All signs point to the Calgary Flames losing their other 100-point scorer in the coming days. Matthew Tkachuk has reportedly told the team that he will not be signing a long-term extension with the team, with most sources pointing to him being traded imminently. After the team elected for arbitration, the writing was on the wall but now the Tkachuk era with the Flames feels all but over.
It doesn’t matter what way you look at it, this is awful news for the team. Tkachuk is a heart-and-soul player, someone who plays the game extremely well at both ends of the ice, and despite the Flames likely offering him any amount of money and the captaincy, it seems he has his heart set on being elsewhere for the next leg of his career.
It is now on the Flames to try and trade him to a team that feels they can sign him long-term, and get a haul back that will be commensurate to his value. Here’s why this is an incredibly tough task for Calgary.
Very few comparables to Tkachuk
Matthew Tkachuk is a unicorn of a player. He is elite offensively, recording 42 goals and 104 points this past season, and has only grown in his time with the team. While this is the first time he has been over a point-per-game in a season, Tkachuk has spent the last few seasons on the team’s shutdown line, getting heavy defensive zone starts and still put up great numbers. He was so effective in this role that he even made linemate Mikael Backlund better years ago.
Tkachuk has developed into one of the league’s top two-way players, and while some believed it was Elias Lindholm who was the backbone of the team’s top line, which was one of the best in the league this past season, the numbers suggest it was Tkachuk who was really running the show.
On top of that, Tkachuk plays with a ton of heart. He is able to get under the skin of his opponents, and is one of the league’s leaders in penalties drawn. He seems like the type of player who other players respond to, and one other general managers would pay a fortune to have on their team. He can play in all situations and is elite in nearly all of them. Coming from a strong hockey bloodline and having a winning track record with a Memorial Cup with the London Knights, he really is the full package.
The only player who rivals him in style and production is Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins. Another elite two-way player who can put points on the board while also being defensively responsible, Marchand is a thorn on other team’s sides just like Tkachuk and knows how to toe the line (most of the time). However, Marchand has never been traded in his career, and it seems unlikely he ever will be. Maybe Matthew’s brother Brady is another comparable, but he’s been and will be an Ottawa Senator for years t o come.
Getting a market value for Matthew Tkachuk from comparable players is going to be the first problem for the Flames to overcome.
Moving high-end roster players is tricky
Tkachuk is clearly a high-end elite talent who offers a lot to whichever team ends up with him. The trouble is that it is going to cost that team a pretty penny to sign him long-term. His qualifying offer was nine million dollars, but given the season he had, it is unlikely he signs for any less than that on a long-term deal.
Most teams, especially contending teams, don’t have that much cap space lying around, and because Tkachuk is a free agent without a contract, unless he signs a deal with the Flames and is traded from there, the Flames will be unable to retain any of his salary. This means whatever team signs him will need to have the cap room available to fit him into their structure or will need to move money back to Calgary in exchange.
Here is where it gets tough. The trade is unlikely to be star-for-star, which does not bode well for the Flames’ ability to win this deal. Star players typically have no-trade or no-movement clauses in their agreements, and trying to convince them to move to Calgary where the team is bereft of two of their top players is a tough ask.
On top of that, contending teams will need multiple good players in order to have a chance of winning the Cup. Both Colorado and Tampa Bay were incredibly deep teams that had multiple star players who helped them reach the finals this past year. Whoever tries to acquire Tkachuk will be unlikely to want to part with a player even close to the same level as Tkachuk as part of their trade package.
Instead teams will try to trade the Flames depth pieces or emerging stars who have yet to breakout. Players like Philip Tomasino and Colton Sissons in Nashville or Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas in St. Louis are the types of names being thrown around in the conversation, and while these names are interesting, they are not at the level that Tkachuk is. In an absolute best case scenario, the Flames get both Kyrou and Thomas from St. Louis, which seems unlikely. So the long and short of it is that it’s hard to see the Flames being a contender next season.
The Flames will want to continue to be contenders in the league for as long as they can. Both for financial reasons and based on the way the Flames are constructed, it seems unlikely that they will want to go through a rebuild at this point. Getting back current NHLers is likely to be their preference at this point, but the quality of the players being offered up likely is not there in the market.
Future assets are a massive risk
If the Flames want to contend quickly, getting future assets back as the main part of the deal is not going to work for them. Whether that be picks or prospects, even prospects close to NHL readiness (Jakob Pelletier or even Adam Ruzicka-type prospects), is not going to be of much help. These guys are great to have on the team, but won’t be impact NHLers probably for a couple of seasons.
More likely, the pieces that other teams will want to trade for a player like Tkachuk will be high impact picks from the last two drafts, like their equivalent of a Matt Coronato. These are players who have a ton of potential, but a longer runway before they hit the NHL. While great, they are still unproven at the higher level and are even less valuable if the Flames want to contend.
Whatever way this all shakes out, the Flames likely get at least one if not multiple high picks. These are always valuable, especially if they are first-round selection. Three problems occur here however: they don’t help the team right now, are only valuable if you think you could draft a player similarly good if not better than Tkachuk, and likely come from a contending team which means they’ll be late in the first round and ergo not a high pick. Even if the Flames decide to tear it down this summer, the last two points still stand.
The trouble is this is most likely what the Flames will get. Looking at the Jack Eichel deal, the Buffalo Sabres got a first-round pick, a second-round pick, prospect Peyton Krebs, and middle-six forward Alex Tuch. Plusses and minuses between him and Tkachuk, but even if you say they are close to similar players and if you assume the Flames are okay with multiple future picks, is this even remotely what the Flames would take to call this trade a win? Not a chance.
The Flames are on the clock
The biggest issue of all is the entire league knows that the Flames have to move Tkachuk and they have to move him quickly. Even if the Flames try to hold on to him this season on an arbitrated one-year deal, they know he is gone for free at the end of next season. Trying to move a player in-season is only going to bring the price further down as teams will be tighter to the cap at that point and will need to do more work to create the space for a superstar.
Because teams know that the Flames are so close to losing him, the price for Tkachuk will not be as high as it probably should be. Teams know the Flames are desperate and will look to take advantage of the situation. There will no doubt be numerous low-ball offers as teams try their hand at fleecing the Flames for their wantaway star.
Is there a chance that the Flames walk away from this at least as good as they are currently with Tkachuk in the lineup next season? I’m sure there is some scenario, but it seems exceedingly unlikely. It is far more likely that the Flames walk away with a depth forward and a few picks and prospects so that in five years the organization can come back to contender status. At that point, the Flames can look back at this time and see if this all was worth it, but more likely than not, this will be remembered as a very bad moment in Flames history.