Before I get into this article at all, I want to address something. I am a huge fan of Matthew Tkachuk and am extremely happy that he is a Calgary Flame. I am not advocating to just trade him for no reason or to run him out of town. Heck, I’m not even advocating to trade him, but I am just looking at reasons why the Flames might end up trading him. Instead I want to approach this from an asset management perspective and look ahead to what the long term plans of this team might be.
Please understand this before you roast me in the comments.
When the Flames drafted Matthew Tkachuk in 2016, there were high hopes of what he could bring, buoyed by his last name and his by his performance with London in the OHL the previous season. Thanks to the Flames two biggest rivals passing on him, they got a player who became the face of the Flames franchise over the last five years.
However, he struggled more this past season to put up points and make the same impact on games. Whether some want to attribute it to a single moment like the Jake Muzzin puck flip, or him suffering a concussion against Dallas last year, something just seemed off with his game. Now that can be said about a lot of the Flames this year so I’m not singling him out as the only player who struggled in 2020-21. It just was a very un-Tkachuk-like season for him, and that has to raise some questions considering it felt like he would be the type of player to excel under Darryl Sutter.
While his point totals or goal totals weren’t particularly bad, (16 goals, 43 points) over an 82 games season (23 goals, 63 points) there was still some overall regression to his gameplay as he just didn’t seem to have that same level of impact. Nine of those 43 points also came in the final five games of the season when the Flames were already eliminated. At the same time, you could say the boost came from finally being paired with Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm as that line looked unstoppable down the stretch and really left me wanting to see more of it next season.
I do have a lot of faith that Tkachuk can bounce back to his old self next season. He is a crucial piece of the team after all. However, this is also a team in need of a major shakeup, and that’s why I want to explore the reasoning behind trading him even if I don’t necessarily “want” it to happen.
1) He is due for a really big pay day
This is the biggest reason I am proposing the exploration of moving him. Thanks to some pretty shrewd negotiations by Tkachuk’s agent, he will be automatically due for a big raise next summer when he becomes a restricted free agent. As a restricted free agent, the Flames must send Tkachuk a qualifying offer to keep his rights past the start of free agency.
The qualifying offer his automatically calculated as 100% of the previous year’s base salary for the player when it is over $1M. As mentioned, Tkachuk’s contract was negotiated so that he receives all of his money as base salary this upcoming season, and the amount is $9M after he received only $5M total for 2019-20 and $7M last season.
As a result, this means the qualifying over for Tkachuk would be a 1 year, $9M contract. While this isn’t a guaranteed cap hit as the two sides could negotiate a lower cap hit on an extension, there is no real reason for Tkachuk’s camp to turn down the offer. The Flames also don’t have a choice but to offer it as he would become a unrestricted free agent otherwise.
There are only 25 players in the NHL that currently make $9M or greater, and with a possible flat cap along with having to re-sign Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane, it puts the Flames in a really tight spot.
If Tkachuk were to take the qualifying offer, he would also become an unrestricted free agent the following offseason as he would have accrued the seven years of experience necessary to do so. Is there any world where Tkachuk’s number would come back down unless he has a bad season on the $9M deal? It’s hard to see that happening. So with all of that being the case, it is entirely possible that the Flames could just have two more years of control with Tkachuk. Moving him for a player with more long term control could help stabilize the next few offseasons for the Flames.
2) He Holds a Lot of Value
To clarify everything above, you aren’t just going to be trading Tkachuk to pick up some prospects or draft picks, you would be using him as a piece in a trade for a top player. The most obvious and most discussed option would be trading him in a package for Jack Eichel. A player of that skill level would pretty much be the only way I see the Flames trading him regardless of the uncertainties with his contract. You would need to be acquiring a game-changing franchise talent.
Tkachuk is still very young, and has carved out a name for himself along with his brother Brady. He has earned a reputation of a gritty hard nosed forward that can also be a star forward as well. These are the reasons we have to come to love him in Calgary but also the reasons that roughly 31 other fanbases would like him on their team, even if they don’t want to admit it.
In conclusion, I would be really happy if Matthew Tkachuk was a Flame for the long term, but there is certainly reason to believe that the team could part with him in the right deal. We have to look at all options including the painful ones as fans to really be in tune with the directions this team might go. With a sizeable raise looming in the very near future, the Flames may consider finding a trade partner and capitalizing on the real or perceived value that a Tkachuk has in today’s NHL. I would be quite unhappy if the Flames simply traded him for prospects or picks, but if he was the key piece in a deal to bring in a superstar, I would be sad, but understand that it was a logical move to make. In an ideal world, you would find a way to bring in a franchise talent without moving Tkachuk, but I’m not sure if the Flames have the other assets to pull that off. I guess we’ll see what happens.