It’s 2019 and the Calgary Flames are in first place in the Pacific Division. It is almost a certainty that they’re headed towards the post-season and potentially could make it further then they have gone in over a decade. Johnny Gaudreau is having an MVP calibre season, Mark Giordano looks to be a front-runner for the Norris trophy, and Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm both are on track for career years. But there is one Flame whose been just as great, but has been far more valuable from a purely financial stand point.
Matthew Tkachuk‘s entry level contract is up at the end of the season and he is in need of a new (and long term) deal. The Flames have faced these negotiations before with Gaudreau and Monahan, but Tkachuk’s new contract isn’t comparable. The Flames have yet to have a player of Tkachuk’s unique skill set in ages. A defence-first yet highly intelligent offensive juggernaut, and a supreme pest of a winger, Tkachuk fits an extremely small niche of players that other teams would love to have and absolutely hate not having.
Tkachuk likely isn’t going anywhere. The only question for both the player and team, is how long will he stay and for how much? In this current environment, it’s extremely challenging to pinpoint what a player is worth. For every team-friendly contract, you get at least one contract where a team overpays. With a substantial amount of money already contributed to the team’s core, it will be up to Brad Treliving to carefully navigate these contract waters.
The lingering questions that won’t go away until the contract is signed is exactly how much will Tkachuk make in July, and also how much should he make?
Salary Cap Situation
The Flames currently have $67,013,375 committed to 15 players next season. That gives them $12,486,625 to work with this off-season, but we will add an extra $3,500,000 to that figure since projections show the salary cap increasing to approximately $83,000,000. So for estimation purposes, the Flames have a little under $16,000,000 to work with.
Now of course the Flames also do not have a goaltender under contract for next season. Assuming David Rittich re-signs and they add a new body in the off-season, a low-ball estimate would have Treliving spending $4M to get that done. Even then, there are still three other current NHL forwards that need new deals: Sam Bennett, Garnet Hathaway, and Andrew Mangiapane. Suddenly that $16M has easily been cut in half, at least. Not the end of the world, but think of it this way, if you budget $50 spending money for the weekend, you don’t go blowing that all on Friday night.
All things considered, let’s say the Flames will be working with at least $8M for Tkachuk’s new contract.
|First Season||Second Season||Third Season|
(*) = currently in progress
As we can see from their offensive production, Nylander and Ehlers had similar totals in points through their final two ELC seasons. Ehlers edges out Tkachuk in the second season due to almost 14 more games played, but we can see more of a comparison between those two players. The third season is where the differentiation occurs. Through almost half the games played, Tkachuk is only five points away from tying Ehlers in production and six from Nylander. Tkachuk is clearly using his contract year to cash in as he will easily beat both players across all offensive categories.
In terms of advanced statistics here are where the players stand through their first three seasons:
It’s clear to see that Tkachuk has the better numbers across all categories measured. He holds a wide margin in CF%, but surprisingly starts a significantly less amount of time in the offensive zone than the other two players. Tkachuk is able to generate from a more responsible role, but doesn’t suffer from lessened scoring in said role. That is not to discount Ehlers and Nylander; though, they just simply play different roles than Tkachuk.
From a dollar perspective, back in October of 2017, the Winnipeg Jets signed Ehlers to a seven year, $42M contract that carried an AAV of $6M. At the time signed it was considered to be a discount for the player, and rightfully so. Nylander, in case you were living under a rock, signed a six year, $45M contract, that will carry a $6,962,366 AAV after the prorated first season at $10,277,778. While not quite exactly comparable, this is an easy starting point for the Flames. Of course we live in a world where some contract requests have been outlandish.
The other interesting aspect working for, or maybe against, Tkachuk this off-season is the list of other notable RFA’s that are in need of new deals. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Patrik Laine are all in need of a contract entering next season. It’s anybody’s guess as to who will get the ball rolling. If Tkachuk signs first he could set the precedence for others, but if he waits he could simply demand more based on the market. The other three players are more likely going to earn much more than Tkachuk, but the inflated prices will impact his negotiations if they get done first.
Let’s use Leon Draisitl for example. Based on his eight year contract that carries and AAV of $8.5M per season, he was overpaid at the time. He may end up being worth every penny down the road, but at the time pen hit paper it was a generous payment. Players of similar stature are more likely use that contract as a starting point than not. It’s hard to equate what the going rate for a player is based on the large disparity in contracts.
Tough to tell how the market will help or hurt Tkachuk at this point in time.
Flames Internal Cap
One of the biggest factors working against Tkachuk’s new contract is the Flames’ well known internal cap hit. Both Giordano and Gaudreau both signed for cap hits of $6.75M per season, which is the number the Flames have a hard time going over. In the minds of management, no one should be making more than the captain or the star winger. Brad Treliving most likely wants to start at an Ehlers level of money, and make his way up to that internal cap hit. Tkachuk, on the other hand, should be starting at Draisaitl money, and based on how he finishes this season, may not want to come down much further.
What’s the Damage?
There is a clear difference between what Tkachuk should make and what he will make. Based on his production, value to his team, and role that he plays, Tkachuk easily should be making upwards of $7M per season, potentially even $8M. When Gaudreau signed his contract, he signed for 9.25% of the salary cap, the same percentage that Giordano signed for. Applying that same math to the projected salary cap, it means Tkachuk would make $7.68M per season. This is in the realm of what he should be making based on all the discussed factors.
Realistically, it would make perfect sense to see Tkachuk sign for a $6.75M per season. Does Tkachuk provide the same amount of value as Giordano? Gaudreau? That is easily the team’s biggest bargaining chip; why should he make more than the team’s two best players? If the Flames want Tkachuk at $6.75M, then it will most likely be for a shorter amount of years. This could cost the Flames down the road, but down the road the team could look much much different.
All in all, Matthew Tkachuk is going to cost the Flames a decent amount of money this off-season, and deservedly so. He consistently provides the Flames with a solid two-way performance every night. Based on previous contract negotiations, it’s a safe assumption that Treliving will be able to get Tkachuk for at least a little less than what he is exactly worth. It wouldn’t be surprising that Tkachuk’s deal comes in exactly $6.75M, but if it’s more than that, that wouldn’t surprise anyone either.
The bigger concern is when the deal gets done. Brad Treliving is going to have his hands full with Tkachuk’s contract and it will be his off-season priority. The Flames simply do not want another Nylander situation on their hands, especially considering how vital of a role Tkachuk has on this team. The Flames cannot afford to have him out of the lineup at the start of next season, especially considering they can afford him on the books.
What are your thoughts? How much do you think Tkachuk will, or should, make this off-season? Let us know in the comments or at @wincolumnblog.