Calgary Flames

Arbitration filing for Matthew Tkachuk likely spells the end of his Flames career

The Calgary Flames announced yesterday that they have filed for club-elected salary arbitration with restricted free agent (RFA) Matthew Tkachuk.

Most of the reports following this announcement were in one of two camps. Some, including the team, said that this filing simply allowed for more negotiating time with the player. Others, including myself, feel that this all but spells the end for Tkachuk’s time in Calgary, and the end of an era for the team.

Before we get to the interpretation of this announcement, let’s quickly cover what happened and what it means according to the CBA.

Club-elected salary arbitration

To retain the rights of RFAs, teams are require to tender them a qualifying offer (QO). A QO is a one-year contract with a salary calculated based on a few factors. In Tkachuk’s case, his QO was $9M for one year. Following that one year, he would be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) just like Johnny Gaudreau and could walk to free agency. This is obviously not what the Flames wanted to happen, so they offered the QO to retain Tkachuk’s rights and hopefully negotiate a long-term extension.

Earlier in the week, the Flames announced that Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington, and Matthew Phillips had filed for arbitration. Tkachuk could have filed but opted not to. This was because when a player files for arbitration, they can no longer accept their qualifying offer from the team, and in Tkachuk’s case, this would have eliminated all the leverage he had.

Because he chose not to file, his QO was still on the table and this year’s deadline to accept QOs is July 22, 2022. If a player does not accept his QO by the deadline, they stay an RFA but without a contract on hand; they have to negotiate a contract with their own team, or a contract with another team via an offer sheet.

The other type of arbitration is club-elected arbitration, which is what happened with Tkachuk. This was the second window of club-elected arbitration, and here is how it works. The team must enter into arbitration with an offer “equal to or higher than the player’s previous years combined base salary, signing bonuses and performance bonuses.” As well, the party that did not elect for arbitration gets to decide if the term will be one or two years, however for RFAs with only one year remaining before hitting UFA, like Tkachuk, the contract can only be one year in duration.

In Tkachuk’s case, this number is $9M, which means the Flames’ starting point in arbitration will be exactly what his QO was. If this makes it to the hearing, which many doubt it will, Tkachuk’s camp will certainly enter the room with a number higher than $9M, guaranteeing he will earn more than the original QO value of $9M on a one-year deal.

The team and player can negotiate a new contract all the way up to when the arbitration verdict is announced.

Extension or trade

In my eyes, there are only two options for Tkachuk, and one has just become much more likely than the other.

Before this filing, there was a deadline on Tkachuk’s decision: July 22, 2022. If he was not going to sign long-term, he would have simply accepted his QO by the deadline and locked himself in for one more year before become a UFA. That was the deadline on the Flames’ calendar. Now, it makes no sense to accept the QO since he will get a better one-year contract in arbitration. The deadline has now shifted to whenever the arbitration hearing is scheduled, likely somewhere in the ballpark of two weeks from now.

All that happened is the Flames got two more weeks to negotiate, but at a hefty price. This is the glass half full approach to this situation.

My question is this: why do you ever need to extend a deadline? The only reason is because you’re not ready for what is due.

The Flames do not file for arbitration unless they’re scared of Tkachuk accepting his QO. This filing signals that Tkachuk’s intention was to sign the QO and walk himself to UFA status, meaning he doesn’t intend to stay in Calgary long term, and now the Flames are being forced to trade one of the most unique players in the game.

Between now and the hearing date, the team could still sign Tkachuk to an extension, but it just doesn’t seem likely. If Tkachuk was going to stay long-term, the Flames would have given him everything he wanted just like they were willing to do for Gaudreau.

Max term? No problem. Salary that would make him among the highest paid players in the NHL and the highest paid Flame of all time? Done. Trade protection? Absolutely. Captain’s “C” on his jersey? Of course.

The hold up in negotiation is not on the Flames’ side, it’s on Tkachuk’s. The Flames cannot afford to gamble with Tkachuk’s future like they did with Gaudreau. They must know he isn’t signing and needed this two week period to discuss trade options with the other 30 teams in the league (they’re not trading him to Edmonton).

The nightmare offseason continues for the Flames. This truly is the darkest timeline.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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