Matthew Tkachuk’s time in Calgary could be coming to an end.
Corresponding the athleteHailey Salvian and Jeremy Rutherford, the Flames’ star winger, are not interested in signing with the Flames long-term. This comes after the club sought arbitration with Tkachuk and days after his now ex-linesmate Johnny Gaudreau joined the Columbus Blue Jackets on a free hand.
What is the schedule for Tkachuk and the Flames?
Eyes switched to Tkachuk and his contract situation when news broke that Gaudreau would join the Blue Jackets last Thursday. Tkachuk is a restricted free agent and was even listed as a possible top offer sheet contender, but could become a full free agent as early as summer 2023. Tkachuk had until Friday to sign his $9 million qualifying offer, but the Flames took up that option Monday by filing for arbitration. That brings us to today, when Tkachuk is reportedly not interested in staying in Calgary long-term. It is likely that a deal will take place before his arbitration, which is scheduled between July 27 and August 11. Now that Tkachuk’s wishes are known, questions for the Flames will shift to whether the club needs to be rebuilt or retooled.
Why did the Flames choose to bring Tkachuk to arbitration?
The team said via tweetthat going to arbitration gives Calgary “an opportunity to continue working with[Tkachuk’s]representatives toward a contractual settlement while eliminating the possibility of an offer sheet.” Essentially, it would have given the Flames more time to negotiate a long-term deal with him, or potentially find him a trading partner before the arbitration period expired if things got to that point. We’ve explained in detail why the Flames would choose to arbitrate with the 24-year-old.
What will the Flames plan after Tkachuk?
If the Flames trade Tkachuk, much will depend on what they can reap in return for his rights. Even a year without an unrestricted free hand, he should have a significant package, something along the lines of what the Buffalo Sabers were able to pull off for Jack Eichel. Presumably, Tkachuk’s preferred target would be his hometown of St. Louis, a team that would need to muster a substantial salary to pay Tkachuk what he will ultimately command (a $9 million per season salary is the starting point).
Calgary always tries to stay in win-now mode, so they’d probably take Vladimir Tarasenko’s money as long as the Blues also include a young producing NHLer like Jordan Kyrou and maybe a prospect along the lines of Jake Neighbors. The Blues have plenty of money for their Defense Corps, but it’s hard to imagine the Flames taking on a Torey pitcher because it’s too expensive and it’s not a pressing need right now.
Matthew Tkachuk is a unicorn. Every single team should bet on him. pic.twitter.com/vqDmaOhwid
— dom (@domluszczyszyn) July 20, 2022
The other strategy for Calgary – and again considering the problem of retaining players in a Canadian market – is that they might try to retaliate to attract players who are under their control for an extended period of time. That would suddenly also make the New Jersey Devils competitors.
The Devils tried to sign Gaudreau. Tkachuk, his former linemate, would be a nice consolation prize. The Devils’ pool of high-end up-and-coming talent would include at least one or two players who were still in the entry system and would be under team control for two years or more. As long as the Flames have Jacob Markstrom in goal, Sutter behind the bench and Murray Edwards as the controlling stake in the ownership group, there will be limited interest in rebuilding from the scorched earth.
What influence does Tkachuk have on the Flames?
Losing Johnny Gaudreau is already hurting the Calgary Flames. The loss of Matthew Tkachuk that summer could just as well be the nail in the coffin for the team’s trophy aspirations. The Flames may still be in the playoff mix thanks to their depth, but their star power will be completely gone.
Tkachuk is a unicorn in this league, an extremely rare blend of skill and snarl, finesse and bite, scoring and passing, offense and defense. He can do it all and is currently in the prime of his career as one of the league’s most valuable players. This is a guy who scored 42 goals and 104 points last year while pushing the game to an elite level at both ends of the ice. Tkachuk is a superstar.
By the numbers, he’s expected to be worth 4.4 wins, trailing only a few players in the league: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Brad Marchand, Mitch Marner, Cale Makar, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. This is an elite winger who is a force in the five-on-five game with his playful, skillful hands and positive defensive impact.
Tkachuk plans to stay at such a high level for some time. He is expected to have 26 wins over the next seven seasons. The only question about his influence going forward is how he will manage without his elite linemate Gaudreau. Calgary are already reeling away, so losing both of their game-changing wingers would be absolutely devastating – especially since they don’t have any other wingers who even come close to matching this pair.
Why would Tkachuk want out of Calgary?
It’s probably a combination of things, but it would undoubtedly start with Gaudreau’s departure as a free agent last week. Tkachuk spent most of the early part of his career playing left wing on the second row, mostly alongside Mikael Backlund, as Gaudreau played left wing on the front row, mostly alongside Sean Monahan.
Last season, coach Sutter put Tkachuk on the right wing up front almost from start to finish, employing all-points-on-one-card theory. It worked. Largely because Gaudreau created so many opportunities with his speed and vision, Tkachuk had a career year, and many analysts considered this top line, centered on Elias Lindholm, to be the best line in the NHL. Without Gaudreau, the desire to play long-term in Calgary would have declined sharply.
Then there’s the Canadian dilemma: it seems that teams like Calgary are increasingly ending up on a no-trade list of players, which is worrying. Part of that may be because you’re playing in an older building. In part, this may be the review of playing in a Canadian market. Part of that may be the fear of playing for a demanding, old-school coach like Sutter. But once a player weighs all the pros and cons of playing in Calgary, they may decide they’d rather be somewhere else.
So which teams might be interested in Tkachuk?
We looked at seven possible options that could work with Tkachuk. The St. Louis Blues is an obvious target considering that’s where he grew up and his father, Keith, spent nine years in the NHL. Teams like the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, and the New Jersey Devils were also listed as options.
If the Blues are the preferred target, how could they make a trade work?
It wouldn’t be easy. The Blues are currently above the $82.5 million salary cap, so adding Tkachuk would have to be a dollar-for-dollar deal. That means the Blues would need to move enough players to fit Tkachuk’s salary, which will be at least $9 million. Probably Calgary’s most desirable player would be Kyrou, but his salary is only $2.8 million in 2022-23, so it will take more. Could it include jug? Tarasenko? Both players have no trade clauses. Blues GM Doug Armstrong would need to get creative, but if Tkachuk says he wants to play in his hometown of St. Louis, the club will do whatever it takes to make it work.
(Answers compiled by Hailey Salvian, Jeremy Rutherford, Eric Duhatschek, Shayna Goldman, and Dom Luszczyszyn)
(Photo above: Sergei Belski / USA Today)