The biggest question of 2022 Free Agency has been answered, Johnny Gaudreau has signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After finishing fourth in voting for the NHL’s Hart Trophy (with three first-place votes) as league MVP last season following the best two-way season of his career, Gaudreau has decided to take his talents to Columbus, Ohio.
This contract comes in well below what most people’s expectations were, with Artemi Panarin’s free agent contract with the New York Rangers in 2019 looking like the closest comparable deal at roughly $11.6 million per year. Instead of matching or surpassing that deal, Gaudreau took a considerable pay cut to be closer to his family on the east coast while also providing his new team with more cap flexibility going forward.
Gaudreau is an eight-year veteran with 602 regular season NHL games already under his belt at the age of 28. He is just over a point-per-game over the course of his career, with 609 regular season points. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft 104th overall by the Calgary Flames and has proven all his doubters wrong every year since.
Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker
Gaudreau fell so far in the draft because NHL general managers were worried that his slight frame (5-foot-9) would preclude him from reaching the NHL. However, his skills are so transcendent that he has been able to not only attain success in the NHL but has also blossomed into one of the game’s premier stars.
After a run of somewhat disappointing seasons from 2019-21, Gaudreau had a career year in 2021-22, setting career highs in goals (40), assists (75) and points (115). He also led the league by a considerable amount in points scored at even-strength, effectively proving that he isn’t just a power play specialist. Gaudreau finished the season with 90 even-strength points, 12 more than the next player.
Gaudreau’s linemates Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm each had career seasons as well, leading many to argue that they made up the best forward line in all of hockey last season. There is no doubt that he is in the prime years of his career, and he has capitalized on that with this contract.
Fit With the Blue Jackets
Gaudreau is likely the only free agent available who is an absolute lock as a first-line talent for the team that landed him. Every one of his suitors in free agency understood that they were bidding for a true superstar player who could change their fortunes significantly. It’s not often that a player who was tied for second in league scoring reaches the free agent market, so when they do, seismic changes occur for both their previous team and their new one.
The Blue Jackets now have a new best player who can be counted on to make his linemates better while scoring 90-plus points per season for the next few years. It will obviously take him some time to develop chemistry with his new teammates before he can play at quite the same level that he did with Lindholm and Tkachuk, but that is a risk that Columbus was clearly willing to take.
The Blue Jackets were a team on the cusp of playoff success for several years before losing star winger Artemi Panarin to free agency. Ever since, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has orchestrated a masterful rebuild with a handful of early first-round picks that will soon turn the fortunes of this team around. However, the Gaudreau signing will do more for their rebuild than any of those individual draft picks because he is already in his prime.
Flames Lose Their Superstar
As Gaudreau’s breakout season continued, the Calgary Flames began to regret not re-signing him last offseason more and more. Coming off a two-season stretch where he scored 107 points in 126 games, his contract value was significantly lower than it became by season’s end.
The Flames began the 2022 offseason with just under 27 million dollars in cap space, but that can shrink pretty quickly when you have to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk, Oliver Kylington, and Andrew Mangiapane. Gaudreau informed the Flames’ management team on Tuesday night that he was not going to be returning, not for a lack of money offered, but because he wanted to move to a city that was closer to his family. While it is devastating for the Flames to lose their best player with nothing coming back in return, they will now shift their focus to extending Matthew Tkachuk long-term.