COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Columbus Blue Jackets introduced the most significant NHL free-agent acquisition this offseason Thursday.
Six-time NHL All-Star forward Johnny Gaudreau agreed to a seven-year, $68.25 million deal with the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, when free agency opened. He said playing in Columbus appealed to him personally as well as professionally.
“I think we can have a lot of success here,” he said. “It was somewhere I had circled on my list for a while now.”
Gaudreau was joined at the news conference by CBJ general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and coach Brad Larsen. You can watch the news conference in the player above.
Kekalainen said the team was happy to welcome Gaudreau, calling him a “superstar” in the NHL.
“He is an elite player with great character that makes the players around him better. We are thrilled to add a player of his caliber to our group,” Kekalainen said.
Gaudreau is the first NHL player in 12 years to score more than 40 goals and then change teams in the offseason. He previously spent nine years with the Calgary Flames, playing in 602 NHL games and amassing 210 goals and 399 assists.
Gaudreau will wear No. 13, which previously belonged to Kent Johnson who was drafted fifth overall by CBJ last year. Johnson said Gaudreau was the main reason he started wearing No. 13.
Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets are still planning to sign restricted free agent forward Patrik Laine but would need to make $5 million worth of moves to clear enough cap space to keep him. The prospect of playing with the No. 2 overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft also appealed to Gaudreau.
“They’ve got some really skilled forwards up front and Laine’s got one of the best shots in the league probably after [Alexander] Ovechkin,” Gaudreau said. “I like passing and when you have a scorer like that you may want to dish it a little bit more.”
Gaudreau’s signing with the Blue jackets stunned the NHL world for several reasons: he turned down more money offered elsewhere, Columbus has not been to the playoffs the last two seasons, major free agents don’t tend to come to Columbus and the Blue Jackets were the second-youngest team in the league in last season.
“They’ve got good players on this team too and I’m really looking forward to jumping in with this group,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things. They’re a close-knit group and that’s who you want to play with . . . It’s just a healthy environment to be around and that’s exciting to me.”