The Calgary Flames’ task of replacing Matthew Tkachuk is tough—there isn’t a player like him in the NHL. He has often been referred to as a unicorn around the league, due to his unique combination of puck skills, offensive output, possession play, while being able to get under the skin of the opponent.
After trading him for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar as roster players (with other pieces from both teams involved), the Flames surprisingly become a team not set for a rebuild, and instead look like they can keep tweaking things to remain competitive.
Huberdeau comes in more as the replacement player for Gaudreau and what he brings to the game and his skillset, but there’s still really no single player that can do everything Tkachuk has done during his time with the Flames
So, how can the Flames replace Tkachuk’s on-ice impact? Looking at the graphic below, courtesy of HockeyViz.com, Tkachuk is a player you try and lock up for as long as possible, as he is a remarkable net front presence that had a spectacular 2021–22 season. The Florida Panthers did exactly that, immediately signing him to an eight-year, $9.5M contract.
Simply, Tkachuk is a player that dominates possession, playmaking, passing, coupled with a side of physicality and good defensive play, which is helped by the systems that Darryl Sutter teams play. We’ll soon see how much of Tkachuk’s impact transfers to newly-named Panthers head coach Paul Maurice’s system down south.
The Flames might still also target a Tkachuk replacement and be even more competitive, which would probably be the course that ownership wants to take. They have always targeted getting to the playoffs, even if they might not be the favourite to win.
For this article, we will assume the Flames either target a replacement for Tkachuk when trading him, or finding a replacement via trade or free agency afterwards.
Looking for a Tkachuk replacement is an incredibly tough task, and just shows how unique of a player Matthew really is, which is why the Flames’ asking price will be huge, and the return will probably be big as well.
It’s not like Tkachuk is 36 years old and about to retire. Matthew Tkachuk is right about to enter his prime at 24 years of age, and just finished a season where he set career-highs for goals, assists, and points with 104 in 82 games (1.27 P/GP), also contributing 10 points in the Flames’ 12 playoff games.
I’m not sure if there is a direct replacement for Tkachuk, but I will do my best to try and find some similar targets that are feasible and could be available. An example of an impossible replacement: Brady Tkachuk is a similar player to his brother in many aspects, but it’s not feasible to think the Senators would trade their captain right now.
Tkachuk replacements via Trade
The Flames might know more about the intentions of their newest players, where they may immediately start working hard on getting extensions signed, or they may already know the players can be key pieces in potentially more trades.
Both Huberdeau and Weegar are set to be unrestricted free agents after next season, and extensions with the Flames were not in place at the time of the trade. Because of the uncertainty, the players listed as trade targets will be solely for replacing Tkachuk’s impact—independent of what the trades themselves could look like.
Tyler Bertuzzi has spent his entire NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings so far, which is where his uncle and former Flame Todd Bertuzzi finished his career. The Red Wings find themselves in an interesting predicament with 27 year old Tyler, as he has one year remaining on his contract at $4.75M AAV and then is free to test the free agent market.
Coming off a season where he had 62 points in 68 games (0.91 P/GP), Bertuzzi is set to make a good payday should he hit free agency, and Detroit might not be willing to pay that as they continue to build up their new core.
We saw a similar move with Detroit shocking the hockey world at last year’s Trade Deadline by trading Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2022 second-round pick. By trading Mantha for Vrana, the Red Wings got someone roughly one and half years younger, while also adding some other assets. We could see a similar situation with Bertuzzi this offseason if they find a younger player for their core and are able to recoup another asset or two before Tyler potentially tests free agency and leaves for nothing.
Bertuzzi certainly wouldn’t be my first choice, and his choice to not be vaccinated against COVID-19 complicates his ability to play in Canada at the moment, but I can see the Flames having interest. If the Flames want to replicate Tkachuk’s forechecking, passing, possession, and some added snarl, Bertuzzi could be a good target.
Bertuzzi had a very good 2021–22 season, where Detroit’s offence was significantly better when he was on the ice, and their defence only got a tad bit worse. Looking at the chart below, we can see a history of Bertuzzi getting lots of chances at the net front and providing positive offensive results. In 2021–22, he improved both his offensive and defensive metrics significantly, and became a more complete player while playing most of the season with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond.
Again, Bertuzzi wouldn’t be my first choice and the threat of unrestricted free agency in a year is scary, but if the Flames want to find a net front stopgap solution for this year, Bertuzzi could be a fit.
Timo Meier is a fascinating option to replace Tkachuk, due to to the contract uniqueness they both face and their similar style of play. Starting with the contract, Tkachuk signed a three-year, $7M AAV deal that had a base salary of $5M in year one, $7M in year two, and $9M in year three. That $9M base salary in year three is why the Flames find themselves in the position they are in now.
It is very similar to the contract Timo Meier signed with the San Jose Sharks, which was a four-year, $6M AAV deal. Meier started year one and two with a base salary of $4M, which jumped to $6M in year three and then jumped all the way to $10M in year four, which is this coming season.
With that information and everything the Flames are dealing with right now regarding Huberdeau and Weegar’s UFA statuses, there’s lots of risk in acquiring Meier. He would provide significant value to the Flames at $6M AAV during the 2022–23 season, but could just take his $10M qualifying offer for 2023–24 and test the market after that. Sound similar to Tkachuk’s previous situation?
The Flames could also choose to not qualify Meier after this season because of that scary qualifying offer and just walk him to free agency, but for just next season, Meier would provide significant positive value.
As for his on-ice performance, Meier plays a very similar style of game to Tkachuk. Meier is an incredible volume shooter who excels in possession and rush offence, while providing some sandpaper in a similar sense to Tkachuk.
Meier is coming off a very underrated season league-wide, where he scored 76 points in 77 games (0.99 P/GP) on a depleted Sharks roster that continues to churn out mediocrity at best. Looking at Meier’s career so far in the image below, one can see lots of positive offensive contributions, especially at the net front. In 2021–22, Meier put together an incredible, almost otherworldly offensive output coupled with an above average defensive season, while also being a very good powerplay forward.
If there is a player that most resembles Matthew Tkachuk and the power forward type, it is Timo Meier. While the Sharks continue to evaluate and change their team under a new front office, they might find it smart to sell high on Meier now before he has the ability to take his qualifying offer next summer, as I previously mentioned.
If the Flames want to get the best possible—emphasis on best—Tkachuk replacement for next season, Meier is your guy. He is going to cost a pretty penny or two, and there is ample risk looking forward to the following year. Whether a trade makes sense or not is another discussion, but if the Flames can get Meier on a line with Elias Lindholm and Huberdeau, that’d be a huge trade to pull off and the rewards will be instantly noticeable for the next season.
Tkachuk replacement via Free Agency
I won’t spend too long on Nazem Kadri, as I have already taken a deep dive into what Kadri could bring to the Flames. Kadri is definitely no stranger to getting under the skin of the opponent, and can help to replace the absence of Tkachuk in offensive categories like volume shooting, passing, rush offence, and playmaking, while also providing some added toughness net front presence.
Looking at the chart below, Kadri has a long history of success playing in the tough areas, such as the net front, while also contributing averagely to the defensive end. Kadri would boost any team he is added to, but signing the soon to be 32-year-old to a long-term contract after a career-high season could backfire on the Flames.
A cheaper or safer option would be someone like Nino Niederreiter, but unfortunately he’s off the market after signing a two year, $4M AAV deal with the Nashville Predators. Niederreiter would have provided consistency with slightly lower point totals, whereas Kadri is a riskier option as he could provide his career average of 50–60 points or continue his 70–80 points campaign like last year.
The Flames have big skates to fill
As stated before, this is no direct replacement for Tkachuk should the Flames choose to try and remain competitive next year. Clearly, a lot hinges on the intentions of Huberdeau and Weegar and what the Flames are able to do with them.
However, Tkachuk’s direct replacement didn’t stem from this trade. The gap left by Gaudreau is replacement coincidentally with one 115-point player for another, but the gap left by Tkachuk remains.
On the trade market, Meier would be the player that can resemble Tkachuk the most and bring his offence and all other qualities, but will cost a fortune to acquire. His $10M dollar qualifying offer next offseason may also scare the Flames away because of their experiences with Tkachuk right now.
Bertuzzi is a player that could be on the outs in Detroit due to his ability to test the market in a year, but can provide value in a similar role to Tkachuk for the Flames this season before the free agent market becomes a possibility. His vaccination status and injury history could deter the Flames and make them look elsewhere, or Detroit could keep him if they don’t get what they feel is good value back.
On the free agent market, Niederreiter would have been the best option due to his superb underlying numbers and consistent offensive output, and is someone the Flames wouldn’t have to give up an asset for while locking him in now. Unfortunately, he’s off the market.
Kadri would provide a riskier bet compared to someone like Niederreiter, as he could keep being the force he was last season, or regress back to his career average. His career average is still great, as he is still an extremely good hockey player who can get under the skin of the opponent and contribute offensively, but issues may arise if Kadri is paid well for his career year and regresses with age.
It’s abundantly clear that replacing Tkachuk isn’t one-for-one possibility. The Flames will need replacement by committee and targeting any of these players would be a good start.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire