Johnny Gaudreau shocked many Calgary Flames fans when he opted to test the open market, offering general manager Brad Treliving an 11th hour dismissal before hitting unrestricted free agency.
Gaudreau tried to explain why on Wednesday.
He took to the [web]pages of The Players’ Tribune to piece together a heartfelt letter to the Flames fans that faithfully cheered him on from the days he was a pint-sized prospect to a spectacular superstar.
“Before I was a hockey player, I was a hockey fan. I totally get it. It’s hard not to see any free agency decision as a betrayal,” Gaudreau wrote in the piece.
“All I would ask though is for people to hear me out, as a human being.”
— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) July 20, 2022
Fans didn’t seem to initially want to however, as Gaudreau, to his surprise, quickly became the object of animosity as to how he could string Calgary — both the city and team — along for so long before opting for what many suggested was a less desirable location, team, and term.
That anger seemed to double-down after Gaudreau’s introductory press conference with the Blue Jackets last week.
“But as much as I love hockey… family is everything to me,” wrote Gaudreau, who was second in league scoring with an NHL career-high 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists). “It’s the most important connection I have. And a few years ago, I think I started to realize how much you sacrifice when you give 100% to your career. I felt like I needed to do more to center my family in my life after we experienced some hard times.
“My dad’s heart attack in 2018 was a big moment for that. It was really so bad and he’s lucky to be here today. A very scary situation. And seeing him in that hospital bed… it hit me extremely hard. I thought about how little I’d seen my parents since I’d been in the league. These moments and experiences change you as a person.”
Gaudreau, an expected father with wife Meredith, continued that he tried to find a balance between family and hockey, and Columbus offered the best fit of both.
He reiterated the difficulty of leaving several times.
Gaudreau, who said he looked to re-sign with the club last summer before exploring options this July, was plucked out of the fourth round (No. 104) of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Flames as a self-described 5’6″, 130-pound forward out of Dubuque in the United States Hockey League.
He’d spent his entire NHL tenure, all 602 games, with the Flames.
“As much as we both love Calgary, I think Meredith and I just felt that it was going to be very hard to continue living as far away from our families as we’ve been living — especially as we’re starting a family of our own,” Gaudreau wrote.
“It’s the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make.”