To Calgary

Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

To my Flames Family, I hope you can understand my decision more after reading this letter. I appreciate how much you wanted me to stay and I hope you can see how hard this decision was for me. 

Before I was a hockey player, I was a hockey fan. I totally get it. It’s hard not to see any free agency decision as a betrayal. 

All I would ask though is for people to hear me out, as a human being. 

Last week I kept thinking about the conversation I had with my parents toward the end of my junior year at Boston College. I had the option to stay at BC and become a free agent and sign with any NHL team the following year, or report to the Flames. But all I wanted was to be a Calgary Flame. I felt that I owed it to the organization who took a chance on a five-six, 130-pound forward from the USHL. I wanted to show them that I could be the player they believed I could be. 

When I was drafted in 2011, I honestly couldn’t point out Calgary on a map. I knew about Iggy and the red jerseys and that was really it. But I learned quickly about what it meant to play for this city. I couldn’t believe the comments from people asking me to sign and become a Flame right away.

“Johnny!! Please sign.” “Will you play for us next year???” “Did you sign yet????”

And when I went up to Calgary for development camps, I saw how deep a connection the people had to their hockey team. Even just for games made up of prospects, we’d get so many fans at the rink.

This city is awesome, I thought to myself. This is a hockey city. 

Ever since those early days, I’ve understood: Hockey in Calgary is just different.

It's a special place with great people.

For pretty much my whole life, I’ve been obsessed with the game of hockey, and with getting better at it. I’ve worked my tail off every summer to come back better than before. I’ve always believed that hard work can get you anywhere in this sport. 

But as much as I love hockey … family is everything to me. It’s the most important connection I have. And a few years ago, I think I started to realize how much you sacrifice when you give 100% to your career. I felt like I needed to do more to center my family in my life after we experienced some hard times.

My dad’s heart attack in 2018 was a big moment for that. It was really so bad and he’s lucky to be here today. A very scary situation. And seeing him in that hospital bed … it hit me extremely hard. I thought about how little I’d seen my parents since I’d been in the league. These moments and experiences change you as a person.

Another big moment for me was when I met Meredith. After my dad’s heart attack, I bought a vacation home in hopes that my family could spend time together and to have a place for my dad to relax more after we nearly lost him forever. And that’s how we met … Meredith was my next-door neighbor. She was a NICU nurse at the time. I was so blown away by the work that she was doing. And over the course of our relationship, I’ve learned a lot from her about how to balance those two things: a passion for your work with a passion for the people in your life. I’ve learned a lot about the person I want to be. Which is a good son, a good husband, and (soon!) a good father.

And, in the end, trying to find this balance is what this decision came down to. 

Before I was a hockey player, I was a hockey fan. I totally get it. It's hard not to see any free agency decision as a betrayal.

Johnny Gaudreau

As much as we both love Calgary, I think Meredith and I just felt that it was going to be very hard to continue living as far away from our families as we’ve been living — especially as we’re starting a family of our own.

It’s the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make. 

I want to set the record straight on a few things I’ve heard over the last week.

I’ve heard people say that I was using Calgary for leverage, and that I “always knew” I was leaving. I’ve heard people say that, with the kind of money I’m making, and with how easy it is to hop on a plane, location shouldn’t be an issue.

And while I normally wouldn’t give that stuff the time of day, I feel like I owe it to Flames fans to be honest. 

For what it’s worth, I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do up until the last hours of the last day. Man, even after I turned down the eight-year deal from Calgary, I still thought about going back and trying to work on a seven-year deal to stay. It was all on the table for the entire process. Maybe that seems messy … but life is messy, you know? 

And as for “hopping on a plane” and all of that — I’m incredibly grateful to be an NHL player, and to be making the salary that I make. I don’t take it for granted for a second. Which contributes to why money was not the main deciding factor for me. But the idea that Meredith and I can just fly to and from home, or have our loved ones visit no problem, because we have money? It’s not that simple. Our families still work full time. Our siblings have their own lives. Our nieces and nephews are in school. It’s a tough trip for folks to make, and it’s only gotten tougher with the pandemic. And it’s hard for us to get out East as well. It’s things like missing your grandfather’s funeral, or having very sick relatives, that make the distance so painful — and you remember that feeling when planning out your future for your family. 

I know those answers aren’t going to please everyone, just like I know my decision didn’t. But all I can do here is tell the truth. 

And this is the truth, I promise: I cherished the time I spent in Calgary. For a long time, Meredith and I saw our future there. We wanted to re-sign last summer. We were looking at homes to start a family. But it just didn’t work out and we thought this summer might be different.

But that doesn’t change the way I feel right now. I’m so proud to have been on this team, and to have represented this city. And these last few weeks … I’ve been struggling every time I think about that. All of the relationships we’ve built here, all the amazing friendships we have — I could feel those in my chest every time I thought about leaving.

Johnny Gaudreau | Columbus Blue Jackets | To Calgary | The Players’ Tribune
Derek Leung/Getty Images

And it’s weird, you know, I’ve been thinking about what it’s going to be like when I come back next season. I know there will probably be boos … but as strange as it might sound, I’m still really excited to come back and play in front of some very passionate fans. That’s why I loved this city and the people. They love their team. I’ve got so much love for my time as a Flame. No amount of boos or angry messages is ever going to change that for me.

One day, Meredith and I hope to bring our family back to Calgary to show them all our favorite spots and things to do like Banff and the Stampede, especially the Saddledome! 

I know stuff like this is what every player tells a fan base when they leave … but it’s like I said: My story isn’t the story of every player. Not every player was a five-six, 130-pound USHLer when one of the NHL’s most storied franchises took a chance on him. 

I felt like the luckiest guy in hockey when that happened, and I still do. 

I hope the people of Calgary can remember me not only as a hockey player, but also as a good person with good values. Thank you for supporting me over these years, and for making my family a part of yours.

I feel so grateful to have been brought up in the Calgary Flames Organization. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.