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Gaudreau not concerned about heightened expectations

Flames forward prepared for life with new contract

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- The general manager of a bygone era, Al Coates, once described the intrinsic value of star players, those select few who power both the competitive and financial engine, in this way:

"If you've bought tickets to see the Rolling Stones,'' he reckoned, "you can live with it if the drummer is sick.

"But Mick Jagger had better be there or chances are you'll want your money back."

Well, Jumpin' Johnny Flash, sans sequined jumpsuit and lypo-suction lips, returned to the stage for an 11 a.m. rehearsal at the Scotiabank Saddledome, ready once again to front the band.

Maybe he'll launch into a rendition of Prodigal Son to get Wednesday's Edmonton kick-off-the-North American-tour concert started.

Tuesday after flying all night to get here, Johnny Gaudreau got a better Welcome Back than Kotter. The throng around him post-practice reminded you of trying to spot the Mona Lisa over the cascade of gawkers in the Louvre; he looked like Merry or Pippin hidden behind a forest of Ents.

Small man. Huge upside.

"To whom much is given, much is expected,'' acknowledged the general manager of the current era, Brad Treliving, penned in by the obligatory media horde awaiting a Johnny sighting.

 "So there are certainly things that go along with that in terms of responsibility. He's ready for that.

"But the contract cannot be a noose."

The perception that a $40 million windfall poured into the Gaudreau kitty over the next six years comes with mandatory tablets, commandments, a Charlton Heston-like mane and a burning bush is the very last climate Treliving wants to foster.

"Johnny,'' he reminds everyone, "is still a young player. Two years in the league. And I've been through this before. A player makes X amount one year, the salary (rises) the next year and the inherent pressures or 'I've got to be change the world!' … it can't be that way.

"He's being compensated for who he is and where we think he can get to.

"Don't worry about the burdens that come with it."

Video: Johnny Gaudreau is thrilled to sign an extension

The deal comes on the heels of a $44.6 million agreement that keeps Gaudreau's pal, Sean Monahan, in the fold for the next seven seasons.

"(Gaudreau's) contract,'' said Monahan on Tuesday, "means one thing: It shows the organization has that confidence in you and commitment to you.

"You have an opportunity to sign a long-term like that, it's pretty special. You're going to have pressure on you but I think if you don't feel pressure on you on a daily basis, you're not going to be at your best.

"He's in a good spot. I think I'm in a good spot."

For Gaudreau's part, the focus of all the fuss doesn't sound overly concerned by inflated projections.

"The team believes in me and believes in me for the next six years," said Gaudreau. "I'm going to have to perform the way I always have. I'm not worried about it too much. If I just play my game like always I think the results will happen." 

The organization's banking heavily on precisely that. After a 14-point and six-goal increase from Years 1 to 2 and a breathtaking turn at the World Cup of hockey, there's no reason to believe No. 13 is just beginning his ascendancy.

Not that Treliving had taken to donning sunglasses and a wig when moving around town throughout the prolonged negotiation process or anything, but the Gaudreau speculation, he knew, he could feel, was everywhere.

"I'm just glad,'' he admitted, "I don't have to answer that question anymore: 'When is Johnny gonna sign?'

"Johnny IS signed."

Through age 29, as it turns out.

"Those who follow our team on a regular basis have seen what he's done here the last two years,'' continued Treliving. "A broader spectrum of the hockey world was able to be treated to his exploits at the World Cup.

"If you go back over time, there are very few players -- it's a short list, a very short list -- that have accomplished what he has production-wise over his first two years."

Gaudreau's trajectory is headed in one direction -- to the stars.

Which is why his GM and others in the organization are advising him to think of this as business as usual, despite the big bump in tax bracket.

 "We don't,'' said assistant GM Conroy, "need him to be Mony or Brouwer or Backs."

Or Ovie or Sid or Stammer for that matter.

"My expectations," Conroy went on, "are no different for him today than they were last season or the year before that: Creativity. Points. Being an offensive threat that other teams have to game-plan for.

"He's someone who creates so many chances for so many guys, on the power play, 5-on-5, and in my opinion he's the best 3-on-3 player in the league.

"And he's super competitive. Bob (Hartley) used to tell me: 'When the game's on the line, Johnny's ready. He's looking at you like 'Put me out there. NOW.'

"That's what you need. That's his mindset. That's part of what makes him special."

So no need to be Moses.

Just being Johnny is good enough.

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