What a whirlwind offseason it’s been for the Calgary Flames to say the least. Just when the dust barely started to settle on Johnny Gaudreau’s shocking move to Columbus, Matthew Tkachuk made it known that he would not be signing in Calgary meaning the Flames would be looking to trade him.
As if Brad Treliving wasn’t already in a tough spot, the Tkachuk news seemingly backed him into a corner that he may never get out of. Trading a 24-year-old superstar coming off an 100+ point season who is a restricted free agent (RFA) without losing the trade is hard enough. However, because of the circumstances, Tkachuk had leverage with the list of teams he’d agree to sign long-term extensions with, which effectively creates a no-trade clause despite there not being one in his contract. Pulling off a trade like this takes a ton of creativity.
Luckily for the Flames, Treliving was able to pull a rabbit out of his hat and swing one of the biggest trades not just in Flames history, but in the entire salary cap era. In order to pull it off, he completed a first in NHL history. The Flames trade of Tkachuk was the first time a sign-and-trade had ever been done in the NHL. Let’s break it down further, and what it could mean for the future of the league.
What is a sign-and-trade?
Considering something like that has never been done in NHL history, you may be asking what exactly is a sign-and-trade and what is its purpose? A sign-and-trade is quite common in the NBA, but as usual the NHL is boring and had never seen one before last week.
A sign-and-trade is essentially when a team has an agreement in place to sign a player to a new contract, and then immediately trade them to a new team. It’s a way to help a team capitalize on players that they would most likely lose for nothing if that player became a free agent, by using their leverage of still owning a players rights.
This is typically done when a team knows it will be unable to retain a player who is an upcoming free agent, or the player has made it known they do not want to re-sign with their current team.
This enables the team to receive assets for a departing player, gives the player the chance to earn a higher salary on a longer term deal, and gives the players new team the option to have their incoming player signed for longer than they could sign them for themselves.
A perfect solution
After reading more about what a sign-and-trade is, you realize why it’s the route the Flames, Tkachuk, and the Panthers took. It makes the most sense for all three parties as they all get something out of the deal.
It presented a perfect solution to the Tkachuk situation. Tkachuk was an RFA whose rights still belonged to Calgary, but he had no intention of remaining with the team and wanted to sign a long-term deal elsewhere. The Panthers meanwhile wanted to trade for and sign Tkachuk.
So if Tkachuk was simply just traded to the Panthers, wouldn’t they own his rights and then be able to offer him an eight-year deal? Well not really. I’ll let the experts over at CapFriendly explain it better.
So as Tkachuk was obviously a member of the Flames during the 2022 deadline, and he was obviously not currently signed to a contract through next season with the Panthers, they weren’t able to offer him eight years, they’d have a maximum of only seven.
Sure, Tkachuk could’ve signed his one-year qualifying offer with Florida and then signed his max eight-year extension next year, but there was no way Tkachuk was turning down the chance to cash in after a career 104 point season.
So in short, the Flames were the only team in the NHL who could sign Tkachuk to an eight-year deal instead of a seven-year deal. This presented them with some leverage when it came to negotiations with other teams as each team they would be negotiating with would be looking to sign Tkachuk long-term.
Treliving no doubt used this as a negotiation tactic to garner a larger return for Tkachuk as an extra year on a deal is certainly a big deal for both Tkachuk and any team that is acquiring him. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Florida was willing to pay so much to get Tkachuk.
In the end, Tkachuk got to pick his destination, got a boatload of money on a max-term deal, the Panthers locked up their new superstar for an extra year for a total of eight years, and the Flames got a massive return. A win-win-win if you will—all made possible by the sign-and-trade.
The future of the NHL
So what could this monumental moment mean for the future of the NHL and its players and teams when it comes to how teams deal with free agents? Well this could just be the beginning. The NBA has seen transactions like the sign-and-trade become commonplace, with them happening seemingly every year.
It’s not a coincidence that the NBA also has arguably the most exciting offseason of all the major sports every year, with big name players switching teams left and right. The NHL meanwhile pales in comparison, as it’s undoubtedly one of the more boring offseasons in pro sports. That is until this offseason.
Flames fans know all too well how much leverage for NHL players has changed. Both Gaudreau and Tkachuk—two superstar players on one of, if not the NHL’s best first lines—had the ability to essentially hand pick where they want to play and live. In particular, Tkachuk’s case as an RFA meant he’s not supposed to have a ton of leverage. However the way he setup his previous contract allowed him to essentially force the Flames hand as he forced his way out of Calgary.
By opening up the possibility of a sign-and-trade, Treliving found an extremely creative way to ensure he still managed to come out nearly unscathed when the dust settled on the Tkachuk situation. He authored a step-by-step guide for the hockey world to see on how to handle situations like this in the future, and NHL teams were no doubt paying attention.
With player leverage growing more and more in today’s NHL, and players becoming smarter business-wise when it comes to their contracts, there’s no doubt that NHL general managers will look to leverage transactions like the sign-and-trade in the future to ensure they are always coming out on top.