The Calgary Flames and their fans just witnessed one of the most crushing and franchise altering decisions in their history. Long time Flame and superstar Johnny Gaudreau announced he would be leaving the team to return home after months of leading the team and its fans that he might come back.
Coming into the offseason the Flames had two main goals, sign Gaudreau and sign Matthew Tkachuk. In other words, sign their two best players. Well one is now gone for nothing, so the team’s complete focus should now shift to Tkachuk. So what are the Flames’ options when it comes to their best player? Let’s take a look.
First of all we should break down where things currently stand with Tkachuk. Luckily for the Flames he isn’t a unrestricted free agent like Gaudreau was, so he can’t bolt back to the USA for nothing. As an restricted free agent, Tkachuk of course cannot go to the open market, meaning the Flames hold most of the leverage as they retain his rights. If he were to sign an offer sheet, the Flames could choose to match that to retain him. In other words this is a much different situation.
Tkachuk recently finished the third and final season of his three-year, $21 million contract he signed back in September 2019. Needless to say he’ll be commanding much more than that this time around. It’s very important to note that as an RFA, Tkachuk’s qualifying offer is one year at an AAV of $9 million. This qualifying offer must be extended to a player to retain their rights and the Flames of course extended this offer to Tkachuk before the deadline earlier this week.
Another important fact to note is that Tkachuk can officially become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. So as it stands right now Tkachuk has two options. Either sign a long-term extension with the Flames, or take his one-year qualifying offer and become a free agent with much more leverage next offseason. The decision he makes will of course have massive ramifications on the Flames.
Go all-in on retaining Tkachuk
The first option and the one that the Flames will certainly try to do first will be going all in to retain Tkachuk and get him locked down on a long-term contract. That was the goal regardless of Gaudreau and there’s no reason it will change now. With Gaudreau out of the picture, Tkachuk is now the Flames best and most important player.
Treliving reaffirmed the teams desire to sign Tkachuk on draft day when rumours starting popping up.
With Gaudreau gone it gives the Flames more flexibility to offer Tkachuk more money if needed as he is obviously their main focus now. With no Gaudreau contract on the books, Tkachuk could request even more money from the Flames now than if Gaudreau had stuck around. The Flames could also be willing to pay more too. CapFriendly has the Flames sitting at right around $26 million in cap space which is more than enough to retain all of their RFAs and then some.
If they Flames are truly serious about trying to continue to compete for a Stanley Cup even with Gaudreau gone, then they need to do everything they possibly can to retain Tkachuk. He’s now their best player and losing him would drag the team down even further. Whether that’s offer him over $10 million a year, or give him the captaincy, they need to bring out all the stops if they want to continue to be a competitive team.
Coming off a career year in which he produced over 100 points, the Flames do have an advantage right now when it comes to getting him signed. Any player would be tempted to cash in on a long-term deal after having a career year like Tkachuk did. His value has never been higher and may never be higher again than it is right now. Tkachuk would be taking a huge risk by walking into next season without a long-term deal.
With no Gaudreau around, the odds of Tkachuk posting 100 points again are slim to none. By leaving a long-term deal on the table now, he’d be risking walking into next offseason after seeing a big decrease in production. If he wants to cash in, the time is now. This is something the Flames will certainly use in negotiations.
Tkachuk is still just 24 years old and very much an elite player in the NHL. He’s certainly a player you can build a contender around and with Gaudreau jumping ship Tkachuk is now the main man in town. The Flames’ goal now is to build a contender around Tkachuk.
This is clearly the top option for the Flames right now. Do whatever it takes to keep Tkachuk around and avoid losing yet another superstar. Tkachuk is certainly a good enough player to build a contender around.
However, if Tkachuk’s focus has now shifted with Gaudreau out of the picture then the Flames may not have a choice but to go another route.
Trade him this offseason
Something that seemed unfathomable just a couple months ago may now actually be a very scary reality. Tkachuk rumours have swirled for over a year now from St. Louis based reporters, however they were always nothing but made up drama for clicks.
But with Gaudreau drastically altering the outlook for the Flames by leaving, Tkachuk’s thought process on how he views his future with the Flames could be very different. The Flames are without a doubt a much worse team than they were yesterday. Will Tkachuk want to stick around long term on a team now in limbo after losing his superstar linemate?
If Tkachuk does in fact want out of Calgary now that Gaudreau is gone, the Flames simply won’t have a choice but to trade him. As an RFA, Tkachuk could simply handcuff the Flames by taking his one-year qualifying offer and requesting a trade out of Calgary. By doing that, he can walk right into free agency next offseason and forces the Flames to trade him or lose him for nothing.
If it comes to that, the Flames would be smart to move him as soon as possible while his value is still at its highest point. If they were to let him start the season in Calgary, his value could drop considerably as a rental at the deadline. As well, they risk his results dropping without Gaudreau which will further lower his value.
Tkachuk is an elite two-way player coming off a career year in which he finished the season eighth in the NHL in scoring with 104 points. This means he would command a massive return on the trade market. We’re talking a combination of high-end prospects, high draft picks, and young roster players. If Tkachuk wanted out, the Flames would quite frankly have no choice but to rebuild. Tkachuk could fetch a huge return that would kickstart said rebuild.
It may hurt to think about, but trading Tkachuk is now a very real possibility for the Flames. With Gaudreau gone and the Flames now far from a playoff lock, Tkachuk’s motivation to stay is much smaller. With the door wide open due to his one-year qualifying offer sitting there, Tkachuk very well may be on his way out next.
An uncertain summer
With Gaudreau’s decision to turn down legacy, winning and money to return home the Flames entire offseason has been thrown into flux. As well with Gaudreau making his decision just hours before free agency begins, the Flames are now stuck in a tough situation.
Their full focus will now shift to their best player in Tkachuk and what to do with him. Unfortunately what the Flames do largely depends on what Tkachuk wants. If he wants to cash in on his career year and become the main man in Calgary, the Flames will no doubt offer him a massive contract to stick around.
If he now wants to leave with Gaudreau no longer around, the Flames will have no choice but to trade him to the highest bidder in order to kickstart a rebuild.
The next couple weeks will be incredibly tense and telling on the path the Flames will take for years to come and it starts with what they do with Tkachuk.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire