Flames general manager Brad Treliving confirmed that Gaudreau's time with Calgary had come to an end. "It's a disappointing day to say the very least," he said. "I firmly believe there's nothing more we could have done."
The 28-year-old left wing spent all nine of his NHL seasons in Calgary, scoring 609 points in 602 games. He had a career high 115 points last season in 82 games, which included a career-best 40 goals. He's finished fourth in the NHL MVP voting in two of the past four seasons.
There has been heavy speculation that the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders could be among the suitors for Gaudreau, a native of Salem, a town in southern New Jersey. It's expected his free agent contract could cross the $10 million average annual value threshold. Only 14 players make $10 million or more against the salary cap in the NHL.
The Flames desperately tried to keep Gaudreau, offering him a series of eight-year contract proposals with escalating dollar amounts.
"This was not a situation where there wasn't enough money in the deal," said Treliving, who said he had a long, emotional discussion with Gaudreau about the decision on Tuesday.
Treliving framed Gaudreau's decision as one fueled by family considerations, adding that Gaudreau is expecting a child with his wife, Meredith Morris, in the coming months.
"We did everything possible to keep John here. It's my strong belief that this is a family decision, and I respect that fully," said Treliving. "He gave eight great years here, with a lot of memories. The hard part of this business is that we have to move on."
Gaudreau made $6.75 million against the salary cap last season. Despite the financial flexibility, Treliving said he doesn't expect to find a replacement for his star winger in short order. "You're not signing a player to replace John. The wrong move right now would be to knee-jerk react and try to replace the player with the wrong response," he said.
Attention now turns to the Flames' other star forward, Matthew Tkachuk. The 24-year-old, who scored 42 goals last season, is a restricted free agent. He received a $9 million qualifying offer Monday and also has arbitration rights. But he could leave as an unrestricted free agent in summer 2023.
"No news on Matthew," Treliving said. "Like everything else, we will see what the days ahead bring."
The Flames were one of the best teams in the NHL last season with 111 points in the standings, the second-best regular season in franchise history. But they lost to the rival Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs in five games. And now, they've lost their biggest star to free agency.