Flames and Matthew Tkachuk play the waiting game

The biggest piece of lingering contractual business for the Calgary Flames is a new contract for pending restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk. But both the Flames and Tkachuk’s camp seem content to play the waiting game and work on a deal in the offseason for a few key reasons.

Next season’s salary cap

This season’s salary cap is $79.5 million. This cap is expected to rise to between $81.4 and $84.5 million (per Elliotte Friedman) – it would rise to $82.4 million if the NHLPA elects to use same 1.25% cap escalator they did last summer. Barring anything weird happening, that’s probably the scenario to expect.

The cap matters for two reasons. First, the level of cap determines the space the Flames have available – or the space they’ll need to create – to fill out their 2019-20 roster. The other reason is that certain comparable contracts may have been signed when the salary cap was lower, so taking into account the percentage of cap space the old deals took up (and accounting for cap inflation) could be important. Both sides of the negotiation are likely a bit hesitant to make firm offers without knowing the cap landscape for 2019-20 (and beyond).

Framing the marketplace

The Tkachuk camp is probably looking at a handful of contracts as potential comparisons for Tkachuk. As Friedman mentioned on his Monday appearance on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, the Flames likely have a desire to keep Tkachuk’s cap hit at (or below) Johnny Gaudreau’s $6.75 million AAV.

Gaudreau had 143 points over 160 games during his entry-level contract, good for 0.894 points per game. Following Thursday’s game against Montreal, Tkachuk has 118 points over 163 games for a 0.724 points per game rate. Even adjusting a bit for cap inflation, the case for keeping Tkachuk below Gaudreau’s cap hit isn’t awful. Focusing just on their production, Tkachuk would fall around 7.4% of the cap ceiling – or around $6.1 million per season with an $82.4 million cap.

But the marketplace isn’t just the contracts that Brad Treliving has signed with his own players. Tkachuk’s agent will be comparing his production to the production other players who signed lengthy deals coming out of their entry-level contracts.

  • Detroit signed Dylan Larkin (0.578 points per game) to a five-year, $6.1 million AAV contract in August.
  • Winnipeg signed Nikolaj Ehlers (0.686 points per game) to a seven-year, $6 million AAV contract in October.

Based on those two deals and each player’s entry-level production, Tkachuk should be asking for a fair bit more than $6.1 million per season. The challenge for the Flames and Tkachuk’s agent is figuring out what the appropriate level for him should be, which is why they’ll be watching to see what current RFA William Nylander (Toronto) and pending RFAs Sebastian Aho (Carolina) and Timo Meier (San Jose) end up signing for. And if nothing else, the new deals for Patrik Laine (Winnipeg), Mikko Rantanen (Colorado) and Auston Matthews (Toronto) will set a hard ceiling on what Tkachuk could be asking for.

The ‘Giordano cap’ and internal salary structure

Since Treliving became Flames general manager, the club’s had an unwritten rule: nobody makes more than the team’s best player, Mark Giordano. When TJ Brodie signed his extension in 2014-15 – he had a year left on his deal and Giordano had two years left on his – his salary in the 2015-16 season was $3.9 million, $100,000 less than Giordano’s $4 million salary. He didn’t make more than Giordano, even for a season.

With Giordano and Gaudreau established as the team’s best players right now, could their $6.75 million salaries be used to guide what Tkachuk gets in order to maintain the club’s internal salary structure? Both Giordano and Gaudreau have three seasons remaining, so perhaps the Flames and Tkachuk’s camp rig up a deal where – hypothetically – he makes around Giordano/Gaudreau money for the first three seasons and then his salary is adjusted on the back half of the deal? In other words, respecting the “Gio cap” on the front end and then paying Tkachuk more in the later years when he’s more likely to be the team’s best player.

The Brodie and Gaudreau negotiations seem to indicate that salary structure has at least symbolic importance for Treliving, and he’s been pretty effective at using contractual leverage and internal structures to keep cap hits down. If he doesn’t get a deal he likes, he’s been fine with waiting the other side out to get the deal he wants.

Time is on everyone’s side

When his contract expires on July 1, Tkachuk becomes an RFA with no arbitration rights – he has some leverage, but not a ton. By all indications, both the Flames and Tkachuk are happy and wish to come to a fair long-term arrangement. But with a shifting salary cap, an unclear and evolving market for skilled players leaving their entry-level years, and Tkachuk himself evolving rapidly as a player, it’s unclear what a “fair” long-term deal would be.

In an ideal world, the Flames would get Tkachuk inked to a long-term deal and then work on solidifying their goaltending tandem for 2019-20 (and beyond). But with Mike Smith’s challenges early this season, David Rittich impressing early in a contract year, and an unclear market for goaltenders, playing wait and see on all fronts seems to be the prudent course of action. There are several potential dominoes that have yet to fall that will provide clarity on Tkachuk’s contractual demands, and other situations surrounding the team.

One thing’s for sure, to quote Friedman: “Tkachuk’s going to get paid.”

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Newsflash! Monahan is not a true first-line centre!

    Another newsflash! Lindholm probably isn’t either!

    Unless the Flames manage to win the Hughes derby, the club will go into next season with yet again a true first-line centre. That’s a problem–a big problem.

    However, there is a homegrown solution. My offseason plan for Chucky is as follows. First, break the bank and make him the highest paid Flame in history. Second, Get him on a PED program that couples with intense weight training so he can bulk up 20 lbs of muscles by next September. Third, have him spend the summer being schooled how to play centre as a big man. Fourth, make him the the captain. Finally, with these offseason enhancements and Chucky’s natural talent and abilities, the Flames will finally have the big-time centre Iginla longed for when he was a Flame.

    Chucky is truly a special talent who I firmly believe could make the difficult transition from winger to centre. His hockey IQ is through the roof and he is not even close to reaching his peak.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Chucky’s special. I agree with you that most if not all NHL wingers couldn’t make this transition, but Chucky is special. He is an elite talent. He is that 2% who can when 98% can’t. When I see Chucky, I see MLB HOFer Craig Biggio and recall how Biggio went from MLB All-Star catcher to MLB All-Star second baseman.

        Too many have tried to sell Chucky short. Remember before he was drafted how many said his draft status was badly elevated because he was riding on Marner’s coattails? By suggesting he couldn’t make the move to centre is yet another example of someone doubting Chucky.

    • Thunder1

      Seems many, including me and the NHL.com writers, disagree Nigel!

      20. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
      Monahan had 27 goals for the second straight season in 2016-17 and finished second on the Flames with 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists) behind Johnny Gaudreau (61). He’s finished among the Flames’ top three scorers each of the past three seasons. Monahan, who turns 23 on Oct. 12, had 17 power-play points (eight goals, nine assists), scored four game-winning goals (two in overtime) and won 51.5 percent of his faceoffs last season. He also led the Flames in playoff scoring with five points (four goals, one assist) in four games.

      20. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
      Monahan had 27 goals for the second straight season in 2016-17 and finished second on the Flames with 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists) behind Johnny Gaudreau (61). He’s finished among the Flames’ top three scorers each of the past three seasons. Monahan, who turns 23 on Oct. 12, had 17 power-play points (eight goals, nine assists), scored four game-winning goals (two in overtime) and won 51.5 percent of his faceoffs last season. He also led the Flames in playoff scoring with five points (four goals, one assist) in four games.

      • _vntony

        My concern regarding Monahan is how many of those points are directly related to being paired up with Gaudreau?
        I’ve said this before and I know on FN this is the unpopular opinion but I don’t think Monahan is a true #1 centre. He’s an amazing 2nd line centre or top line winger. I don’t doubt his ability to put up points with his awesome shot.
        But Monahan is usually the recipient of a nice pass, or a rebound. Monahan does not generate play on his own. And that is even more evident now with Lindholm on that top line.
        Monahan doesn’t take over a game when they need him the most, he’s not dominant unless he’s fed.

    • calgaryfan

      If Chucky was to bulk up he may become a slower skater than he already is. Chucky is doing great already. Big man center not necessary in todays NHL. Speed is! Jankowski is a better skater than Tkackuk and look how slow he looks.

  • BendingCorners

    A fair summary but not what any of us are worried about right now.
    Flames last year were 12-8 after 20 games and missed the playoffs. This year they will at best be 11-7-1 with an improved roster. It’s a long season but goaltending looks like a problem. The past few games scoring has been an issue too, but hopefully that is temporary and not a hallmark of teams coached by BP.

  • Sven

    Re Mike Smith

    As determined by GSAA metric (comparing a goaltenders all situation to the league average)

    In 2017/2018 Carey Price cost Montreal 26 goals – the worst in the league
    In 2016/2017 Jake Allen cost St Louis 32 goals – the worst in the league
    In 2015/2016 Cam Ward cost Carolina 32 goals – the worst in the league
    In 2014/2015 Ben Scrivens cost Edmonton 40 goals – the worst in the league
    In 2013/2014 Devan Dubnyk cost Edmonton 20 goals – the worst in the league

    This season to date Mike Smith has cost the Flames just under 10 goals in 13 games

    if Smith , God forbid, ends up getting 60 starts – at his current level of play he will cost the Flames 46 goals this season that average goaltending would have kept out of the Calgary net

    Smith is not just having a bad year

    he is having an historically bad year

  • The GREAT WW

    Smart move keeping Byng on a line with Backlund to keep his numbers low in his contract year (Backlund misses 2 to 3 open nets every game after a sweet feed from Byng, last night was no different..)


    • Backlund#1fan!

      Bahumbug WW. Backlund was great last night and Tkchuck looked amazing too. In saying that I would love to see Tkchuck on the top line and Backlund used as he should be as a defensive juggernaut.

    • Luter 1

      Your starting to grow on me WW based on the fact Backlund is playing a very soft game this year. If he continues to digress I might start giving you a cheer. Come on Backlund lose the fat wallet and end the honeymoon and start earning your big paycheque. Start small – throw one solid, serious hit a game for crying out loud.

        • D!ck

          You talked crap about him long b4 the contract. Actually thats about all you do on here. Backlund sucks blah blah blah, Backlund overpaid blah blah blah, I am a grumpy lonely old fart who gets off on commenting about Backlund blah blar blary.

          • Luter 1

            Seriously Dick you think you win a Cup with a softy like Backlund checking the best players in the world. Just out of the playoffs every year is probably more realistic. Good coaching could mold Janks into a better checker than Backlund

          • D!ck

            Backlund is one player on the team. No he does not lay the big bodychecks, but guess what niether do 85% of the players in the league. Backlund is not here to put players into the 13th row or score 100 points. He is here to shut the other team down by being in position, clearing the zone, winning faceoffs. He is a role player not a snipper or a guy who drops the gloves. Every player has a role, his is not to fight and light it up. Championship teams are built with role players, superstars, 1-2 enforcer type players who can chip in the odd point here and there, and strong goaltending. Every player has a part. Anyways I need a screen name. D!ck is not very polite.

          • Puck Head

            And therein lies the problem with Backlund. He is a good shutdown centreman but he doesn’t put up many points and is overpaid. The goal should not be to merely shutdown the opposition but to outscore them. One thing Backlund is elite at is shooting the puck at the goalie.

          • The GREAT WW

            Don’t kid yourself Puck; Backlund is a Corsi clown; he shoots as soon as he enters the zone to get the Corsi credit (with a less than 1% chance of scoring) and then complains about how “unlucky” he is with his low shooting %.
            Add to that the 2-3 open goal chances that Backlund misses after a beautiful Byng set up.
            Corsi Clown!!!!!


          • The GREAT WW

            The biggest long term issues this team faces are the Neal and Backlund contracts.
            It could get BT fired; his UFA signings this summer are terrible (as is the Backlund contract)…….


        • Luter 1

          I’ve seen to little light with my beloved Flames for the vast majority of their existence. We seem to gravitate to soft players, don’t like tough guys for some reason, typically reluctant to give young players a fair shot and then bring in a doofus like Ryan (Stajan .2) and somehow find a guy like Neal who has completely lost his legs since last spring? This team seriously bugs me at times. The days of Badger Bob and real hockey are a faiding memory. We seem to have been somewhat jinxed starting when we lost Big George Palawa 20 some yrs ago before he even played a game.

  • Sven

    Re Tkachuk

    his “all situation” game score number of 21.7 is the best of any Flame and 16th best league wide
    he sits as the only 20 year old in the NHL top 20

    # pay him

  • Off the wall

    Tkachuk is a rare breed. He’s the youngest forward producing at elite levels. Plus the extra elements he provides this team with is noteworthy.

    #1 in scoring goals
    #1 in CF%, #1 in CFrel%
    #1 even strength goals
    #1 in points
    #1 in chewing mouth guards
    #1 in the fan department

    Yah, waiting is a great idea. Cuz we all know how much that’s going to reduce his cap hit?
    I’m happy for Tkachuk. I hope he breaks the sound barrier with “nobody gets more than our captain nonsense.”

    Imagine our team without Tkachuk? That’s what I thought.
    He’s going to get paid alright.. more than our captain!!!

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      An internal cap based on a 2015 signing of an older D-man on his last contract. What could go wrong. Gaudreau was underpaid at the itme due to this nonsense. As a result, we may end up losing or overpaying when his deal is up. Set the new bar. $7m x 8 years. If you can get him that cheap.
      Do it before the Nylander nonsense is resolved. If you can.

      • calgaryfan

        Don’t think you will get Chucky for 8 years he is a UFA in 5 years. Flames wanted Johnny for extra years but only got him signed until he was UFA eligible. Chucky will do the same I would think.

      • Derzie

        I agree with this. Being a cheapsh!t is a surefire way to shoo great players away. The guy up north is a drunken sailor and our guy is scrooge mcduck. Somewhere between those guys is where the results are. The Gio cap is asinine.

        • Kevin R

          Give him a Tarasenko deal 8 years for $60mill (7.5 per) That would be a good deal for bothb sides. People forget that Byng & his pest like play to get him his notoriety is a target & subject to injuries that could regress his game. We know the NHL isnt going to crack down on the dirty cheap hits from behind & crosschecks to the back.

  • Korcan

    Loosely related (since it involves Matthew Tkachuk), going forward I would like to see Peters try mixing the top two lines up to get more balanced scoring.

    Tkachuk-Backlund-Lindholm (new top line to be matched up vs top lines)
    Johnny-Mony-Neal (sheltered scoring line to get Neal going)
    Bennett-Jankowski-Czarnik/Hathaway (sheltered energy/scoring line)
    Dube-Ryan-Frolik (2nd matchup line)

    • Thunder1

      I’ve called people mental for suggesting Monahan gets demoted from the top line, but for you to suggest Johnny goes too suggests a whole new level of illness I’ve yet to consider.

      • Luter 1

        Don’t like his lines either but matching our number one line against others number 1 is not smart coaching. Johnny and Mony are far from terrific from a defensive point so you have to be very careful who your matching against. For instance they shouldn’t be matched ever against McDavid.

      • Korcan

        Lol. I have consciously chosen to no longer think of lines as 1, 2, 3, 4 because in game situations they never play out like that.

        On a pure offensive basis, the Mony line would still be considered the “#1” line, but they can’t be utilized as a matchup line against other team’s top lines, especially if Neal were to join them (so they would be a “#2” line much the same way Kane is on the “#2” line in Chicago).

        The Backlund line, with the addition of Lindholm should beable to provide elite matchup utility without sacrificing their offensive potential. Most teams play their top offensive lines in the #1 slot, thus my putting the Backlund line in that slot — purely for matching purposes.

        If playing alongside Monahan and Johnny can get Neal going, suddenly Calgary has two very strong offensive lines without sacrificing the defensive capability of the Backlund trio. And if the Jankowski line can start producing in a sheltered role, well that creates a pretty formidable offense.

  • Spider you muda&@#ker

    Love Chuckys game just like 99% of you on here guys going to get paid large definitely more then Gio or we might have a Nylander issue next year. My only gripe is the guy needs to stop embellishing penalty’s him and Johhny do it way to much must be an American thing. Refs dont like to be embarrassed and I think they have figured out his shtick and hes not getting the calls like last year. I find its been noticeable because hes not getting calls so far this year on legit penalties aswell. Maybe time to suck it up like captian Gio and take his lumps like a man just my opinion.