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Don’t wait to sign Matthew Tkachuk

While Mikael Backlund’s potential extension seems to be dominating most of the contract conversation right now, there’s another pending deal that should be registering just as important. Matthew Tkachuk is eligible to sign his second NHL contract on July 1 and, for numerous reasons, there’s no reason for things to drag on much longer than that.

If you remember, the Flames took their sweet time signing Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to contract extensions in the summer of 2016, to the extent the former missed all of training camp as a result. It makes no sense to go down the same road with Tkachuk, for the reasons I’m about to lay out.

Measurables

On their own, Tkachuk’s first two NHL seasons have provided us with more than enough evidence to justify a long-term contract extension. In his rookie and sophomore seasons, Tkachuk has been one of Calgary’s most important and effective players at both ends of the ice, and his five-on-five outputs tell that story emphatically (scoring rates via Corsica).

Season CF% Rank OZS% G60 Rank P60 Rank
2016-17 56.0 1st 35.0 0.58 7th 2.06 1st
2017-18 57.1 3rd 45.0 0.98 3rd 1.72 4th
Overall 56.4 2nd 39.6 0.76 5th 1.91 3rd

So, not only is Tkachuk one of the team’s most effective and reliable possession players, he’s also one of the most productive. Dating back to the beginning of last season, only Gaudreau and Monahan have higher even strength scoring rates than Tkachuk’s 1.91. He’s done that despite playing some of the most difficult forward minutes in the NHL.

Tkachuk’s ability to take on the toughest matchups while spending far more time in the offensive end is impressive enough, and rather rare. The last time I can remember a young forward excelling in similar situations is Brad Marchand’s rookie campaign with the Bruins. But it’s the fact Tkachuk has also been extremely productive that truly sets him apart.

Even scarier is how his offensive game is still evolving, and rapidly so. Tkachuk has already eclipsed career totals in goals this season and seeing him score 30 on an annual basis is a very realistic proposition. For instance, we haven’t seen a Flames player as skilled at close-in deflections as Tkachuk in years.

Furthermore, as Tkachuk has gotten stronger, he’s gotten better at taking the puck to high danger areas with power. As such, he’s doing so with more frequency, which is something that will likely only improve in the next few years. Tkachuk’s strength, ability, and skill in tight are elements that should make him one of the league’s most dominant power forwards for a long time.

The dude is also as smart as they come. Tkachuk’s hockey IQ is at an elite level, and it shows in so many subtle, and hard to measure, ways. One statistic we can track, though, is individual penalties drawn, as recorded by Corsica. Since entering the league last season, no one has drawn more minors than Tkachuk.

Rank Player PEND
1 Matthew Tkachuk 84
2 Connor McDavid 77
3 Tom Wilson 77
4 Nikolaj Ehlers 60

Sure, some of those penalties drawn have come as a result of Tkachuk getting under an opposing player’s skin, which is a lot of fun to watch. But far more have been because Tkachuk reads and anticipates so well he’s almost always in the right position.

Constantly being “in front of the puck” typically has the inverse effect of making opposition players chase, thus putting them out of position. That’s why they take penalties and that’s why it’s no fluke Tkachuk has drawn as many as he has.

Leverage

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Usually a pending restricted free agent doesn’t have a ton of leverage in contract negotiations. In so many ways, the team holds the hammer because they retain control regardless if a contract is agreed upon or not. As such, it’s far easier for a general manager to sit back and wait things out. Tkachuk does have one piece of leverage, though, and GM Brad Treliving needs to take it into consideration.

As it stands right now, Tkachuk is showing no signs of plateauing or regressing. All he’s done is rapidly get better since entering the league, and he’s still just 20 years old (look how long it took for me to mention his age; be impressed). You’re telling me he won’t be even better in year three?

So let’s follow that train of thought for a second and assume Tkachuk is better in 2018-19, which just happens to be the final year of his entry-level deal. If that’s the case, his camp will have even more ammunition in pushing for a hefty cap number. I’m pretty confident saying Tkachuk will have more leverage next summer than he will this summer.

The internal cap

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Calgary’s two highest paid players are Mark Giordano and Gaudreau, who both carry $6.75 million cap hits until the end of the 2021-22 season. I don’t think there’s any coincidence the latter’s average annual value didn’t eclipse the former’s.

Whether you agree with the concept of an “internal cap” or not, there certainly seems to be one for the Flames. If indeed Calgary wants Giordano’s cap hit to serve as the invisible ceiling, then they’d have a pretty good chance of getting Tkachuk’s cap number under that mark this summer.

However, if Tkachuk were to take another massive step or three next season, that becomes slightly more difficult. The NHL’s salary cap keeps going up, which escalates contracts in step. Tkachuk is as integral to success for the Flames as either Monahan or Gaudreau, so to think their deals won’t be part of contract negotiations is crazy.

If Calgary truly wants to stay accountable to an internal cap, their best bet is to sign Tkachuk with as few NHL games under his belt as possible.

Conclusion

If you’re the Flames, why wouldn’t you get something done with Tkachuk as soon humanly possible? If this team is going to ascend to the heights they’d like, it’s going to be with Tkachuk as a major driving force, so a bridge contract is off the table. For me, this guy is jousting with Gaudreau at the very top of my untouchable list, so signing him for as long as possible is the best play.

I’m not saying Calgary should just bow to his every demand, but I do think they have to do what it takes to get Tkachuk locked up on a max eight-year term. Yeah, that might mean his cap hit would have to be higher than it would be on, say, a six-year deal, but it sure seems worth it to me.

The Flames are going to be in a continual state of careful cap management for the foreseeable future, so cost certainty and damage limitation is crucial. An eight-year deal certainly covers the cost certainty part, while signing Tkachuk in an expeditious fashion definitely helps limit cap damage. If signing him ASAP saves the team even $500,000 per season, it’s a win.

So, let’s summarize: Tkachuk is a core player, already one of the best all around wingers in the league, and seems to be just scratching the surface of his potential. All of that leads me to ask the all important question again: why would they wait to sign him long term?

  • supra steve

    Depends on Tkachuk, is he a guy who wants to wring every last penny he can out of the organization, like Toews/Kane in CHI, or is he a guy who leaves some money on the table for his teammates to prosper too?

  • deantheraven

    Nice one, Pat. Your logic is undeniable. We should have this kid under contract until he retires. He is one of 2-3 guys that you can describe as a ‘heart and soul’ type- player on this team. Every game, every shift he’s all-out, and looking to win. An 8- year deal would be fine by me, and if he signs in that $6 mil range it’s going to look like robbery in 4 years.
    Sign him long term and sign him now.

        • Emir

          You right, but it’s changed the market place. Tkachuk agent isn’t gonna say “let’s ignore that deal it’s just too high”. He’s gone say, hey, my guy scores just as much and WITHOUT mcdavid as his Center. Worth at least 8.

          We need some other deals done so it can re-establish sanity in the market. Stupid Edmonton ruining all of hockey

          • BlueMoonNigel

            Exactly right. The morons in Edmonton and Buffalo completely raised the bar for player salaries. These salaries are not anomalies. They are completely relevant for negotiating the contracts of today’s superstars.

            Auston Matthew’s new contract won’t be based on what Kane and Toews got. It will be compared to McDavid’s and Eichel’s.

            So if Matthews is able to get a contract that pays him north of $10M a year, why would Tkachuck be a big babo and sign for Gio money, especially when the salary cap is rising?

            Some of the guys on this board have the economic genius of a grapefruit.

        • Derzie

          Tal of 2 GMs: A reckless one and a cheap one. My preference is more in the middle where the player and the team are both content, not just one of the 2. It is a team after all. Lopsided deals create gaps that turn into early exits or no change to re-sign the contract. Johnny at $6M is a joke for Johnny. Way underpaid and don’t think that won’t slowly eat at him. Cheap or reckless are both troublesome.

  • Off the wall

    Excellent points Mr Steinberg.
    It’s a no brainer. Sign him now, it’s prudent and we love our Byng.
    Imagine if Byng gets shuffled to a offensive line. Yikes! Get the cheque book out now, while we can!!

  • PrairieStew

    The Flames probably want to lock him up to the max 8 years. They should instead tell him he can take a 5 year deal at the $6.75 number. That way he is a UFA at 26. If the Flames don’t contend in the next 6, then there is some serious problems. 6 years down the road Matty might be looking at $15 per. Win now for the team- big cash later for MT.

    • PrairieStew

      5x $6.75= $33.75 – 1 arb year , 4 RFA years. The final 3 years are UFA. Top UFA getting $10 now, add 6 years of inflation at 5%, salary is $13.33 for those years or another $40M – now you are at $73.75 for 8 = $9.2. That’s what it will take.

  • Sven

    “Even scarier is how his offensive game is still evolving”

    No doubt the kid is a force

    but on a Calgary Flames blog

    “scarier ” is not the correct word choice

    unless one is an Oiler or Canuck fan…..

    😉

    • Justthateasy

      That’s about right. Sign for the same dollar value as Johnny or Mony. Pick a term, any term. You want to be a pig or a team player? Forget the crap going on in Edmonton.

  • BendingCorners

    Four years takes him to the start of his UFA period, 8 years eats up 4 of his best years (ages 25-29) so would have to include a significant premium. The wildcard in this is the CBA, which expires two years into the new contract. If the cap drops again and salaries don’t, teams will be in a tough spot if they have a bunch of long contracts on the books. Best bet for the Flames might be a three year deal ($5MM/year? Higher? Lower?) leaving one final RFA year to blend into the following contract.

  • Emir

    I’d wait. Everything Pat is saying is true, and normally I would agree.

    I think the problem is the mcdavid and draisaitl contracts. Those will be the most recent comparables used in the negotiation. So I think it anchors the number closer to 8.

    Give it another year, more deals will be done, and the numbers will inevitably lower. Downside is that Tkachuk keeps pushing ahead and maybe he proves he is worth that much.

    I think it would be great if we can sign him this season to a long term deal. I’m just not sure it’s possible.

  • Timmertime

    Good article Pat. My concern with Mathew is that his dad, Keith negotiated his contracts as hard he played. I don’t believe this will be an easy process.

  • Mickey O

    There is definitely an internal cap on this team. Treliving flat out stated in the Gaudreau contract that, “nobody makes more than our captain.” In the end Johnny decided that playing hockey was more important to him than trying to get Treliving to cave.

    As to what Treliving will do with Tkachuk, that’s the multi-million dollar question. But if I’m Tkachuk and his agent, if they want to lock him up this July, it is going to cost a lot. Their optimal strategy is to chew on a mouthguard or two and say, “nah, we’re good, talk to you guys next year.”

    I would not want to be Treliving negotiating the kid’s next deal. Before the draft Tkachuk said he wanted to come to Calgary, so there’s that. He isn’t going anywhere, but he sure isn’t going to come cheap.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Apples and oranges as Matty grew up in an NHL household and learned at his daddy’s knee that all owners are lying, cheating, conniving bastards who can’t be trusted.

      Great optics Murray Edwards telling Matty that there isn’t enough money in the safe to make him the highest-paid Flame in history.

      It is not about getting Tre into a cave. Why should Matty receive less than fair market value for his services because Tre has mismanaged the salary cap? Why should Matty have to pay with lost revenue because Tre outbid himself for Brouwer and Stoney?

      If Flame fans think Backs is worth $6M and that Matty should accept $6.75M max, then they are getting an early puff on the legalization of pot.

  • Glensgel

    By far my favorite player on this team. Puts it all on the line every night and is a pleasure to watch. Not many in the league that bring what Matt does to a team. I would love to see him signed to the max 8 year contract as someone like him is not easy to replace. Imagine what he will be able to do under a decent coaching staff in the future. Once Glen and his PP specialist are shown the door the sky will be the limit.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    I understand the concept of an internal cap but I think it begins to soften as Gio ages. Add to that I think we may be talking about the next captain of the Flames (sorry Monny) so if you need to bust through for anyone it’s this guy

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Matty’s point total continues to climb because he has now become a fixture on the top PP, he even get some 3v3 playing time. It is clear that his role has evolved and it will continue to evolve. He has become a dominant player in the league with average skating.

    This will improve as will his core strength which will make him even more dominant. He is doing this at the age of 20 against the other team’s top lines in a shut down role. My only concern is that he may have given the Backlund bump to Backlund which could be misleading for Backlund’s contract leverage.

    Matty will eventually be that player who is moved to an offensive line and give prime minutes while being double shifted.

  • ComeOn

    Tkachuk is literally the only player on the team that I’d take a long term contract out on, he leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind that he’ll perform. That said, why on earth would he sign early?

  • RKD

    This guys has future captain written all over him, he like Mike Smith hates to lose he can score play with an edge make others better. He’s got so many great qualities. If they want to pay him get some overpaid floaters off the book asap.

  • King Quong

    Hopefully Papa Tkachuk helps keep the $$ amount down. A) he grew up with money so hopefully there’s less emphasis on earning as much as you can. B) Matthew has stated multiple times his dad taught him that being a good teammate is most important. So hopefully he realizes taking a discount helps improve the team.

    A potential wildcard/snag I see coming up is maybe he doesn’t want to sign to long so he has a chance of playing with Brady in the future.

  • The Beej

    Yes. Dont wait too long but..

    please sign Backlund first. Dont let Tkachuks contract set the bar for Backlund.

    This is the mistake the oilers made by signing McDavid first and that is why Draisaitl is making 8.5. McDavid wasnt going to go RFA for a full year after Draisaitl. They had time with McDavid but they rushed it and then the bar was set for Draisaitl.

    Chiarelli is an idiot. Watch what he does then do the opposite.