on the fire as they know this is a brutal time for Flames fans. That being said, there is a lot to unpack here:
“First of all, let’s go back a year. Last season ends, the Flames missed the playoffs, very disappointing season…
“It was just a hard, hard year in the Canadian bubble for the Flames. And at that point in time, I think there were some contract offers, I think there were some talks, but they weren’t anywhere near what the Flames did here and quite simply a year ago they wouldn’t have offered that.
“So there was no real traction and Gaudreau made the decision ‘we’re not going to talk during the season’ and he stuck to that. He had a great year, he delivered on the ice, the team had a great year, they won the division. [Gaudreau] had a 90 even strength points, he was an MVP candidate, he did everything that he needed to do to shoot himself into the stratosphere of potential contracts and the Flames recognized it—they were obviously prepared to do it and they were happy to do it after the year he had…
“This is what I think happened. It’s not like Calgary could have tackled Johnny Gaudreau or kidnapped him, and kept him in Calgary until he signed. But I do believe the paradigm shifted when he went home. It’s just different…
“Someone said to me… they just felt that if by some miracle the Flames could have got a deal done—and I have to say I’m not blaming the Flames for this, I don’t think there was anything they could have done—but if there’s some miracle, they could have gotten it done while he was still in Calgary, that was the key. He feels that everything shifted once Gaudreau was back in the Eastern United States. It was just a different feel, it was a different vibe.
“Now there were offers and there were counteroffers. They started at 8 x $9.5M… and I think Gaudreau came back higher—that’s what he’s supposed to do, that’s negotiation. I think there were big bonus structures proposed.
“I don’t think the Flames were crazy about at the beginning but I think they accepted that that was going to have to be the case at the end and they were prepared to do a bigger bonus structure deal. I think at the end of the day they were offering 8 X $10.5M—they weren’t going higher…
“I don’t know what happened in those conversations between Calgary and Gaudreau, but I can say this: the Flames believed there was a point where it was going to get done. And I can tell you other teams believed it was going to get done… There were teams who believed that Gaudreau was going to re-sign in Calgary on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day—my opinion— Johnny Gaudreau just said ‘I don’t feel it. It’s not what I would like to do. I would like to go back to the Eastern United States.’ That’s what happened.”
Friedman continued to say that those in his inner circle did not have a unanimous opinion on whether he should stay or leave, with some suggesting that the Flames deal was going to be his best offer. Interestingly though, Friedman continued with some cryptic comments regarding the whole COVID situation:
“I had an interesting conversation on Thursday morning […] with an NHL player who said to me that he thinks that COVID […] changed a lot of priorities for a lot of players. Some players who went a bit closer to home this year, or they picked some markets over others […] He thinks that COVID made it even more of a challenge for certain players—especially if a family had to cross the border, you wanted to be closer to home, you wanted easier travel…
“I don’t know that Gaudreau did this because of COVID fallout or anything like that, but the one thing the player said to me is that if Gaudreau looked at it and said: ‘I want to make this easier on my family.’
“There’re a lot of players who felt the same ways because after the last two years, in case of anything in the future, they wanted to be able to be somewhere where it was easier for their families to see them. And [the player] said that as much as anything else hurt the Flames.”
Easily his most quotable line of the podcast came when he assessed how Gaudreau handled the situation. Friedman first prefaced it with a personal disclaimer:
“I don’t think that Johnny Gaudreau meant to offend the Flames or their fans […], but that’s the way it’s going to be.”
And here’s the line:
“If there’s one thing I would say to Gaudreau about the way it ended in Calgary is I wish he would have said something earlier. Now I understand he was torn, and I understand it’s emotional, but I think it’s pretty clear here: it was not in his heart to stay.
“Again, that’s okay, it’s his life and he reached free agency. But if there’s one thing I could change for Gaudreau—I wish he would have told them earlier in the process cause it just made it harder. Unfortunately, the Flames and their fans, they’re never going to forget…”
As the podcast proceeded, there were a ton of interesting tidbits as to why Gaudreau ended up choosing Columbus (we covered some reasons in tongue-in-cheek detail already). Here are the key points summarized:
Gadureau, when looking at options, always wanted to play in Philadelphia and wanted to sign in Philadelphia with the Flyers. That being said, as Friedman said on the podcast he was chickenhearted about one fact. He had people tell him that Philadelphia was never going to be in it, but he refused to say that because he thought that the Flyers would do something to be in the Gaudreau sweepstakes. This was for two reasons:
- There were people within the organization that wanted Gaudreau and discussed it, but the bigger debate was around the fact that they missed the postseason by 40 points and would using all of their cap space to sign Gaudreau really help solve that?
- The Ryan Ellis situation made them hesitant to use the cap space to sign Gaudreau as they may have been in need of defencemen this season.
I’m not here to critique the organization, but their methodology doesn’t make a ton of sense as you have a premier player that wanted to join the organization and they opted to use that space on Tony DeAngelo.
New York Islanders
Although no one can truly be certain of the Islanders moves, Friedman noted that he never really got the sense that the Islanders were really ever in on Gaudreau. The market was essentaillly three teams: Calgary, New Jersey, and Columbus.
Since Gaudreau said no to Calgary, it was a two-horse race between the Devils and Blue Jackets. Friedman vehemently denied the rumour that the Devils offered more than $10M a season. The offer he heard was $9M+. Since the Blue Jackets were more aggressive with their offer, Gaudreau went with the better deal.
The interesting parts of the Columbus decision was that originally the Blue Jackets were going hard after Nazem Kadri. When they got word that Gaudreau was interested, they shifted plans and made him the priority and eventually got that deal done.
The Columbus narrative here is an old trope, but Friedman mentioned that Gaudreau had messaged a number of former players, which was talked about in length yesterday in the news space, but said that Cam Atkinson was a big influence.
Another was Erik Gudbranson, who just signed his deal with the Blue Jackets, who Gaudreau reached out to after seeing the news in the Flames group chat. The word from former players was a big influence.
What’s next for the Flames?
Finally, Friedman touched on how the Flames move forward from here. The biggest thing was that the Flames main priority is Matthew Tkachuk. A conversation is forthcoming, if it hasn’t already happened, to get a straight up clarification as to what Tkachuk wants to do. They are not interested in waiting until next year, therefore making Tkachuk’s decision a huge factor.
Secondly, an insert was made about the Flames and reported interest in Nazem Kadri. The Flames did not give him a “mega offer” as reported, but they have interest and are being smart about it. They like the player and would love to add him, but they aren’t going to do anything crazy.
We’ll see how the dust settles for the Flames in the coming days.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire