Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: What makes Calgary winners in the Tkachuk trade

What a rollercoaster it has been for the Calgary Flames and their fans. In one of the craziest offseasons ever in franchise history, the team went from hitting rockbottom with the news that Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were moving on from the organisation, to now looking much, much better with their haul from the Florida Panthers.

In the league’s first ever sign-and-trade deal, the Flames sent Tkachuk to the Panthers with an eight-year, $9.5M annual average value contract already signed. It was one of the biggest blockbuster trades in the league, and it quite literally made NHL history.

The Flames in return received Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, along with prospect Cole Schwindt, and the teams also moved a few draft picks in the distant future—the Flames receiving the Panthers’ 2025 first-round pick, and the Panthers receiving the Flames’ fourth-round pick from the same year. The Panthers’ pick is top 10 lottery protected, and if it does end up being that, both picks move to 2026. For more, check out the complete analysis of the Tkachuk trade including details on the newest Flames.

As for the trade itself, the Flames can come out of it by and large clear winners if things work out, but what does it take to make them definitive winners? We asked, you answered.

Looking at how the Flames and Panthers fared

Even the most optimistic projections of the Flames’ looming Tkachuk trade expected them to walk away with damage done. It is exceptionally difficult to win a trade involving a player that the entire league knew wanted out of Calgary. Yet, as general manager Brad Treliving mentioned in his press conference, the Panthers’ package was the best one on the table and it wasn’t close.

Now, it’s looking like the Flames come out of the trade in an extremely good place considering all the things the franchise has gone through in just the calendar month of July 2022, not to mention everything else that happened to the Flames over the past couple of seasons.

The talk around the trade is rather than Calgary getting fleeced, the Flames did the fleecing and Florida’s only good takeaway is that the sign-and-trade deal actually secures Tkachuk for eight full years. The Flames on the other hand, now have incredible players in their control and the direction they take can be very well anything. It’s expected the players they acquired will help them contend for 2022–23, but the what happens between now and the next offseason will be critical.

With both Huberdeau and Weegar becoming unrestricted free agents (UFAs) in the next offseason, the Flames will have to look into handling both of these players properly either as a part of the long-term picture, or as highly touted players to consider flipping for different returns. It’s natural that these options must be on the board after losing Gaudreau for nothing just mere weeks ago.

While Schwindt is a promising prospect with major upside to his game, his development won’t have too significant bearing on either team winning or losing the trade as the major pieces of the trade already heavily outweigh the chance that Schwindt can develop into a top-end NHLer. No disrespect to Schwindt whatsoever, but he is by definition the prospect included in the trade. And for that reason, his projection won’t be included as a factor in assessing the trade winner.

So, with all that being said, what’s the minimum item the Flames have to check off before becoming clear winners of the massive, league-shaking trade?

This was one of the tightest polls that I can recall, with it coming down to a three-horse race of very clear expectations from different cohorts of Flames fans. Let’s breakdown each of the answers.

The Flames already won the trade

By most accounts, the Flames became instant winners when the trade was made by virtue of the return they got. No one was expecting the Flames to land the league’s other 115-point winger after Gaudreau left, but that is now their reality.

What makes for a strong argument that the Flames already won the trade was that the intentions of their own asset in Tkachuk were known by all 32 teams—he wanted out, and the pressure was on the Flames to solve that. So by getting the impressive return they did in sending away a player who made his intentions of leaving clear, they became instant winners.

In the worst case scenario of Huberdeau and Weegar both expressing disinterest in long-term contracts with the Flames, they are instantly highly valuable assets come the trade deadline. However, if the Flames find themselves once again competing for a top spot in the Pacific Division by the time Spring 2023 rolls around, they might have to keep the both Huberdeau and Weegar as rentals for the playoffs.

It would be devastating to see two more highly-skilled players walk after this tragic offseason, but the Flames at least acquired assets from trading Tkachuk now anyway, which was automatically better than losing him for nothing.

For the reasons stated above, it’s easy to convince yourself that the Flames already won the trade.

The Flames must re-sign at least Weegar

Weegar—who’s automatically the secondary player in the trade—actually becomes a very underrated player specifically because he was also included in this specific trade. He’s a top-pairing defenceman and if the Flames get him signed, it would be immensely fortuitous in its own right.

Having Weegar in the lineup puts the Flames’ defence corps back atop the league, rivalling that of the Colorado Avalanche. This douses some very realistic worries about Calgary’s defence. For example, Chris Tanev‘s age and injury history or Oliver Kylington‘s sustainability after his breakout season to name a couple.

Weegar is a defenceman that can thrive with Darryl Sutter‘s system and he’ll be a solid addition to the team no matter where he slots in. Getting a player of his calibre signed long-term gives the Flames an incredibly stacked defensive defence.

A contract for Weegar would easily push the Flames comfortably into the zone of winning the trade with no room for misinterpretation.

Huberdeau must re-sign with Calgary

If the Panthers were on the player-receiving end of the first sign-and-trade in NHL history, maybe the only way the Flames can win the trade is to parallel it and have the other big player signed to a long-term extension. If Florida can get Tkachuk signed through to literally the next decade, then the Flames need to get onto the same level by having Huberdeau committed to sticking around with Calgary for the foreseeable future.

A lot of people are skeptical, especially given it being public knowledge that Huberdeau does have desire to one day play for the Montreal Canadiens. In the current climate of the NHL, players are clearly getting more leverage and getting their desires met, as the Flames will be the first to share their learnings on the two most recent examples in Gaudreau and Tkachuk.

So if Huberdeau ends up walking, suddenly the Flames won’t have the player capable of hitting the century mark in points over the course of a season on their roster. They would thus lose three players of that calibre over just two seasons. That would truly be the most unprecedented of all unprecedented events.

So yes, maybe signing Huberdeau is the key to making the trade a clear-cut win for the Flames, and maybe not accomplishing an extension would just delay the inevitability of having to go through the same process of an offseason rollercoaster in negotiating, uncertainty, hopes, and heartbreak all over again.

Both players must re-sign

Compare the uncertainty of the Flames’ now versus the Panthers having Tkachuk under contract until 2029–30. There is real risk the Flames have the two players the received in the trade walking away for nothing—that point cannot be stated enough. The Flames know it, their fans know it, everyone in the league knows it.

Calgary’s ordeal with Gaudreau might be studied in sports history classes for years to come—and they definitely wouldn’t want to put themselves into Chapters 2 and 3 of the same textbook by fumbling the contracts for Huberdeau and Weegar.

After the Gaudreau saga this offseason, it’s guaranteed that Treliving and co. will do everything in their power to prevent this exact situation from happening again. No more big-name UFAs will walk from Calgary for nothing—there’s no way management would make the same mistake two seasons in a row, right?

And what better way to prevent a team from losing assets for nothing than to make sure the players are all signed to long-term contracts? If the Flames are able to get both Huberdeau and Weegar signed as Flames, they are looking pretty in having a premier forward and a premier defenceman on their roster for years and years.

If they are able to pull this off, this removes any shadow of doubt that the Flames definitely won the trade. Let’s hope that this is the outcome and let’s hope the Flames can get this ball rolling sooner (read: this summer) rather than later (read: crunch time in July 2023).

Making the biggest impression with wins

There’s so much that goes into trade analysis, but let’s make it clear: literally no one could have foreseen this being the trade that sent Tkachuk away. The Flames took a truly awful circumstance and turned it into a massive opportunity. From their on-ice product, to their roster building for 2022–23 and onwards, a dire situation turned into a very optimistic one instead.

The Flames can take a sigh of relief knowing that they did in fact check off a major to-do item in sorting out Tkachuk immediately, and they can also give themselves a pat on the back as they did it in outstanding fashion.

How are you feeling about the trade for Huberdeau and Weegar? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.

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