While other NHL general managers are finding serenity in the offseason, Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving has watched the foundation of his championship-caliber roster crumble into dust.
Top scorer Johnny Gaudreau left as a free agent, signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, citing family considerations that superseded the Flames’ best efforts to retain the winger. Now it’s Matthew Tkachuk, the team’s second-leading scorer (104 points last season), who’s poised to leave.
Tkachuk informed Treliving that he would not seek a long-term contract to keep him in Calgary beyond the 2022-23 season, his last before unrestricted free agency. The team filed for arbitration on Monday with the restricted free agent, removing the possibility of an offer sheet from another team. The expectation around the NHL is that they’ll trade the 24-year-old star before the arbitration hearing takes place, as early as Wednesday.
There are two major complications in trying to complete a trade for Tkachuk from a Flames’ perspective:
1. Where does he want to sign long-term? There’s a major difference in trade returns for players that are rentals and that are signed to long-term extensions. For example, the flights of fancy around what the Chicago Blackhawks could get for trading Alex DeBrincat were based on him going somewhere and agreeing to a long-term extension. Instead, the Ottawa Senators acquired him for a first-, second- and fourth-round pick for what could be two seasons of service; DeBrincat can walk as an unrestricted free agent after that.
In Tkachuk’s case, he’s one year away from unrestricted free agency. Clearly, it would benefit the Flames to deal him to a team where he would sign a long-term extension, maximizing the return for Calgary. They have to get this right, especially after Gaudreau left for nothing — through no fault of their own, mind you, as Treliving legitimately believed he had a chance to keep Gaudreau until the winger informed him otherwise on the cusp of the free-agent marketing opening.
2. Who has the cap space to acquire and sign him? Tkachuk’s base salary was $9 million last season. In either a contract agreement before the hearing or as a result of arbitration, it’s hard to believe a pay cut would be in order for 2022-23. That’s the short-term cap consideration. Then there’s the long-term one: An extension for Tkachuk could rival the contract his teammate Gaudreau just signed in unrestricted free agency, which carried a $9.75 million average annual value over seven seasons.
Remember, the NHL is still playing under a “flat” salary cap, increasing by $1-2 million each season. The cap won’t increase significantly until an estimated $1 billion in debt held by the players is repaid to the owners. Bettman said the league is projecting that debt to be paid off in “two, maybe three years.” Many have speculated the cap will jump in the 2025-26 season.
To acquire Tkachuk would likely require teams to ship out contracts, either to the Flames or to other teams. Calgary, meanwhile, could use Tkachuk to lighten their own financial burden by attaching the last contract year for center Sean Monahan ($6.375 AAV, $6 million in salary) or the last year of Milan Lucic ($6 million AAV, $4 million in salary) to the deal.
The Flames have $18.45 million in cap space, with Gaudreau gone and Tkachuk unsigned.
Which teams could be in the mix for Tkachuk, and what would it take to acquire him? The Athletic reported that the St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars are on Tkachuk’s list of acceptable destinations. We’ll analyze those five and three more here, including the trade packages that could seal the deal for each club:
Cap space: $625,000
Matthew Tkachuk ending up in St. Louis has been as predestined as Gaudreau leaving for South Jersey. Or a much shorter plane ride to South Jersey, as it turns out.
Tkachuk grew up in St. Louis. His father Keith played nine seasons and 543 games with the Blues. Matthew is also great friends with Robert Thomas of the Blues, who recently signed an eight-year extension, as Thomas lived with the Tkachuks as a young player.
Obviously, Tkachuk fits the Blues’ aesthetic of hard-nosed, tenacious hockey. Adding the 24-year-old star to their mix could be something that puts St. Louis back over the top to a second Stanley Cup championship in five seasons.
The pitch: F Jordan Kyrou and a 2023 first-round pick for Tkachuk.
Here’s the catch: The Blues have to find someone to take on Vladimir Tarasenko‘s contract. I can’t imagine it’s going to be the Flames, given that he’s only one year away from unrestricted free agency. He also has trade protection, even though he asked for a trade last summer. That shoe must drop if this deal is going to happen.
Instead, the Flames are going to want a player with some contract control, and that’s Kyrou. He makes $2.8 million against the cap next season and doesn’t hit unrestricted free agency until 2025. He broke out with a 27-goal campaign in 2021-22. He’s also Canadian, so perhaps there’s less fear he’ll look to leave for St. Louis or within a few hours of South Jersey.
Does it make sense for the Blues to give up two important wingers for a player they could sign as a free agent next summer? Of course not. Are there financial considerations beyond this season, given that Ryan O’Reilly needs a new deal and the team has too much money tied into their defensemen? Absolutely. But the risk they’d run in not trading for Tkachuk now is that he inks a long-term deal somewhere else instead. Unless the end game has always been St. Louis, which is plausible.
Cap space: $4,094,691
The Predators are going for it. They brought back Filip Forsberg for eight years and $8.5 million annually. They traded for Ryan McDonagh, making $6.75 million annually for the next four years. They added Nino Niederreiter on a two-year deal ($4 million AAV) this week.
With a healthy Juuse Saros in goal, the Predators have an impressive assemblage of talent. Adding Tkachuk to the mix would level them up again, even if it’s just in the short term.
The tidiest thing for the Predators to do would be to ship out center Mikael Granlund and his $5 million cap hit through 2024-25. But making the team weaker at a critical position to acquire Tkachuk would seem antithetical. This combination makes the money work, given the Predators’ available cap space. Is it the spiciest return to the Flames? No, although Tomasino is an interesting centerpiece. It’s a lot more “2022-23 rental” than the kind of return the Flames would want from a team getting Tkachuk long term.
But from a Predators’ perspective, it’s what they could offer that would both potentially appeal to Calgary and keep their own increasingly impressive roster together. It leaves them with a Tkachuk-sized $9,784,411 in cap space for next season. After that … well, they’re all-in for this season. That’s what matters.
Cap space: $11,460,834
One problem: Both of those latter guys need new contracts as restricted free agents, which is going to slice into that available cap space. That doesn’t make acquiring Tkachuk an impossibility, but it certainly complicates things.
The Stars move out Gurianov, who has one more year until restricted free agency with arbitration rights; Faksa, who has a $3.25 million cap hit for the next three seasons and a limited no-trade clause; a first-round pick and Lindell, who is the real sticking point here: $5.8 million against the cap for the next three seasons, but a full no-movement clause.
The Flames get this package for Tkachuk and (drum roll please) Blake Coleman. Now, why add Coleman here? First, because without Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames aren’t the contender they were with them — a contender that needed Coleman at $4.9 million annually through 2026-27. Now, maybe not so much. He has a no-trade clause, but he’s also a Plano, Texas, native. If there was a destination for which he’d waive it … well, God Bless Texas.
Calgary adds three players with contract control and $7,012,097 to its salary cap while Dallas creates space for Tkachuk, Robertson, Oettinger and a player it would sign to replace Lindell. Hey, only three more seasons until Benn comes off the cap …
Cap space: $9,597,500
The Devils’ pursuit of Gaudreau was understandable. He’s a franchise player who posted a 115-point season and would have made magic skating with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. But he would have also added another smallish forward to a team that already has its share of them. Their bigger needs were forwards with physicality that can drive to the net.
Signing Ondrej Palat away from the Tampa Bay Lightning is a step in that direction, as he’s a classic “plays bigger than he is” forward. But Tkachuk would really fit the bill. In fact, there was noise around the Devils potentially moving the No. 2 overall pick for Tkachuk at the draft, before they used it on promising defenseman Simon Nemec.
Bratt is an RFA, and I get the sense the Devils are tired of his reindeer games every time his contract is up. But he’s a top-line winger who’s only 23 years old and broke out with 73 points in 76 games last season. He’s the key piece here, with Tatar ($4.5 million AAV) on an expiring contract and Walsh being one of the Devils’ better defensive prospects that now finds himself in a logjam on the right side.
Bernier may not play next season and makes $4.65 million in real dollars before unrestricted free agency next summer. The Devils would take on Monahan and his $6 million salary in the swap, saving the Flames some money.
Cap space: -$1,394,643
The report from The Athletic said that Tkachuk wouldn’t mind playing in Vegas. He’s a star player who’s available, so he was bound to be linked to the Golden Knights anyway.
But look, let’s not waste valuable pixels here: The Golden Knights are not likely to trade for Matthew Tkachuk. They just had to give away Max Pacioretty for a bag of air from Carolina in order to create enough salary-cap space to re-sign their own players. The last thing they should do is consider a move like this. And yet …
Karlsson, 29, is under contract through 2026-27. Martinez is on the books for the next two seasons. Brisson, a Michigan product, is one of the team’s brightest talents in the prospect pipeline. It would take some maneuvering around no-trade clauses, but this deal would give the Knights $9,695,411 in cap space. And remove a key center and defenseman from their roster. So they shouldn’t do it. But that’s never stopped them before …
Cap space: -$3,025,834
Again, Tkachuk apparently listed the Panthers as one of his preferred destinations — many of them curiously without any state income tax! — so we are obligated to explore the possibility.
Florida was the highest-scoring NHL regular-season team since 1995-96, so adding another offensive player wouldn’t seem paramount. Yet that offense dried up in the playoffs, where Tkachuk had 10 points in 12 games this postseason for Calgary.
As you can see, the Panthers are dealing with negative cap space at the moment, so this is how they could make the money work. It would require waiving of no-trade clauses and the Flames’ willingness to take on Hornqvist and Weegar in the last years of their contracts. But this deal would leave Florida with $9,622,464 in open cap space to sign Tkachuk and then pray there are alternatives in its system to fill in for its departed players.
Giving up Verhaeghe for Tkachuk is understandable. There’s been talk that the Panthers might have to deal Weegar because of the raise he’d be due next summer, knowing that they need to sign Jonathan Huberdeau to a new deal. This Tkachuk deal isn’t something the Panthers should do, but it is something they could do, though it’s likely not something Calgary would do.
Cap space: $4,833,531
There was talk during the season that Tkachuk was open to joining the Rangers. Given the upward trajectory of this team, it’s easy to see why. He could slot in as the right wing with either of the Rangers’ top two lines.
The Rangers made the Eastern Conference finals with the group they’re bringing back and added Vincent Trocheck in the offseason. They have some cap space now and a bunch more next summer, but that’s when they need to start handing out contracts to the likes of Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller.
This would open up $10,743,253 in cap space for the Rangers to sign Tkachuk for the season. It’s the kind of package that probably works only if Tkachuk pulls a Rangers-or-bust move with the Flames, as other teams would offer more. But ultimately, this isn’t the move for the Blueshirts. The move is to trade for Patrick Kane when he inevitably makes his exit from Chicago during the regular season. That’s what they need.
Cap space: $11,185,037
It was a little surprising how much the Islanders weren’t actually in on Gaudreau, but they couldn’t move out the salary to make it work. Obviously with Tkachuk, it would be a trade and a chance to move out salary to make the numbers work.
The motivation is obvious: The Islanders were 23rd in goal scoring last season, missing the playoffs. They have a new building to fill. Tkachuk would create instant buzz and give the franchise a legitimate star to pair with Mathew Barzal.
The Islanders’ ownership pays out the salary owed to Monahan as it stashes him on LTIR, where it doesn’t currently have anyone listed. The rest of the deal gives New York $16,202,085 in cap space to sign Tkachuk, Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov before the season. Wahlstrom is just 22 and could be a star. Islanders fans are going to hate losing him, but his inclusion makes it work.
We’ll propose this deal as we meditate on a much cleaner, but much riskier, Barzal-for-Tkachuk one-for-one trade.
Cap space: $10,296,111
Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman clearly signaled this summer that the time to turn the corner back to contention is now, with big free-agent signings (David Perron, Ben Chiarot, Andrew Copp) and a trade for Ville Husso. The Red Wings have the cap space and the capital to make a run at Tkachuk if that in fact fits into the Yzer-plan.
There’s zero chance that Yzerman trades a 2023 first-rounder with Connor Bedard waiting to supercharge someone’s franchise.
Bertuzzi helps immediately and is coming off a 30-goal season, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Rasmussen and Hronek give the Flames two players with more contractual control. We could see Jakub Vrana here instead of Bertuzzi, as he’s signed for two more seasons. It’s not a trade the Red Wings need to make, but one they could make if the price is right. And hey, Matthew and his brother would become division rivals, which would be fun.
What the Flames should do next
It would be astoundingly bad asset management to let both Gaudreau and Tkachuk leave as unrestricted free agents without getting anything palpable back. And yet, in the case of the latter … is the right move no move at all?
Consider this: The Flames still have a rather stout lineup. Andrew Mangiapane, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Blake Coleman, Noah Hanifin, Jacob Markstrom in goal and of course Darryl Sutter behind the bench. They have essentially a two-year window before the roster will see wholesale changes — Calgary has three players currently signed for the 2024-25 season.
The Flames could remain competitive with the return they get for Tkachuk. Or they could be competitive with Tkachuk and seek something to help fill the void left by Gaudreau through the trade market; they could still have close to $9 million to work with after Tkachuk gets a contract for next season.
In all likelihood, Tkachuk has played his last game for the Flames. Bringing him back might make hockey sense, but Treliving would get trashed by fans and media for having him play out the string in the hopes that the Flames’ Stanley Cup window remains open.
So farewell, Chucky. Safe travels to St. Louis or wherever that next stop is located.
Thanks to CapFriendly for the contract and salary-cap details.