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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Tkachuk’s contract conundrum hasn’t gotten any easier

Toronto’s Auston Matthews has set the bar and I can’t imagine many agents across the league are too upset about it. Matthews signed a deal worth $11.634 million (get it, he wears #34) over five years on Tuesday, which marks the first of this supergroup of high profile restricted free agents to get paid. Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk makes up part of this 2019 banner class of RFAs and he didn’t get any cheaper after Monday’s news.

COMPARING NUMBERS

We’re talking about anywhere between seven and 10 players on this list, but I’ve narrowed it to the smaller number consisting of the players below. All seven are in their third NHL season and will finish the year with 200 or more NHL games under their belt, barring injury. I’ve excluded the likes of Kyle Connor and Brock Boeser because their workload is one season less, which makes it harder to compare straight across.

Totals below via Corsica; * denotes 5v5 outputs.

Player GP G PTS P/G G/60* P/60* CF% OZS%* Contract
Auston Matthews 182 97 177 0.97 1.54 2.59 50.9 57.0 5 x $11.634 million
Matthew Tkachuk 196 60 153 0.78 0.75 1.95 56.4 44.6 ???
Mikko Rantanen 206 71 194 0.94 0.74 2.07 49.8 56.8 ???
Brayden Point 201 80 170 0.85 1.00 2.26 51.9 53.1 ???
Patrik Laine 207 105 167 0.81 1.20 2.01 48.1 56.6 ???
Sebastian Aho 212 77 172 0.81 0.87 1.96 54.7 55.2 ???
Mitch Marner 211 61 191 0.91 0.85 2.32 51.0 54.2 ???

There’s no question Matthews is, and should be, the high mark in this conversation. Nobody on this list has produced like he has and, most importantly, no one other than Laine has manufactured goals at a comparable rate. This league pays those who score and Matthews does that at a high clip, both on the powerplay and five-on-five.

Where this leaves Tkachuk’s next contract is a little harder to pinpoint. Even with a career season in the works, Tkachuk’s counting numbers are the lowest of the bunch. That puts his camp at a disadvantage when using Matthews et al as comparisons, because goals and points still carry the most weight in negotiations.

What is a whole lot harder to handicap is how much Tkachuk’s significantly superior possession metrics are worth. He’s the only player in this discussion to have shown a consistent ability to drive play at even strength, which carries immense value on the ice but remains difficult to quantify in monetary terms. Tkachuk’s impressive 200-foot game carries clout, but how much remains to be seen.

THE SHORT-TERM DEAL

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There is a vocal group of Flames fans that believes Tkachuk’s cap hit on a new deal can’t exceed that of Johnny Gaudreau or Mark Giordano. Calgary’s two highest paid players just happen to be the team’s two best players, and some worry Tkachuk making more could send the wrong message. Unfortunately, the market dictates what a player gets paid more than any given team’s internal salary structure.

Gaudreau signed his deal before the NHL’s salary paradigm changed; you can thank Leon Draisaitl and Jack Eichel for that. If Gaudreau was coming out of his entry-level deal in this economic climate, $6.75 million over six years wouldn’t cut it. He’s not, though, and Tkachuk is, which makes it difficult to stay accountable to an internal cap on a long-term deal.

For the staunch believers in Calgary’s internal cap, though, there is a solution: a shorter term. The ONLY way the Flames get Tkachuk under $6.75 million per year is on a bridge deal, which would have to be three years. A three-year term would expire while Tkachuk is still RFA eligible, whereas a four-year deal would take him immediately to year one of free agency. Don’t do four years.

I’d also classify five years in the “short-term” category, but it’s unlikely Calgary could get Tkachuk under $6.75 million in that situation. If Matthews is the high bar at $11.634 million over five, is Tkachuk worth $5 million less in this NHL economy? It’s not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s valid to suggest Tkachuk comes in closer to $8 million over five years.

THINKING LONGER TERM

If the Flames are interested in going six years or more with Tkachuk, they’ll have the ability to make it happen. While teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay have extremely tight cap situations, Calgary has a decent amount of flexibility to absorb a deal with max term.

What makes an eight-year term difficult for some teams is the incremental bump in AAV for each year of UFA eligibility purchased. Take Matthews’ deal for example; the Leafs are buying just one year of unrestricted free agency, which means you can probably add, say, $500k for each additional year. Thus, an eight-year deal for Matthews would probably come in closer to a $13 million AAV.

In Tkachuk’s case, let’s ballpark around $7.5 million on a five-year term. That might be low knowing where Matthews came in, but it gives us a decent jumping off point for this example. To get Tkachuk to the max term of eight at $500k per additional year (I feel like I’m in Math 20), we’re talking about around $9 million per season. The Flames could absorb that cap hit, but do they want to?

CONCLUSION

I fall in on the side of a long-term deal for Tkachuk, despite the fact it would see him become the team’s highest paid player by a wide margin. It’s the price of doing business in today’s league economy and it gives the Flames cost certainty for Tkachuk’s most productive years; an eight-year deal would expire a few months before he turns 30.

While a three-year bridge deal lowers the cap hit significantly, it also carries with it a ton of team risk. If Tkachuk puts up three more seasons of 80+ points, all of a sudden his leverage is that much stronger going into his second contract negotiation. If we’re talking $9 million on a max term now, think of what it could be in three years’ time.

Regardless of how you see it, though, one thing is for sure: Tkachuk’s camp doesn’t mind what his buddy Matthews signed for on Monday. Brad Treliving and the Flames may feel slightly different.



  • Herringchoker1971

    Hey Guys,
    I’ve thought about this a lot. Been back and forth…….forth and back. I really don’t know that I want to take on a rental other than, I would trade my first if it brought me back Ferland. That would drop Frolik back to a very good 4th line. Overall, I really like the look of this team. We have to be careful not to over think this team. I feel we could use a little more functional toughness and adding a player even as a rental who fits right back into the culture of this team would be the best thing. A point though…..I really like the look of Mangiapane this go around. He could use another summer of training for strength but, overall I have nothing but love. That 4th line has been dangerous. I will be happy when the trade deadline has passed so we can focus on the team…..not on our wish for perfection.

  • freethe flames

    One of the talking heads on TV was talking about “offer sheets” and talking about the Leafs situation. Kappenan could be offer sheeted for just over $4m and it would only cost a 2nd rounder. It’s important to get some of your young guys done early or lose them for next to nothing.

  • Bawcos

    In terms of giving Tkachuck a deal at around 8m, that could still work around the 6.75 internal cap figure. They could sign Tkachuck for a 6 or 7 year deal and back load the contract so that he makes 6.75 in his first 3 seasons (the 3 that Johnny and Gio are under contract) then give him 9.25 in the other 3 or more seasons. Not what most players are looking for, but they did this with Brodie vs Gio in the past so maybe something worth thinking about?

  • Bawcos

    On a side note – everything I’ve heard or read points to McDavid or Draisaitl or Eichel pushing up the cap hits. IMO the 2 guys that did it were Kane and Toews. They won those cups so yeah, they earnd it. But 10.5m each led to $11m then a $12.5 and suddenly the flood gates open. Draisaitl @ $8.5m was weird but let’s not forget it started in Chi-town and look at them and those teams now.

    • Bawcos

      Before anyone brings up Stamkos, let’s remember he heard (we think) crazy offers but stayed due to comfort/home, winning team, and no taxes (again, we think).

  • Jourflamesfan

    If MT gets 8 million he better light it up more often and put up at least 60pts a year.
    Otherwise most of you will wanna string him up after 2 seasons if the team is floundering.

    I saw it here in Montreal with Subban. Great until he signed his big contract. Then his play dipped. The team struggled and they ran him out of town.
    Imo, I am not convinced that MT is an $8 million player..yet.

  • Garry T

    $8 to $13 mil a year handcuffs a team to the point where you cannot field a competitive team. Anaheim, LA, Edmonton, Chicago, until recently the Rangers plus a slew of other teams are in trouble fielding a competitive team.

    I keep Tkachuk for 3 years or less on a bridge deal. Then I trade him for 2 firsts, 2 seconds and a top prospect and you would get that for him. Teams would be lining up to trade for him. These huge contracts are team killers.
    Sign him quickly, be honest with him. Point out the large number of empty seats with mor3 to come. Point out how numerous teams are hand cuffed by these contracts and ask him what he wants to do. Be prepared to move him and be ready.