It was the move that shook not only the hockey world, but the entire sports world. On Wednesday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that they signed Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year contract. The contract is worth $68.25 million, an AAV of $9.75 million per season.
When free agency opened, nobody saw this move coming. Then as the afternoon wore on, some whispers were making their way around the hockey world that a mystery third team was in on Gaudreau. The belief was one of the Devils or Islanders was going to land the all-world talent.
Then just after 7:00 P.M. eastern, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to proclaim that Gaudreau had indeed signed with the Blue Jackets.
When we say no one saw this coming, we mean no one saw this coming. Even in our wildest imaginations when trying to project where a free agent will go, we wouldn’t have suspected this outcome.
The Blue Jackets just signed Erik Gudbranson to a four-year, $16 million contract earlier in the day. This left just under $13 million in cap space with Patrik Laine still to sign. But then the opportunity came about.
When free agency opened, news around Gaudreau was quiet. As the afternoon wore on, it got to be more strange that we weren’t hearing anything. It was believed the Flyers would be the front-runner. But the cap didn’t allow them to actively pursue him.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen saw the opportunity and took his swing. It paid off in the best way possible for him and the Blue Jackets. They got their guy. It immediately became one of the biggest days in franchise history. Why was it one of the biggest days ever? Because it was the day that shattered any old, tired narratives about the Blue Jackets.
Columbus is a preferred destination.
Columbus Now Seen Favorably
The Blue Jackets were always the brunt of the jokes. It seemed every time a superstar player had a decision to make about the Blue Jackets, it didn’t fall in their favor.
Big-name free agents passed on Columbus. Superstar players on the Blue Jackets decided Columbus was not for them. For many years, it just felt like one after another didn’t see a future with the team.
That trend has started to change over time. Several players have said yes to the Blue Jackets. Most notably, Zach Werenski put pen to paper on a mega extension.
Boone Jenner also said yes to the Blue Jackets. As a result, he became the team captain. But no one to the caliber of Gaudreau has ever said yes to the Blue Jackets like this. They were an unrestricted free agent. They could choose their destination. They chose the Blue Jackets on their own volition. That’s what makes this decision historic.
When you look at the situation with the Blue Jackets, it’s easy to see why Columbus is a preferred destination. First is the geography. There’s no question Gaudreau wanted to go closer to home to play. It wasn’t about money. It was about being closer to his loved ones. From Columbus to Philadelphia on a non-stop flight without delays is about 90 minutes.
Next is the team setup. The Blue Jackets have good pieces in place. Patrik Laine, Jake Voracek, Oliver Bjorkstrand are among them. Then there are up and coming stars in Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko. Then they topped it off by adding two high-end defenders in David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk.
When you couple the elite talent with the high-end prospect pool, you have a bright future. Then you add Gaudreau to the mix and you have a situation where the Blue Jackets are a move or two away from being in the playoff conversation. It’s a favorable situation to join.
In addition, Gaudreau gets to reunite with his old high school teammate Eric Robinson. Both hail from South Jersey and are good friends. Having that recruiting angle certainly doesn’t hurt. Perhaps Rick Nash was involved here too helping to answer questions about the market. If anyone’s equipped to do that, there’s no one better than Nash.
Then when you consider that Columbus is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States for young people, it’s a sign that folks are willing to move in and settle down there. The fans are passionate while the media coverage is tamer than in most markets. It all fits.
Misconceptions About Columbus
When the news of the Gaudreau signing broke, many folks began questioning why Columbus? What do the Blue Jackets have to offer? Those complaints usually came from people who have never been to the city.
You speak to anyone who has been to Columbus and around the city and you get the same thing. Hidden gem. Lots to do. Vibrant. Underrated big city.
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Then there’s the talk about hockey. “Oh Columbus is not a real hockey town.” The ignorance that some people show is astounding. If you need an example of how much Columbus cares about their hockey, re-watch the end of Game 4 of the Lightning sweep of 2019. The building was full and it was a celebration no one will soon forget.
That’s the takeaway from the Gaudreau decision. We can finally, once and for all, put to rest the narrative that no one wants to come to Columbus to join the Blue Jackets. The biggest free agent available willingly chose to sign. If that doesn’t validate how far Columbus has come, nothing will.
A Truly Historic Day
Kekalainen had this to say about Gaudreau once the signing was official. “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. 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.”
There have been plenty of important moments throughout the history of the Blue Jackets. But none have had the impact that this decision will have.
Gaudreau comes to the Blue Jackets as a career point per game player who does things at an elite level. His presence alone will elevate everyone on the team. Imagine being a player and seeing him sign on. There will be an extra pep to everyone’s step the rest of this offseason. Who can’t wait for October now?
Wednesday will go down in history as one of the greatest days ever for the Blue Jackets. The team has waited since their existence to have a franchise defining moment in free agency.
It was the day that the Blue Jackets became an official preferred destination for all future free agents. From this moment forward, it’s not about who left. It’s about who wanted to sign on. Gaudreau helped changed the old narrative forever.
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.