Tonight, Johnny Gaudreau will win the Hobey Baker Award as the best and most dynamic player in college hockey. What should be a glorious moment comes with a feeling of trepidation, our smiles tainted by a hint of sadness and worry.
What should be a heralded moment comes with some hesitation towards the future. Even if it's a foregone conclusion that Gaudreau wins the Hobey Baker Award (really, there is no way he shouldn't unless the voting is horribly rigged), he accepts the trophy while facing questions about his future. And as the offseason starts a couple of days ahead of what we'd all hoped, so too does the uncertainty about if he'll suit up next year in maroon and gold or Calgary black and red.
Doing some reading and straw polling, I've found there are three prevalent opinions on what Gaudreau should do. The first, and the most obvious one among fans of Boston College's hockey program, believe he should stay. He was one of the very good players on the 2012 national championship team, but he wasn't the featured player. Despite all of his accomplishments this year, there's the expressed desire of his mother for John to achieve his degree and finish school. He'll get one more year of playing with his brother, a chance to become the first person to win back-to-back Hobey Bakers (assuming they give him the award on Friday night, which, again, should be a foregone conclusion), and a chance at a second national championship.
The second opinion is the one shared by The Boston Globe on Friday morning - that he's likely gone. It does kind of feel like a pipe dream for Gaudreau to come back for one more year since he really doesn't have much else to prove. The next logical step for his game is to go to the pros and begin developing at the high level. The Calgary Flames made substantial movement in order to rebuild their team for the future, and the way the Flames beat writers and fan base tracked Gaudreau was reminiscent of the way Boston fans tracked Larry Bird during his senior year at Indiana State. On top of it all, his words and emotions spoke to someone who was upset at losing with a sense of finality the likes of which many hadn't seen for a while. Whether or not that was simply due to losing in the semifinals is something only he knows for sure.
The third opinion is one that falls right in the middle. There's no doubting Gaudreau's virtuoso performances at the collegiate level. He's been a modern day, hockey version of Pistol Pete. Pete Maravich averaged 40 points without a three-point line, and every time he had the ball, he did amazing things nobody ever saw. Gaudreau with a stick in his hands yields results an average hockey player simply can't do.
But there are parts of Gaudreau's game experts wondered aloud about. There's the size issue and how it would translate to the more physical NHL game. And it's weird, but you can never really tell if a person's mother or family has a huge influence. I remember a couple of years ago talking with a goalie who had an NHL contract in his hand. He was going to receive a signing bonus worth more than anything he'd known to that point. But his father always told him, "You can put a price tag on a career, but if that doesn't work out, you have to finish your degree. You played hockey to get you into college. You don't leave early, and you stay for that degree." He stayed and graduated, and after the next couple of years, he didn't receive another NHL offer. But he never resented it because he fulfilled his father's wishes.
I'm sure that player, though, was not Johnny Gaudreau.
It remains to be proven what exactly will happen with Johnny Hockey. But without any games left on the schedule, we're left to wonder and worry aloud about what happens to him from here. We're all holding out hope for one more year, to finish the unfinished business left behind in Philadelphia, but at the same time, we understand if he leaves. We just don't want him to because he's the singular most dynamic player any of us have ever seen. At the same time, though, Calgary's planned their entire future around that one moment when Johnny signs his name on a contract. But he still has to sign it, and until he does, the longer this goes, the heavier the pressure will get for both sides.
#13 for the Boston College Eagles will win the Hobey Baker Award tonight. But the waiting game already's begun.