8" chef's knife? Why?
Make some room in your budget for sharpening. If you can only spend a couple hundred now, spend it on sharpening. I don't know if the Edge Pro or freehand route would be better for you; but if you're moving into high end Japanese knives it's going to be one or the other. The good news is that your other knives will greatly benefit from better kit and skills, too.
With that out of the way, let me start the knife chat by saying that all of the knives we're going to talk are very high performance. So when I talk about the differences between them, take it with a grain of salt. You'll be ecstatic with any of them. Not to beat one drum too much, but you'll be in paroxysms of joy all over again with your Sabs once they get a really good edge. Not only that, but you'll make your Dad happy.
I'm really high on a few knives right now, and several of them are bound to suit you to a "T." At any rate, this is a good survey and a good beginning.
I'll start with the high end, and with the caveat that any of them are going to require more involvement and money invested in sharpening on your part -- or the extra money on the knife will be wasted. The good news is that they're all relatively easy to sharpen. All of them are very thin -- much thinner than you're used to, thinner than your old MACs, and that's going to require some adjustment on your part... or not. You'll need to keep something big and heavy around for heavy duty work. You can't split a chicken, skin a pineapple or break down a gourd with one of these; but that's generally true with Japanese knives anyway. Also, because they're thin, they're very sensitive to twisting or torquing and will punish you for it and other bad technique. On the other hand, they reward good skills like nobody's business.
One is the Konosuke HD. It's a very thin, ultra-light knife of a type called a "laser," precisely because it's so light and thin. The HD means it's semi-stainless (as opposed to carbon or stainless); and it's very stain resistant; more to the point, It's an incredible alloy, best I've ever used. The Konosuke is also available in less expensive stainless and "shiroko" (white #2) carbon. If you can live with another carbon knife, the white #2 is the way to go. These knives have a Japanese style "wa" handles, you're grip can easily adapt to them without any trouble. The Konosuke HD is an excellent all around gyuto and one of a handful of best knives I've every used. If you like Sabatiers, you'll like this profile.
The Gesshin Ginga and Tadatsuna wa-gyutos are also at the extreme high end of your price range (a little over) in fact. They're very thin for western handled knives, extreme quality, both made form G3, both spectacularly good, well made knives. Tadatsuna is an extremely high-end, prestigious brand. Gesshin is JKI's house brand, so the name itself doesn't have the same cachet, but it's a lot of knife for a lot of money. Both are made from the same, stainless alloy, G3, and are as good as stainless gets. I particularly like the feel of the Tadatsuna on the board; but you won't get the same hand-holding and support you will from Tadatsuna as from JKI.
A very expensive but worth it carbon (not at all stainless) is the Masamato HC. If you love Sabatier, you'll love Masamoto; the three are tied for number 1 profile with Konosuke. It's a practically perfect pro knife in every way. It's not as thin as the Gesshin, or Tad, and not nearly as thin as the Konosuke; but it's still MUCH thinner than any of your western knives. Relative to the Gesshin and Tad, you give up a little perceived sharpness and edge holding, but make it back in profile and robustness.
Another expensive, but worth it carbon, is the Misono Sweden. Very reactive even as carbon knives go, and needs a lot of carbon love, but it's a beautiful knife with an engraved dragon yet. You can get it from Paul's Finest which is a big plus for a Canadienne.
Another expensive, well regarded, western handled, stainless knife is the Hattori FH (aka "Forum Knife"). They're excellent knives and beautiful. They're made from an alloy called VG-10 which was once the really hot ticket. It turns out though that VG-10 is something of a mixed bag if not done very, very well. The FH is the knife where it is done that well, which is a nice thing. Beautiful knives, but not quite in the same performance category as the other knives I've written about so far. If it calls to you, you should consider it carefully.
The Masamoto VG is the same profile as the HC in stainless. For years, I've been recommending the VG as an alternative to the MAC, but Masamoto price hikes put them in different price classes. It's been a long time since I've used a VG, and I'm not quite sure how to value them anymore. I can't convey in words how good the Masamoto chef's knife profile is -- which is something to consider. Plus, it's a Masamoto.
Dropping down in price, considerably: The Richmond Addict 2 is made for CKtG by Lamson. It's another wa-handle knife. I haven't used it yet myself, but it's getting great buzz from people who know what they're talking about. If I were buying a stainless wa-gyuto with any but the largest budget, I'd take a chance on this, the Konosuke SS (if you were dead sure you wanted a stainless laser), or the Konosuke White #2 (if you were dead sure you wanted a carbon laser).
Let me put in a word for another knife sold by Paul's Finest which doesn't get a lot of coverage in the knife forums or here; and that's the Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff (yes, too effs). It's an excellent all-rounder. The profile isn't quite up to the other knives mentioned in my opinion, but it's made from the easiest alloy to get and keep very sharp of any of the stainless knives.
Last, but by no means least comes the MAC Pro. I recommend it far more than any other knife and it's the only knife I give as a gift to enthusiastic cooks who (a) want a great knife but (b) don't want to get terribly involved in the knife thing. It's the stiffest of all the good Japanese knives. Easy to sharpen, easy to maintain, comes very sharp out of the box, great handle -- very comfortable in the hand, good profile (but not a Masamoto), outstanding warranty and even better North American support (through MAC USA). Like the Masamoto VG, it's made from VG-1. Plus, you can afford it.
Anyway, those are a few. Spend some time Googling them so you can see what they look like, and get back. "Calling to you" counts. Otherwise, why bother?