On Wednesday July 20, just one week after Johnny Gaudreau opted to sign a seven-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Calgary Flames hockey world was hit with another devastating bit of news. Their other 100-point player from the 2021–22 was not looking to sign a long-term deal with the Flames either. The departure of Matthew Tkachuk from the Flames looked to be imminent as the top team in the Pacific Division had their club and future plans completely unravelled.
With that, it’s much clearer now why the Flames elected to file for arbitration with Tkachuk, as it was a move made out of desperation to give them any semblance of control in an otherwise total state of freefall.
So what would make Tkachuk immediately decide to look elsewhere to take his talents?
Questioning Calgary’s competitive level
The departure of Gaudreau from the club was earthshattering, and the aftershocks of the decision are still felt by the team, the players, and the fans. For any NHL team to lose a player of Gaudreau’s calibre, their ability to compete for the Cup immediately goes from high to low.
Did Tkachuk see Gaudreau leaving as the end of Calgary’s competitive window? Perhaps. Not having Gaudreau anymore immediately means that Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm would not repeat as members of the NHL’s top first line for 2022–23. Wherever that line emerges next season, it surely won’t be from Calgary.
The Flames would have had to find some way to fill the void left by Gaudreau—an already impossible task at its most basic description—and still remain competitive for the next season and beyond. No single free agent, unrestricted or restricted, would have been come remotely close to Gaudreau’s skill level and on-ice style. The Flames wouldn’t want to offer sheet anyone given the immediate uncertainty of the future without Gaudreau, and the UFA market was far from hot for all players not named Gaudreau.
Tkachuk could have seen the writing on the wall and knew he didn’t want to be on a team that’s going to need to retool at best, or rebuild at worst.
No commitment to Canada
Unlike Gaudreau, Tkachuk is not a soon-to-be father and does not have to worry about settling down in any one city or area to start his family. However, there’s been a growing trend of players not wanting the complexities of travelling in and out of Canada during this pandemic era. Travelling to and fro from country to country is not without its hurdles, but should it be enough to deter players from finding Canadian cities as playing destinations?
Well, Tkachuk can immediately turn to little brother Brady who signed a seven-year, $57,500,000 deal on October 14, 2021 to play out of Ottawa as their captain until at least 2027–28. With no disrespect to the city of Ottawa, but Calgary was the top-ranked Canadian city in terms of livability, landing fourth overall in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2022 Global Livability Index.
So why would Matthew Tkachuk want to give that up? He would easily command more money than Brady, and be in a more livable city. Maybe he’s a part of the American cohort of players who enjoy the freedoms afforded to them during the pandemic when living out of the States, but let’s be real, how big of an issue is that really as a professional athlete in one of North America’s biggest sports? Further, how big of an issue will it be for much longer for anyone at all, seeing as move governmental bodies have moved on from the pandemic anyway?
Maybe the draw to play out of St. Louis is worth it for Tkachuk, and when the bell tolls to come home, sometimes its lure is unbreakable.
Locker room fit
During the pandemic-shortened season, Tkachuk was well far away from being the player he and everyone watching the Flames expected him to be. There were supposedly locker room issues following the Tkachuk/Jake Muzzin incident.
Who knows if this issue was fully resolved and maybe the right players that reeled in Tkachuk have all since moved on from the organisation too.
This point is by far the most speculative, as it’s all based on rumours and incomplete stories from years past, but maybe there’s more to it than the public realises.
Money on the line
When looking at player salaries, often the term and annual average value are the only points of discussion, but there’s a huge factor when taxes are involved. Taxes almost certainly played a role in Gaudreau’s contract with the Blue Jackets.
The Athletic reported the cities on Tkachuk’s list included St. Louis, Vegas, Florida, Nashville, and Dallas. From Gavin Group, the effective tax rate on a hypothetical $10M AAV contract would be 47.66% in Calgary, 43.14% in St. Louis, and 36.64% in all other cities listed, all being in states without state taxes. That’s a significant difference to the tune of an extra million dollars between Calgary versus the other cities.
However, Sportsnet’s Eric Francis tweeted that the list is inaccurate. The degree of inaccuracy isn’t known, but if at least a few of these cities are in fact on Tkachuk’s list, it would suggest that take-home money is indeed playing a big role in Tkachuk’s decision to move on from Calgary.
No matter the situation and final destination, Tkachuk would likely alleviate himself a lot of tax burdens playing in the States as most of the Canadian cities end up with the highest effective tax rates for salaries in Tkachuk’s expected range.
Bidding farewell to Tkachuk
If a trade for Tkachuk really is imminent, then his time as a Flame was far shorter than anyone would have liked. Clocking in 431 career games with 152 goals and 230 assists, the 2016 sixth overall pick brought an incredible on-ice presence to the Flames for the past six years. He was one of the best players to come out of that draft class, behind only Auston Matthews as a top point producer.
Only Tkachuk truly knows why he doesn’t want to stay in Calgary. Whether he chooses to share it in the future or not, the Flames now have to deal with the hand they’re dealt.
Calgary is tasked with navigating an even more treacherous offseason to figure out the direction for the club in 2022–23. Without neither Gaudreau nor Tkachuk, retooling is nearly impossible, and rebuilding becomes nearly inevitable. Whether or not the Flames’ management sees it this way is a different issue, but either way, good luck, Calgary.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire