Johnny Gaudreau says he was always open to staying with the Calgary Flames.
The draw of being closer to family, however, became too strong.
The star winger penned a piece in The Players’ Tribune published Wednesday where he tried to explain his decision to leave the only NHL team he’d ever known before the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency
Gaudreau said his mind wasn’t made up that he would be leaving Calgary, even after rejecting an eight-year contract extension before hitting the open market.
“I still thought about going back and trying to work on a seven-year deal to stay,” he wrote. “It was all on the table for the entire process.
“Maybe that seems messy — but life is messy, you know?”
In laying out what contributed to his decision to bolt southern Alberta for Ohio, the 28-year-old, who grew up in New Jersey, said the notion of “just hopping on a plane” to see loved ones isn’t as easy as people think for an NHL player.
Gaudreau signed a seven-year, US$68.25 million contract with Columbus last Wednesday after posting 40 goals and 115 points in 82 games with Calgary in 2021-22.
“I’m incredibly grateful to be an NHL player, and to be making the salary that I make,” Gaudreau wrote. “I don’t take it for granted for a second. Which contributes to why money was not the main deciding factor for me. But the idea that Meredith (his wife who’s expecting the couple’s first child) and I can just fly to and from home, or have our loved ones visit no problem because we have money?
“It’s not that simple. Our families still work full-time. Our siblings have their own lives. Our nieces and nephews are in school. It’s a tough trip for folks to make, and it’s only gotten tougher with the pandemic.”
Drafted by Calgary in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Gaudreau called leaving “the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
He departed Calgary having scored 210 goals and 609 points in 602 regular-season games. Gaudreau added 33 points in 42 playoff appearances.
“I cherished the time I spent in Calgary,” Gaudreau wrote. “For a long time, Meredith and I saw our future there. We wanted to re-sign last summer. We were looking at homes to start a family. But it just didn’t work out and we thought this summer might be different.
“But that doesn’t change the way I feel right now. I’m so proud to have been on this team, and to have represented this city. And these last few weeks — I’ve been struggling every time I think about that. All of the relationships we’ve built here, all the amazing friendships we have — I could feel those in my chest every time I thought about leaving.”