Johnny Gaudreau‘s season is over. Will he be wearing a Philadelphia Flyers jersey when he steps back on the ice for the 2022-23 NHL season?
Gaudreau, 28, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. On July 13, he’ll be free to sign with any NHL team. It has long been believed that the South Jersey native would jump at the opportunity to play closer to home.
The Moment Hasn’t Sunk In
Two days after the Flames were eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gaudreau said that he hadn’t thought to take a moment to consider that he might have played his last game in a Flames uniform after Connor McDavid‘s overtime goal ended his season on Thursday night.
“I didn’t sit in the locker room and keep my jersey on or stare up in the stands,” he told the media at the Flames’ wrap-up day on Saturday. “It’s something that I didn’t really think of.
“I do have a big decision, and we’ll see what happens the next few weeks. I love it here and I love the fans, I love the city. But I never really had that moment where I was like, ‘Oh, this is it for me.'”
Professional athletes are trained to stay focused on the present. And after the Flames’ strong regular season, where they finished first in the Pacific Division after missing the playoffs one year earlier, Gaudreau was likely expecting to still be chasing a championship as the calendar flips to June.
Gaudreau also had his best season yet. He finished with 40 goals and 115 points, tied for second in the NHL scoring race with Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers, and found himself knocking on the door of a Hart Trophy nomination for the second time in his career.
Success creates positive emotions, and brings a team together.
“You create such good bonds with these guys, then you have these days,” he said Saturday. “You say bye to everyone and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“So it’s difficult. It’s kind of sad, it was a fun year playing with all these guys. It was a special year.”
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Johnny Loves Calgary
Gaudreau reiterated numerous times how much he loves Calgary, how it’s the only professional home he has ever known, and how much he feels appreciated by the fanbase.
“It’s such a great city to play. My next door neighbours — pretty sure they’ve been shovelling my snow all year just to get me back,” he chuckled. “Go to Starbucks, go out to eat. Everyone is so welcoming and really wants me back here and it’s great.
“It’s what you want to hear, what you want people to think of you. They want you to be on their team.”
In recent months, Gaudreau’s mother, Jane, has been sharing evidence of the bond that Gaudreau and the rest of his family have developed with the Flames and the city of Calgary on social media. No post was more touching than this hug with Sean Monahan, who has been sidelined since March after undergoing hip surgery.
I cried a couple times today.…when John told me earlier he was going to wear an “A” tonight and when he had the game-winning goal in OT, but neither of those times did I cry as much as I did when I saw Sean waiting for John to come down the tunnel to give him a big hug. https://t.co/BEPAc481PA
— Jane Gaudreau (@JaneGaudreau) May 16, 2022
A feeling of unfinished business can also be a powerful lure.
Calgary’s Cap Situation
In April, Calgary general manager Brad Treliving made no bones about the fact that he hopes to bring Gaudreau back to the Flames.
#Flames GM Brad Treliving last night on HNIC’s After Hours: “We’re going to move heaven and Earth and do everything we possibly can to get Johnny back here … We’re going to do everything we humanly possibly can to have him be back here and be a Flame for a long, long time.”
- Ep 114: Aaron Rodgers, OBJ, and The New York Jetsby Full Press Coverage on March 25, 2023 at 12:09 am
— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) April 17, 2022
He backed up those statements on Saturday. “I’ve said this, and I’ve said it to John,” he told the media. “I think he’s a Calgary Flame and we want to make him a Calgary Flame for a long time and we’re going to do everything we possibly can make that happen.”
According to CapFriendly, the Flames currently have $55.6 million in salaries committed to 12 players for the 2022-23 season. That leaves them with nearly $27 in available cap space. But Gaudreau could command a deal in the $10-million range. So could Matthew Tkachuk, a 24-year-old restricted free agent whose career-high 104-point season put him eighth in NHL scoring this season. Forward Andrew Mangiapane is also a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, who’s coming off a 35-goal season. So is 25-year-old defenseman Oliver Kylington, who established himself as an NHL regular this year.
If the Flames get those four players signed at market value, they’d be at or near the cap ceiling — with seven more spaces to fill on their 23-man roster. In addition to Gaudreau, seven other members of the Flames team are headed for unrestricted free agency: defensemen Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson and Michael Stone and forwards Trevor Lewis, Brett Ritchie, Calle Jarnkrok and Ryan Carpenter.
A rival team with a bulging wallet and plenty of cap space could waltz in and change the narrative.
Philadelphia’s Cap Situation
The Flyers check the first box. They have never been shy about handing out big contracts. And when Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott said earlier this season that general manager Chuck Fletcher had a “blank check” to fix what ails his hockey team, visions of Gaudreau in the orange and black immediately started dancing in fans’ heads.
The cap space, however, is not as easy to come by.
With new deals kicking in next season for Joel Farabee and Rasmus Ristolainen, CapFriendly shows that the Flyers have 18 players currently signed, and just $5 million in available cap space.
The good news is that Fletcher’s key players are all locked up for next season. The most important free agents he needs to address are Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett and Zack MacEwen, who are all under team control.
But to have any hope of reeling in Gaudreau, Fletcher would have to clear out some money.
Last summer, he aggressively moved out the contracts of Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek in order to create enough cap space for Ristolainen, Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson. This year, the names most frequently mentioned as possible cap casualties are James van Riemsdyk (one year remaining at $7 million), Travis Konecny (three years remaining at $5.5 million) and Ivan Provorov (three years remaining at $6.75 million).
After the Flyers floundered so dramatically over the last two seasons, Fletcher might be running low on offseason at-bats. His boss is expecting the team’s turnaround to happen swiftly. Don’t be surprised if the Flyers’ GM swings for the fences in an attempt to hit a home run and bring Gaudreau home to Philly this July.
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