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Johnny Gaudreau signs with Blue Jackets in free agency stunner

Johnny Gaudreau Free agency

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 12: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Seattle Kraken during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 12, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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You always hear about the “mystery team” in free agency and trade speculation. The mystery team never actually gets the player.

This time, it did.

In a free agency stunner, Johnny Gaudreau, the top player available on the market, has signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a seven-year, $68.25 million contract.

That comes out to a salary cap hit of $9.75 million per season.

When it was revealed that Gaudreau would not be re-signing with the Flames and was headed to the open market. it was assumed that he might go closer to home and opt for the New Jersey Devils or New York Islanders. Maybe even the Philadelphia Flyers. But the Flyers said they never had any interest (bizarre), while the Devils and Islanders apparently could not offer Gaudreau the money or opportunity that he wanted.

As for Columbus, this just completely came out of nowhere, and it is a huge win for a franchise that has seen so many top players leave town over the years. Now, they are the ones taking somebody else’s star.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

This is an elite offensive talent, one of the top scorers in the world, and the best free agent on the market, deciding to sign there over everybody else. It is a massive deal for a Blue Jackets team that has quietly been assembling some really intriguing talent.

The Seth Jones trade from a year ago has already added Cole Sillinger, Adam Boqvist, and No. 6 overall pick in 2022 David Jiříček to the organization.

Zach Werenski is a legit top-pairing defenseman, while Jakub Voracek, Gustav Nyquist, and Oliver Bjorkstrand are all very good players.

Laine next?

The wild card in all of this now is Patrik Laine. He is still unsigned as a restricted free agent and really bounced back in a big way this past season.

If they can figure out a way to keep him long-term with Gaudreau, combined with the aforementioned players, this is suddenly a very interesting team. The Blue Jackets were the ninth team in the Eastern Conference this past season despite getting brutal goaltending.

This is just very unexpected. Gaudreau turned down more money from Calgary, and he seemingly had opportunities to play closer to home.

Gaudreau was by far the top player to hit the unrestricted free agent market after turning down an extremely lucrative contract offer from the Calgary Flames.

He is coming off a monster 2021-22 season that saw him finish with career highs in goals (40), assists (75), points (115), and shots on goal (272) while helping to form one of the league’s most dominant lines alongside Matthew Tkachuk. It was the perfect time for a career year. Even if he does not repeat that exact performance he should still be an elite top-line player for the foreseeable future.

Even before his career year Gaudreau has been one of the league’s best playmakers and a pretty consistent point-per-game player and there is no reason to believe he will not continue to be that for the foreseeable future.