It feels like just yesterday the Calgary Flames announced a three-year contract extension for Matthew Tkachuk. That deal saw him paid an annual cap hit of seven million dollars, but those three years have come and gone in the blink of an eye, and it’s already time for the team to re-sign the superstar winger. Since joining the league directly out of junior, he has quickly become one of the league’s most impactful power forwards, and will be looking for a substantial raise on his next contract.
With his incredible play this season, and a good shot at the team’s captaincy moving forward, there is little doubt the team is going to shell out big money to keep Tkachuk around long term.
Tkachuk’s 2021–22 performance
Playing on arguably the best line in the NHL this season, Tkachuk obliterated his previous career-high marks in goals and points, while being defensively responsible in his own end too.
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This career season saw him score eight more goals and 19 more assists than his previous highs. All in all, it’s going to make for a very expensive contract extension.
And, it may not show up in his individual numbers, but what an incredible impact his play can have on his teammates must also be factored in to consideration. Despite his impressive point production, Tkachuk might be even better known for his intangibles. A gifted pest, he’s able to throw opponents off their game and bring energy to his own team when needed. That’s a trait general managerss are willing to pay for, especially for a player who also excels in the more tangible components of the game, as Tkachuk does.
The only thing that may help keep the cost down was an underwhelming playoffs. Although 10 points in 12 games is not bad, he was much less noticeable on the ice than in the regular season. Of his six assists, four were secondary, which are typically less indicative of playmaking ability than primary assists.
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Still, it’s undeniable that Tkachuk is a star, and a star coming off a career year. The price to keep him is sure to rise well above and beyond his current seven million dollar cap hit.
Tkachuk’s career performance so far
After being drafted, Tkachuk immediately signed an entry-level contract and made the jump to pro hockey.
Over the course of his first contract, the vast majority of his minutes were in a second-line role. His initial numbers are impressive for a rookie, especially coming from a junior league. Not only that, but his role on the “3M” line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik was integral in shutting down their opponents’ best players.
While there was an improvement between his first and second seasons, the bigger jump came in 2018–19, when the team finished first in the Western Conference. His increased offence was a taste of what was to come with a bigger role. Notably, that was also a contract year for Tkachuk.
Following the season, he was signed to a three-year extension that is about to expire on a bridge deal. The offence slowed down in the first two seasons for Tkachuk, all while the Flames struggled with a new coaching issues, and then of course the pandemic made it difficult to properly assess players. Fast forward to year three, the season was still affected by COVID but it had a much more “normal” feeling, and Tkachuk—again in a contract year—reached incredible new heights as a player.
His 104 points in 2021–22 tie the seventh highest all-time single-season total for a Flames’ player, and was good for the eighth highest point total in the league. What’s more, he did it playing the right side, establishing that he can dominate the game from either wing. Versatility like that is highly valued by coaches.
In total, he has racked up 382 points since joining the league, good for 25th in the league in that time. He is wedged between J.T. Miller and Anze Kopitar on that list, which is good company to keep.
It’s difficult to compare Tkachuk to other existing contracts because of how unique he is. Very few players jump from the OHL to the NHL and immediately have the impact he did. An even smaller number of players then go on to score 100 points as a skilled power forward while pushing for their team’s captaincy.
So while the comparison is not perfect, Mikko Rantanen is about as close a comparison as there can be. One of the best wingers in the NHL, Rantanen signed a six-year deal worth 9.25 million dollars a year at the age of 23. He was coming off of an 87 point season, and at that point in his career had recorded 209 points in 239 games.
That’s good for a 0.87 points per game pace. Tkachuk is looking for a new deal with a career rate of 0.88 points per game to date, and appears to only be ramping up production, just like Rantanen was at the time.
Even with the differences between the two, the Rantanen deal is a good jumping off point. Considering the salary cap has increased, and his physical play and leadership, it’s safe to assume Tkachuk will command a higher salary than Rantanen. According to CapFriendly, Rantanen’s deal paid him 11.35% of the cap when it was signed. With next season’s 82.5 million dollar cap, that translates to a deal worth only slightly more, 9.36 million. Players will also expect the cap to go up consistently in the future, and to be paid with that in mind.
Another comparable is Jamie Benn, who plays a power forward style with a fair bit less flash than Tkachuk. When he signed his current 9.5 million dollar deal, he was coming off back-to-back seasons of over a point-per-game production. At that point in his career, he too had recorded 0.88 points per game. He was already the team’s captain, and was paid 13% of the cap. With today’s cap, that would translate to a deal worth 10.725 million dollars a year.
Lastly, Mitch Marner—Tkachuk’s junior teammate, both players jumped straight into the NHL. Marner also found immediate success, and in his third season exploded for 94 points. Infamously, he then held out to squeeze every last dollar out of his hometown team and came away with a six-year deal worth 10.9 million dollars per year.
He had scored 0.93 points per game at the time of signing his deal, at just 22 years old. It was worth 13.38% of the salary cap at the time it was signed, which would translate to 11.03 million dollars a year under today’s cap.
What will Tkachuk’s next contract look like
Now, the hard part—trying to use the comparable contracts to predict the future. While it seems easy to say that based on the Rantanen, Benn, and Marner contracts, Tkachuk should command a salary between 11-14% of the cap (between about $9 and $12 million) on a long-term deal, there are complications. With the Flames’ tight salary cap situation, they may not be able to offer him the money he expects. If this were to happen, there’s a chance he instead accepts his one year qualifying offer of just over nine million, and walks to unrestricted free agency next year.
Evolving-Hockey has built a model to predict contracts, and have had significant success with it. According to their projections, Tkachuk will re-sign for eight years at 11.27 million dollars a year. This fits what the contract comparisons suggest, and indicates that in these situations, the player typically prefers the long-term deal over the one year gap contract to reach unrestricted free agency. The optimist in me thinks the deal might come in a little lower considering the team’s recent history with restricted free agents signing team-friendly deals, like Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane‘s most recent deals, but realistically 11.27 seems about right and is fair.
That deal would leave the team with 15.66 million dollars in cap space to retain Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington, and fill in any other roster spots that may be needed. It’s most likely the Gaudreau deal is done first, but this still shows just how tight against the cap the team is heading in to the offseason. Brad Treliving is going to have difficult decisions to make this offseason.
Tkachuk’s comments suggest he’s open to signing this summer, and it makes sense for the player as well. After a career season, on the best line in the league, you would naturally want to cash in for the most money possible. Why risk signing long-term after next year, when you have no guarantee you will perform at the same level. In particular if linemate Johnny Gaudreau bolts to free agency, he could risk signing long-term after significantly reduced production.
You never know what’s really going on inside a player’s head, but there’s no reason to doubt Tkachuk’s sincerity when he says he loves the city and wants to re-sign. It won’t come cheap, but it should get done once the team has sorted out Gaudreau’s next contract.
Tkachuk is the team’s heartbeat
Matthew Tkachuk is well on his way to being the team’s captain. He’s a first line winger who can play either side, and he plays with an edge that teams need to succeed. Not only that, he is essentially irreplaceable should he take his talents elsewhere, for all that he brings in energy and leadership.
In just six seasons, he has entrenched himself as a core piece of a the team and a figure in the community. Even with the difficult salary cap situation, there is no doubt management will make every effort to sign him.
Whatever the deal ends up being, hopefully it’s signed soon so the Flames and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire