It’s the decision heard around the hockey world. Even days after Johnny Gaudreau chose the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency, the decision is still resonating with folks everywhere.
Depending on which lens you view the story from, you will see vastly different reactions. Every emotion from shock to giddiness to disappointment to anger and everything in-between was expressed once the news broke.
In Columbus, people are still stunned. Never in Blue Jackets’ history has a player the caliber of Gaudreau willingly chose them in free agency. He is a legit superstar who will put a jolt of excitement into the team not only this season but for many seasons down the road.
In Calgary, you have to feel for the Flames and their fans. The decision was a bitter pill to swallow. They made their best effort to keep Gaudreau but it was still not good enough. One look at GM Brad Treliving during his press conference and you could see a person who was shell shocked.
In New Jersey and New York, fans of the Devils and Islanders were hopeful that they’d land the ultimate prize in free agency. At first it was thought that one of these teams would land them. And then to learn that neither of them won out sent shock waves everywhere.
That’s where this story actually begins. Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen admitted he didn’t know until later in the day Wednesday that there was a possibility of landing Gaudreau. He went from talking to the media about the Eric Gudbranson signing to they’re going to possibly sign Gaudreau in about one hour’s time.
And you know what? Not only is this a great win for the Blue Jackets, it’s a great win for the NHL too. You’d think this story was from a Hollywood script given how shocking it was. But these kind of stories is exactly what hockey needs.
Great Win For Hockey
Everyone loves an underdog story. Coming into Wednesday, no one in the hockey world, except for maybe a couple folks with insider knowledge, had any idea that the Blue Jackets would be in on Gaudreau. The Blue Jackets themselves didn’t know early on.
The Blue Jackets were in a roster reset. Conventional wisdom said the they’d be active in free agency, but wouldn’t pursue the bigger names. Patrik Laine is still without a contract.
Then on top of that, why would Gaudreau even look at Columbus? Yes, the thought was he wanted to move East. The Devils, Islanders and Flyers were all East and possibly ready to pounce. With that much competition in his back yard, surely there was no way he’d seriously look at the Blue Jackets, right?
Plot twist: The Blue Jackets were very high on his list all along. Say what?
This is why the story is a great win for hockey. The shock factor of this was very high. It became very emotional and affected many people in different ways. It also gives hope to every team in the future looking to land big-name free agents.
Hope For All
At the end of the day, Gaudreau earned the right to choose where he wanted to play. It’s his decision. It’s his family’s decision. The fact that the Blue Jackets were high on his list is very significant and is worth digging into.
You have to be doing something right in order for a team to be in position to land a transcendent player. You have to manage the cap correctly. You have to run the team in such a way that the good word is out about you. For all the crap the Blue Jackets have dealt with in their existence, landing Gaudreau only confirms that they handled their business the right way.
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Gaudreau said it himself in his introductory press conference. He spoke to several formers players about the Blue Jackets and said the next person seemed more excited than the last about being in Columbus. That is a testament to those running the team positioning themselves in a favorable way to free agents.
The old narrative around the Blue Jackets was nobody wanted to be there. That’s nothing but a lazy story because a couple players decided to leave. While that seems to get a lot of attention, the fact that many more not only love Columbus, but they also come back to Columbus to live after they retire from hockey. Rick Nash is doing that. Cam Atkinson will likely do that. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Nick Foligno do that someday.
So underdog Columbus won the day in the best way possible. This outcome gives hope to everyone no matter what position they’re in. If you handle all your business the right way, you become an attractive destination. While some folks might say no, someone could say yes. Gaudreau said yes to Columbus. The rest is now history.
The Beauty of Free Agency
Unrestricted free agency is a fascinating tool for players. After putting in their time, they get to choose where they want to play. What factors lead to their decision can vary.
That’s why many people got caught off guard when Gaudreau chose the Blue Jackets. He left money on the table in Calgary and took one less year on the open market. But he got exactly what he was looking for. Geographically speaking, he’s in a more comfortable place. That’s his right to decide, no one else’s.
Some players will follow the money. Some players will follow their heart. Others will go where their family situation is better. That’s the beauty of free agency. Every team has the opportunity to sell themselves. They just might have what the player is looking for. The Blue Jackets had what Gaudreau was looking for.
You want a big city? New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are good for that. You want to play in Canada? Great. You have seven options to choose from. You want to play close to home? That’s excellent. There’s options everywhere if you want the west coast, the beach, the tax advantages or anything else you are looking for.
Hockey Needs More Stories Like This
The hockey world got turned upside down because the unexpected happened. It gave publicity to a sport that has traditionally fallen behind against their counterparts in football and basketball for this sort of thing. Trades and free agent decisions seem to be an earthquake in those sports. Hockey has traditionally been tame and somewhat boring in that regard.
But not this year. Hockey for a few hours on Wednesday night became the story when one of its superstars did what was thought of as unthinkable and made it his new reality. Gaudreau really chose the Blue Jackets. It became the story in all of sports.
Here’s to more stories like this now and in the future. It’s a great win for hockey as a result especially when the underdog wins out and the once unthinkable actually happens.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.