Do NHL free agents have a responsibility to fans?

Johnny Gaudreau made his long-awaited return to Calgary as his Columbus Blue Jackets were defeated 4-3 by the Flames. He was cheered and booed in equal measures but did Gaudreau, among others, owe the team that drafted him more when he became a free agent.

Video Transcript

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Did anyone watch that game? I did. I was in the building for that. That's as loud as I've ever heard that building. Like, dude would step onto the ice, and he got booed. It's one thing to get-- to touch the puck and get booed. He got booed every time he stepped onto the ice.

And, like, this is, like, a small dude. Like, he could have easily, like, snuck behind somebody and, like, found a way onto the ice. But everybody booed him. That's as mean-spirited as I've heard that audience.

OMAR: He got the Tavares treatment. I knew it was coming. Like, I saw-- I saw, like, on Twitter, like, people that said, oh, Flames fans, let's not-- let's not boo him. Like, let's be mindful of what he did in the organization. And I was like, no, that man is getting the straight Tavares.

And the more I saw it, I was like, yep, yep, yep, there it is.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: My guy got a penalty shot and he missed wide right, people were so happy.

OMAR: Yep. And that's the thing. That's probably going to happen for a while. I don't-- I don't know. I don't even know. I don't know, actually. Because-- actually, no. It might. Because a lot of people were just, like, confused about-- like, there were people who still don't understand why Columbus-- but to this day still don't understand, like, why it was Columbus.

So yeah, I think Johnny Hockey has to get used to that. I don't think that's going to be going away anytime soon.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. It just-- Columbus is a very nice city. I have been. A lot of former players actually go back to Columbus. They'll buy, like, land, and they'll live there. But yeah, Columbus. And even if it is for family reasons and he gets to see his dad, which is really nice, Columbus. Yeah.

I can understand why people still have questions. OK. We've helped-- oh, go ahead, Avry, before we get to Vancouver.

AVRY LEWIS-MCDOUGALL: Everyone made a point. You know, I know I get the boo because he now plays for a different team. But it wasn't like he forced his way out of Calgary. It wasn't like, you know, he said, I'm not going back, I'm not going to be playing there again. He was a free agent.

Like, you know, he could go wherever we wanted to. Like, there was no bad blood towards-- you know, the good piece is athletic-- Crazy Calgary. And there still is bad blood towards him? I don't get it. The man's free to go anywhere else. He was free to go.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I have a counterpoint to that. I have a counterpoint to that. Because the other side of that is that, as opposed to what Matthew Tkachuk did, in which, when he knew that he was going to leave, he let Brad Treliving know and then the trade ultimately happened the way that it did, so the Flames got something for him.

And I think Flames fans felt like, oh, OK. You at least let us know what was what, and you didn't leave us hanging, and we were able to get something. As for Johnny Gaudreau--

OMAR: But wasn't Tkachuk an RFA, though?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: He was at one point, then he got, like, a bridge deal. But, like, he was able to get that extra year, obviously, that eight-year deal-- I wrote the whole damn story about this. I should remember more of these details.


But Johnny Gaudreau, pretty much up until the final hours of free agency, had no idea what he was going to do. Like, there's this famous photo of, like, him and a bunch of now-former Flames teammates I think at Sean Monahan's wedding. And, like, even then, like, he didn't know what was going to happen. And I think a lot of Flames fans, for whatever reason, feel as if Johnny Gaudreau strung them along the whole time and left for nothing, even if he-- yes, he did get to exercise his right as a free agent.

But I think, for whatever reason, fans just feel that because he didn't really give them any kind of heads up until the absolute last possible minute, it seems, that it's warranted for more boos. Even the way I'm explaining it doesn't seem like it makes that much sense either.

OMAR: It doesn't. Because, like, OK, so say the deadline happens, right?


OMAR: I'm Johnny Gaudreau. I am not re-signing. OK, so the Flames are going to be like, OK, cool, so we're just going to trade you. Screw our-- screw our playoffs. You know? Let's forget the fact that he's, like, the best player-- one of the best players on the team. Like, they made it-- you made it far, Calgary.

It was your goalie's fault. So, like, I don't understand that sense. And, like, I don't want-- I understand if you come for me for this-- but the same thing that happened with Tavares. Oh, you should have told us you weren't going to re-sign. Oh, yeah, for sure.

When you're trying to fight for a playoff spot, I'm not going to re-sign. No GM is going to say, OK, yeah, for sure, we're going to trade you. [SPUTTERS] There is no-- the team, like, loses, like, skill and talent if they make that move. So, OK, yeah, Johnny Gaudreau says, like-- say in a different universe he knows he's not going to re-sign, he says, I'm not going to resign.

I still don't think they trade him. I still say they say, OK, whatever. Then that's maybe more incentive to buy even more. And then we try to go for a deep run, and then Markstrom screws you over anyway. So I don't know, man. Like, I-- like, I never understood that thought process of like, oh, you should have told us, you should have-- like, they don't have to do anything. It's professional sports.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Free agency's hard. Being a-- like, the idea of, like, playing for a team for the longest while and then you have an opportunity to exercise your right as a free agent, but, like, you have no-- you could be one of those people who are just generally indecisive and you have no idea what you want to do with your future.

And in the case of Johnny Gaudreau, it's not just him he has to think about. He has to think about his wife. He has to think about, at the time, his impending kid. Like, his-- like, the other members of his family. Like, there's so many other elements that he had to think about.

And it wouldn't surprise me if his family ended up being this-- I mean, he has acknowledged that family was a big reason why he ended up bolting, even if it was to Columbus. But, like, that plays such a huge role in these decisions. Like-- and I think fans sometimes kind of lack a bit of empathy when it comes to that because they're so blinded about their own team needs. Like, it's-- it kind of sucks.

But I guess that is what it is, and Johnny Gaudreau just has to enjoy the next few years as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. But hey, maybe he gets Connor Bedard next year.