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‘I saw it coming’: Mikael Backlund shares true feeling about knowing Johnny Gaudreau would leave Flames

Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Blue Jackets, Flames

Johnny Gaudreau’s decision to take his talents to the Columbus Blue Jackets was a total surprise that sent shockwaves across the NHL. There was always the possibility that Gaudreau would leave the Calgary Flames, but it was the Blue Jackets winning the Johnny Hockey sweepstakes that made his departure from Alberta a much bigger stunner. But for Flames center Mikael Backlund, he felt that it had always been at the back of his mind that Johnny Gaudreau would sign with a US-based NHL team in free agency.

Via Sportsnet 960 (h/t Logan Gordon):

“I saw it coming a little bit with Johnny, had a feeling it could happen that he was gonna walk, even though he said he wanted to come back. Over the years you felt that he missed playing in the us so I had a feeling he could go”

In what turned out to be Gaudreau’s final season with the Flames, he collected 115 points on 40 goals and 75 assists while playing in all 82 games in the 2021-22 NHL season. The Flames were expected to go deep in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Gaudreau headlining a team that had all the weapons it needed for a Cup run but was eliminated by Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in a shocking second-round exit for Calgary.

Apart from Gaudreau, the Flames also bid goodbye to Matt Tkachuk, whom they sent to the Florida Panthers via a trade, knowing that he would not sign a long-term deal with Calgary.

“With Chucky it was a bit more of a surprise. Once that happened you were like what’s going to happen now with the team, what’s going on? Got a little stressed but I think Tre did a great job with the hands he was dealt,” Backlund said of the Tkahuck deal while giving praise to Flames general manager Brad Treliving.

Despite losing Gaudreau and Tkachuk, their top two point-getters in the 2021-22 NHL season, the Flames should still be a playoff contender at least, as still got a good return from the Tkachuk trade with a package that included Jonathan Huberdeau. They also signed Stanley Cup champion Nazem Kadri  to a seven-year deal back in August.