Sports is sports. It’s also a business. That’s something Flames fans must keep in mind as they (we) wait impatiently for the Flames and Johnny Gaudreau to reach a new deal. Johnny Gaudreau has rocketed to stardom in the past 2 seasons and become the face of Alberta’s NHL hockey team. Contract negotiations between the 2 sides have dragged on much longer than anyone could have imagined. When the season ended it was a no brainer that the Flames and Gaudreau would hammer out a contract and “Johnny Hockey” would be a Flame for life. Not so much.
I have no inside information as to why it is taking so long for the Flames and Gaudreau to come to an agreement. All indications say that the negotiations are tough, but amicable. It could be a number of factors, but I wonder if it’s the number of years in the contract? Are the Flames looking long term? Are Team Gaudreau looking for a shorter deal?
If you take off your fan glasses for a minute, you can see both sides and why either deal makes sense. From the Flames standpoint you can understand why they want Gaudreau locked up for a long time. The Flames just inked Gaudreau’s line mate Sean Monahan to a 7 year deal and getting Gaudreau signed to a similar deal would ensure the two players would guide the team for years to come. Plus, a long term deal for Gaudreau would also allow the Flames to lock up Sam Bennett for a good chunk of time, keeping the young core in tact. Not only is it beneficial to the Flames on the ice, it’s also beneficial for the Flames off the ice. Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary means $. Lots of $. Season ticket sales. Jersey sales. Johnny Gaudreau means potential wins on the ice, but also guaranteed wins at the ticket office and at the merch counter. The other underrated factor is how well Johnny Gaudreau has assimilated into the Calgary community. He’s been a great ambassador for the team outside of the rink with appearances and charity work.
When you look at it from Gaudreau’s side, you can see where maybe he’d want to get a short term deal this time around. Gaudreau has said he likes Calgary and wants to stay, but this is a business. And for the record, I don’t think for one minute that Johnny Gaudreau is being disingenuous. Calgary has been great for Gaudreau and Gaudreau has been great for Calgary, but would another market be better for the player? Gaudreau is an East Coast kid. Played his college hockey in Boston. Would it be better for the player if he signed short term, continued to grow and then signed a mega deal in a larger media market than Calgary? Johnny Gaudreau could eventually head towards home and play in Boston, New York or New Jersey. The endorsement opportunities would be ten fold as to what he could get in Calgary and if it was important to him, he’d be closer to his family. It’s not that crazy of an idea.
These are the times when you remember that while sports are sports, the business side of things runs all teams and leagues. These days you end up really rooting for laundry and the logo on the jersey as opposed to players. I’m not griping because I understand both situations. The team wants what’s best for the team and the player needs to look out for their best interests. Injuries can derail a career in the blink of an eye and I don’t begrudge players for trying to get paid early on to set up their future. And I also don’t look down on the franchise looking to get the best deal for themselves because in the end, they write the checks.
As a kid I watched my favorite baseball player of all time be let go at the end of his career and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I stopped rooting for that team because I felt betrayed. That’s when I realized that sports wasn’t a game, it was a business. I’m not saying I want Gaudreau to leave. I want to see Johnny Gaudreau in Flames colors for his entire career, but I also understand this isn’t just about pucks and skates. This whole column could be a moot point if he signs a long term deal with the Flames in the next few days and I hope that’s the case. If for some reason this negotiation goes in the other direction and it leads to a short term deal, I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t be totally surprised either.