Since being hired on as general manager of the Calgary Flames in 2014, Brad Treliving has had his ups and downs. Given he is still without a contract heading into next season, whether he returns as Flames GM remains to be seen. But, in watching last offseason and the 2022–23 season unfold, one move keeps popping out to me. The summer was categorized by three things; Johnny Gaudreau leaving, the Matthew Tkachuk/Jonathan Huberdeau plus MacKenzie Weegar trade, and trading Sean Monahan to bring in Nazem Kadri.
My focus relates to the second major move mentioned, but not the Tkachuk trade in particular. Rather, I think the worst move of Brad Treliving’s tenure was bridging Matthew Tkachuk to a three-year deal in 2019. This gave him the leverage to see what playing life in another city would look like, and not sign long-term in Calgary. This of course forced the trade we saw this past summer.
Now, Tkachuk has blown past the 100-point mark with his new club, and has turned into one of the NHL’s best players league-wide. He only sits behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Nikita Kucherov, and David Pastrnak in points this season. And Tkachuk missed a few games early in the season due to a suspension.
Bridging Matthew Tkachuk to keep Michael Frolik
Michael Frolik was a useful piece for the Flames for a number of seasons. He still remains one of Treliving’s best unrestricted free agent signings. But, when you are faced with the decision of getting rid of one more year of a 31-year-old veteran, or locking up one of your star players to a long-term deal, it seems pretty clear.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but given how the Frolik situation ended (with him being a healthy scratch and complaining about ice time), it’s a rough look for the franchise. If they had been able to move Frolik, they can sign Tkachuk to a long-term deal, say seven years. Had that happened, things would look a lot better right now. I understand the rationale behind keeping the group together, but sometimes you have to make decisions for the franchise long-term.
Flames trade Frolik midway through the 2019–20 season
Matthew Tkachuk signed his three-year, $7M bridge deal on September 25, 2019. On January 2, 2020, the Flames ship out Michael Frolik and his $4.3M cap hit to the Buffalo Sabres, in exchange for a 2020 fourth-round pick. So, before the season, they are bent on keeping Frolik. Halfway through the season, they ship him out for a mid-round pick. Not a great look. Frolik had five goals and ten points in thirty-eight games before being dealt to the Sabres.
If they had traded Frolik and signed Tkachuk to a higher salary, they wouldn’t have been able to flip him at the deadline. But, locking in a higher average annual value (AAV) for Matthew Tkachuk would have made more sense long-term. With the higher AAV for Tkachuk, they might have only been able to make one or none of the two deadline deals they made that year. Bringing in Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort to shore up the blueline were solid moves. However, these moves were by no means something necessary to do.
Gaudreau might still leave in free agency, and Tkachuk might still request a trade in the past summer. Who knows. We do know Tkachuk and Darryl Sutter didn’t see eye to eye, based on interviews from Tkachuk in media before the 2022–23 season. Maybe by locking Tkachuk into a contract, he doesn’t explore his options. In a longer term deal, he probably remains committed to the Flames. Again, hindsight is 20/20. Given how Tkachuk is one of the best players in the league, keeping him and signing him long-term would have been a great decision.