Why did Johnny Gaudreau end up in Columbus?

Justin Cuthbert tries to make sense of the former Calgary Flames winger's choice to sign with the Blue Jackets.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: But if we're going to do winners and losers, and if we're going to start with winners, we have to start with the Columbus Blue Jackets who did the shocking that I mentioned of the hockey world. And I think they shocked probably even themselves by landing the number one free agent on the board and one of the most talented players to leave in free agency in recent history in Johnny Gaudreau.

Now, this was a strange one because when assessing the bullet points, that would probably be on Gaudreau's off-season agenda. We had, one, move closer to home. I guess he did that but he's still miles and miles away from his hometown of Salem, New Jersey. I think winning probably, pretty important. I think money probably, very important. And of course, he made a lot of money. Maybe there's an opportunity to win. He is closer to home.

But did he satisfy either of these three to the most significant degree possible? The answer to that is no. I don't think he fully checked off any of the main bullet points on his off-season agenda. And that makes it-- that's part of the reason why it's so surprising that he landed where he did.

I think the number one thing going through those bullet points is that he apparently took the third most lucrative offer on the table. Columbus's deal apparently was not that of New Jersey's, was not even close to the 8 years that was tabled by the Calgary Flames, and yet he still ended up there and still ended up miles away from his hometown. Even so, Gaudreau's move finalized in the evening, almost trivializes everything else that was accomplished during the day.

I mean, this is a superstar player who changes the equation for the team he arrives to, Columbus, the team he leaves in the Calgary Flames, and the teams that were supposed to be involved and didn't end up getting his signature. I mean, Calgary is in dire straits right now. And what does it say about the Devils that Gaudreau didn't go there for more money in a more favorable situation at least from an immediate competition perspective?

And what does it say about Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders who haven't been able to do anything in free agency? What does it say about the Philadelphia Flyers? A lot, actually, it says about the Philadelphia Flyers and we'll get to that in a little bit. But in the end, Gaudreau chose Columbus.

And it's ironic because Columbus was in the position Calgary is in now just a few seasons ago when Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and others left. So now, Calgary is facing that similar fate and that decision of did we tear it down or we try to trudge through this and be competitive. And somehow, despite Calgary or Columbus rather taking the long approach, tearing down trying to add as many possible prospects to the system, they now have a guy I gave my third place Hart Trophy vote to as the lead dog for the next seven seasons at a decent price, honestly under $10 million.

The fact that Gaudreau chose them is shocking. His rationale is still surprising. It doesn't make much sense. He kind of spoke briefly to Aaron Port's line saying he thought Columbus was a fun market. That's not the reason why this all came together. So questions will continue to be asked. But my theory is that he really wanted to go to Philly. Philly was it for him. He didn't want to go to perceived rivals of Philly, and Jersey, and New York, the New York Islanders. And he chose I guess what he thought was the next best thing in the Columbus Blue Jackets after receiving some positive reviews from trusted sources, I suppose.

I think this is Philly's mess, in the end. Philly's inability to create enough gap room to even be involved in these discussions I think is the reason Gaudreau left Calgary and ended up in Columbus. Gaudreau is clearly a winner. $68 million guaranteed is wonderful money in the NHL. But I think the biggest winner on the first day of free agency, in the first 24 hours of the free agent window, has to be the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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