Matthew Tkachuk’s time in Calgary could be coming to an end.
According to The Athletic‘s Hailey Salvian and Jeremy Rutherford, the Flames’ star winger isn’t interested in signing long-term with the Flames. This comes after the club filed for arbitration with Tkachuk and days after his now ex-linemate, Johnny Gaudreau, joined the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency.
What’s the timeline for Tkachuk and the Flames?
Eyes moved to Tkachuk and his contract situation once it was announced Gaudreau would join the Blue Jackets last Thursday. Tkachuk is a restricted free agent and was even listed as a possible top offer sheet candidate, but could become an unrestricted free agent as early as the summer of 2023. Tkachuk had until Friday to sign his $9 million qualifying offer, but the Flames took away that option Monday by filing for arbitration. This brings us to the present day where Tkachuk reportedly isn’t interested in staying in Calgary long term. A trade is likely to happen before his arbitration date, which will be scheduled between July 27 and Aug. 11. Now that Tkachuk’s desires are known, questions for the Flames will shift to whether the club needs to rebuild or retool.
Why did the Flames elect to take Tkachuk to arbitration?
The team said, via tweet, that going to arbitration gives Calgary “the opportunity to continue to work with (Tkachuk’s) representatives towards a contractual resolution while removing the possibility of an offer sheet.” It essentially would have given the Flames more time to negotiate a long-term deal with him, or possibly find a trade partner for him before the arbitration period if it got to that point. We provided an in-depth explainer about why the Flames would elect to go to arbitration with the 24-year-old.
What will the Flames’ plan be post-Tkachuk?
If the Flames do trade Tkachuk, a lot will depend upon what they can harvest for his rights in return. Even a year away from unrestricted free agency, he should command a significant package, something along the lines of what the Buffalo Sabers were able to extract for Jack Eichel. Presumably, Tkachuk’s preferred destination would be his hometown of St. Louis, a team that would need to move out a significant salary in order to pay Tkachuk whatever he will eventually command (a salary of $9 million per season is the starting point).
Calgary always tries to stay in win-now mode, so they’d likely take on Vladimir Tarasenko’s money, as long as the Blues also included a young producing NHLer such as Jordan Kyrou, and maybe a prospect along the lines of Jake Neighbors. The Blues have a lot of money committed to their defense corps, but it’s hard to imagine the Flames taking on Torey Krug because he’s too expensive and it’s not an urgent area of need at the moment.
Matthew Tkachuk is a unicorn. Every single team should be in on him. pic.twitter.com/vqDmaOhwid
— dom (@domluszczyszyn) July 20, 2022
The other strategy for Calgary — and again, keeping in mind the issue of trying to retain players in a Canadian market — is that they might try to get players in return that are under their control for longer periods of time. That’s what would suddenly make the New Jersey Devils contenders too.
The Devils tried to sign Gaudreau. Tkachuk, his former linemate, would be a nice consolation prize. The Devils’ pool of high-end young talent would include at least one or two players still in the entry-level system that 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 interest in the ownership group, there will be limited interest in a scorched-earth rebuild.
How big of an impact does Tkachuk have on the Flames?
Losing Johnny Gaudreau already stings for the Calgary Flames. Losing Matthew Tkachuk in the same summer might as well be the nail in the coffin for the team’s aspirations for Cup contention. The Flames may still be in the playoff mix thanks to their depth, but their star power will have completely evaporated.
Tkachuk is a unicorn in this league, an extremely rare mix of skill and snarl, finesse and grit, scoring and passing, offense and defense. He really 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 driving to an elite degree at both ends of the ice. Tkachuk is a superstar.
By the numbers, he’s projected to be worth 4.4 wins, which is behind 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 at five-on-five between his play-driving, skilled hands, and positive defensive impact.
Tkachuk projects to stay at such a high level for quite some time. Over the next seven seasons, he’s expected to be worth 26 wins. The only question about his impact moving forward is how he’ll manage without his elite linemate, Gaudreau. Calgary’s already reeling from that so losing both of their game-changing wingers would be absolutely devastating — especially because they don’t have any other wingers who measure up anywhere near this pair.
Why would Tkachuk want out of Calgary?
It is 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 line, mostly alongside Mikael Backlund, because Gaudreau played left wing on the first line, mostly alongside Sean Monahan.
Last season, almost from start to finish, coach Sutter shifted Tkachuk to the right wing on the top line, employing the theory of putting all the scoring eggs in one basket. It worked. Largely because Gaudreau created so many openings with his speed and vision, Tkachuk had a career year, and many analysts deemed that top line, centered by Elias Lindholm, as the best line in the NHL. Without Gaudreau there, the appetite to play in Calgary in the long term would be greatly diminished.
Then there is the Canadian quandary: More and more, it seems teams such as Calgary end up on a players’ no-trade list, which is concerning. Partly, that might be a function of playing in an older building. Partly that may be the scrutiny of playing in a Canadian market. Partly, that might be the fear of playing for a demanding, old-school coach such as Sutter. But once a player adds up all the pros and cons of playing in Calgary, they may just decide that 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 are an obvious destination considering it’s where he grew up and where his father, Keith, spent nine years as an NHLer. Teams like the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils were also listed as options.
If the Blues are the preferred destination, how could they make a trade work?
It wouldn’t be easy. The Blues are currently over the $82.5 million salary cap, so the addition of Tkachuk would have to be a dollar-for-dollar deal. That means the Blues would have to move enough players to fit in Tkachuk’s salary, which will be at least $9 million. The player probably most coveted by Calgary would be Kyrou, but his salary is just $2.8 million in 2022-23, so it’ll take more than that. Could it include Krug? Tarasenko? Both of those players have no-trade clauses. Blues GM Doug Armstrong would have to get creative, but if Tkachuk says he wants to play in his hometown of St. Louis, the club will do everything it can to make it work.
(Answers compiled by Hailey Salvian, Jeremy Rutherford, Eric Duhatschek, Shayna Goldman and Dom Luszczyszyn)
(Top photo: Sergei Belsky / USA Today)