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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.


  • 31 Thoughts With Morgan Freeman

    I see the argument again and again that Tkachuk is a point per game player on the second line. Sure, Matty is on the second line, but almost 40% of his points have come on the PP playing alongside Johnny, Mony, Lindholm, and Gio. Anyone playing with that group is going to prosper. He has 36 points at even strength, Backlund has 28, but the gap in perception between these two players by many on this site is much wider. We all love Matty and are excited about our shiny 1st round steal, but let’s keep some perspective. Matty is a star, but he’s not better than Jonny was when he signed his contract. Johnny was 7th in league scoring in 2015-16. Matty will probably finish this year between 20th and 30th which is still elite but you can’t say his offensive skills match Gaudreau. Arguing intangibles, do we say Matty = Johnny at the same point in their careers? If so, Matty is worth the same cap percentage which equates to about 7.7 million on a six-year term. My bet is that’s how Tre sees it. Whether he can keep him there with the stupidity of other GM’s over-inflating salaries is an open question, but that’s where I’d slot him.

  • Albertabeef

    I still say no GM would accept comparable numbers from Toronto and Edmonton. These two badly run teams DO NOT set the bar for the league. The GMs from Edmonton and Toronto thankfully do not run the Flames.

  • Garry T

    Tkachuk is a great young player. But, he is no Lanny MacDonald , Garry Roberts or Jerome Iginla.
    As an old guy (74) and I have run $ 30,000,000.00 a year corporations, I understand budgets. I understand over-spending places your organization in difficulty and common sense is of the utmost importance. Next year you will
    have an $ 83,000,000.00 USD budget. We do business in Canadian dollars and have to buy USD at a 40% premium.
    The correlation is $ 116, 200,000.00 in Canadian funds. This is before any other expense. We are playing to less than full houses. Support staff, first class travel for the boys, five star hotels, meals, ground transportation, sticks, equipment, and on and on for probably 500 to 1000 cost centers adds up to almost double the player payroll.
    That’s crazy.

    These guys play a game, 18 minutes on average for a star player. That totals 1476 minutes per year or 24.6 hours.
    $ 5,000,000.00 pays a player playing 18 minutes $203252.00 USD per hour. What are you making $ 15.00 to $ 30.00 an hour. The comparative on a 40 hour week is $41,600.00 a year at $ 20.00 an hour.

    Now look at what happens , you have Tkachuk, Gio, Johnny, etc. making more than $ 4.5 million a year taking up 60 to 70 percent of the budget. You have absolutely no future as a team because you are forced to play 14-16 guys at $800,000 to $ 1.5 million a year. To go a step further. Take a look at Edmonton, New York Rangers, Dallas, Toronto,
    Denver, Los Angeles, the Ducks …. Big payrolls to old guys and look what is happening to them ….. Dead in the water,
    totally regressed in capability over the last four years where they have dolled out these huge contracts and have very little for the rest of the guys, who by the way will all, all. all want multi millions.

    Stanley cups for those teams are going to be tough. So if you want the cup, you have to stop with the huge contracts and pay the group well, but keep your costs under control. Support Treliving and allow him to manage the team and stop putting the huge numbers out there for moderately good players who are playing a TEAM game and without the hard work of the remaining players, 15 to 16 of them, where would your top players be? Get a tape of the Edmonton/Chicago game a couple of nights ago and watch what happens when you over pay and cannot field a well rounded squad. Diss away. But for God’s sakes get some reality going. By the way, Edmonton was soooooo outplayed
    that their goaltender had zilch for support. The big boys did not get the job done and the team is in a hell of a mess.

    Also, to close out, look at Tkachuk’s production since they moved him away from capable players 10 games ago!

    • Kevin R

      I think the league has a dollar equalization provision for Canadian teams, they used to anyway. This argument isnt about the team being able to afford the cap, as the cap is totally based on profit sharing & escrows ensure the salaries are adjusted accordingly. This is about the players that want a bigger piece of the limited players portion of revenue’s. I think they forget sometimes that that extra $$$ they want will diminish their chance to win a cup.
      That is where we will see where Chucky is. Monahan, Gio & Gaudreau took team friendly contracts. The reward is that they are now part of something special that gives them a chance to win a Cup & allows the GM the budget to build a team of better players around them. I think Chucky wants to win. I think he wants to win in Calgary & I can truly see him taking a 7 year deal at around 8.0 mill per. That would be a very team friendly contract based on what Dumbass just did.

      For the record, yes Matthews scores goals, very very good at it. He hasnt won anything for the Leafs yet, he hasnt won an Art Ross yet. Where in God’s green Earth he gets comparable to McDavid is beyond me. I hate anything Oiler but no way Matthews is in his pay stratus sphere. I got heartburn listening to Matthews & Dumbass rationale of his salary being adjusted to the inflation expected (ie. cap going up every year). I have yet to see too many players performance & results go up every year. If Matthews scores 25 goals & 35 assists next year, will he give back any of that inflationary adjusted salary. If contracts werent guaranteed , I would have no problem with this stuff. I have an extreme issue with the likes of players paid big money but perform at a fraction of expectations. I gotta say, this trend is going to cause a huge rift & fracture the players union if they dont start implementing their own structure of how the money pie is being split amongst themselves.

      • HAL MacInnis

        I wish hockey salaries worked on performance bonuses. Like, half was guaranteed, but the rest is based on the success of the player and more importantly the team. Win the cup, and everybody gets the full amount. Miss the playoffs and everyone gets 15% less, or some such thing, and the rest is sorted out on individual stats, stats with linemates and their performance numbers factored in, etc. I haven’t worked it all out entirely yet, but in my head it makes perfect sense! Okay?!

        If all the salaries in the world worked like pro-sports, I think we’d be in deeper sh!t that we already are.

    • HAL MacInnis

      Great post, Garry.

      I’m good if Treliving doesn’t fold and sticks to his guns. Brad has been fair with his negotiations so far. I love Tkachuk, but if Matthew is unwilling to settle for a reasonable salary and continue to play on a great team with top talent, that’s his decision.

      I still got a good feeling though. I like Tkachuk’s attitude and he seems like a really great guy. I don’t sense a prima-donna complex in him at all. Let’s see if I’m right. 😉

      • Rocket66

        So let’s just say he says I know I can get 9. But I’ll take 7.5 to help the team and my chances to win a cup
        In the eyes of the media and the hockey world is he looked at as a good man or a fool for doing it

        • HAL MacInnis

          An interesting question of ethics/morality, Rocket66. I’d argue that people who value money over loyalty will think of him as a fool… and people who value loyalty over money will think of him as a hero. There’s your answer. Also, the responses he gets from people will show what they value most.

    • Rocket66

      I totally agree with you
      The money spent in mcdavid is almost comparable to having two Johnny’s
      I would rather have a team full of Johnny’s than mcdavids
      Mcdavid gets hurt your team is in trouble
      A team full of Johnny’s will be ok if one of them goes down

    • MDG1600

      I agree with what you say which is why the Neal contract is an epic fail and a far bigger problem for this team than most appreciate. Treliving has done a real good job getting us where we are today but my worry is that the Neal contract is so bad it may be what ultimately prevents us from being able to add that last piece or two that can get this team to Stanley Cup.

    • Honkydonk

      Your per hour payable comparison is completely wrong. What about the training hour? Practice? Travel? You would need to take all that into consideration as well.

      I have said for years athletes are overpaid because that is the way of the world now. It’s ludicrous but it’s here to stay unfortunately because egg heads continue to go to games at $150 a pop.

      And now with the US markets Canadian markets can’t afford to sell tickets for less no matter what which puts you in a lose lose situation.

      Lastly paying Johnny $6.75 and chuck $7.6 million isn’t 60 plus percent of the team cap hit. And if you look at that cost per point average compared to the rest of the team it’s fairly balanced.

      When you look at the flames our second line centre is $5 and a bit million. Our top two centres are $12 million. Toronto $22million, Edmonton $21 million, Penguins $18 million.

      Our team payables are far more balanced that affords is the ability to be smart and have many avenues.

    • Captain Ron

      One of my favorite comments ever on this site. I’m not quite as old as you are but I am involved in operating two small business’s at much smaller numbers. My thought process and analysis is very similar to yours where a team’s salaries are concerned. If you want to win Cups there has to be some restraint from players and management. Common sense has to prevail if winning is the truly end goal.
      Great comment Garry T.

    • Derzie

      What’s implied by this (underpaying guys) is that you will have a more frequent turnover. Most guys will only take a hit for the team once. For example, if healthy, Johnny will get paid next contract. If Tre is here and plays hardball, he’ll have to factor in a trade of Johnny before he walks for nothing. The cap is intended to spread the wealth of players. Blowing and money up front or being cheap with good players both result in the same thing: having to lose good players to other teams. Toronto is about to find that out with Marner (unless the league cheats and bumps the cap up for the Leafs as it seems they do). Edmonton, gord willing, will lose McDavid due to a lack of supporting player cap.
      Pat has wedged Chucky into this list of comparables but is at the bottom of the list, production wise. But he IS a two way and that has value, as Pat states. I’d do comparables on the next 10 players for a more realistic perspective

    • HOCKEY83

      It’s a nice thought but the NHL ain’t reading this and the Salaries are only going to get worse before they get better. No matter what thought or ideas are broadcasted today in this blog, teams are going to pay as much as they need to to get a player and drive up those salaries. 11 to 13 mil will be common place soon. you don’t have to agree with it but it’s going to happen.

  • The Sultan

    I feel like the internal cap hit of 6.75 million has worked up until this point, and taking a look at some of the other contracts that have been doled out over that time frame makes you really appreciate the work Treliving has put in to manage our cap situation. That being said, I totally understand that the market has changed and would have no problem paying Tkachuk bank, if he signs for max term. A win here in this situation would be keeping Matthew Tkachuk, who I believe to be the future captain of this franchise after Giordano, would be keeping him in Calagary for as long as possible.

    • Fat Tony

      I have a theory that BT will finally exceed the “Gio” cap with Tkachuk’s upcoming contract and will do so without hesitation. Then the Gio cap with become the Tkachuk cap because hes going to be our next captain.

      • THE WW Bandwagon

        A few things…

        1) I think the 5-year term is good for the team, and inking Tkachuk to 5 years could well be the way they go. I continue to believe it will be what they do.

        2) From a player’s perspective, I understand the allure of a shorter term, and it isn’t about bolting to another destination, it is about being a free agent at 26 and being able to sign a max term, max dollar deal. Being a FA at 26 is completely different than being a FA at 29 or 30. At 30 (and higher) teams are very leery of too much term. But at 26? “Give him what he wants!” Also, there appears to be a strong expectation that contracts will continue to rise rapidly.

        3) Comparing his contract to McDavid’s, McDavid got $100M over 8 years. Matthews is getting $58.17M over 5 years. So to catch up, he needs $41.83M over those final 3 years, or at least $13.95M per, in order to be ahead, which he probably will be able to get as a FA. But that doesn’t factor in that getting money now is much more valuable that getting it 6 years from now. So to factor that in, Matthews probably needs at least $15M per year on his next deal to make the shorter term of this one worthwhile (which is entirely possible).

        Times are changin’

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I would be willing to bet that Johnny’s next contract will be around the 10-11M range especially if the cap keeps going up at the same rate. So while I feel somewhat bad that our best player is not going to be our best paid player he will be just fine. The one player on the list that I would be worried about overpaying is Laine…he appears to be a 1 trick pony. Tkachuk has so many other variables that put him in a unique category. However, I would be leery of locking him for 8 years give how fast the league is getting. All players on this list with the exception of Laine are great skaters.

      • HOCKEY83

        If winnipeg won’t sign him for top dollar another team will. What is he…second to ovechkin over the last 3 years of goal scoring right there with Mcdavid and Kuch. He’ll get paid. Goals are King

  • slyall41

    Beware of the bridge deal, Matthew Tkachuk is a weak skater. A short term deal followed by a long term deal could be a real anchor for this team down the road. I would aim for a 6 year $7.75-8.

  • Honkydonk

    I’d like a 3 year deal but I do not think chucks camp would like that much?!

    Do that leaves me at a 7 year deal for $7.65 a year as he will be next captain that would be our new ceiling

      • Porcupine at a balloon party

        I don’t think he’s that far off. Media in Calgary seems to really over blow player values. They were saying Johnny was getting 8m before he signed. 6.75 was probably a little team friendly at time (certainly is now) but based on his comparables it was in line with the range of comparables. Tkachuk will have a new set of comparables to work with, and probably will get more than Johnny/Gio, but all this talk about him getting 8 or 9 is ridiculous. His numbers sadly aren’t even as good as drissle up North, and Tre ain’t giving him a chirelli deal.

        • Porcupine at a balloon party

          Don’t get me wrong, I love Tkachuk, but he doesn’t have the counting numbers to get paid. Had he not been breaking out this season he wouldn’t even be getting Johnny numbers. Also, trust in Tre. He hasn’t really let us down with an internal signing yet I don’t think (did he??). The Gio one looked bad originally, but in hindsight, his creation of internal cap and Gio’s ability to give father time the big F U

  • Getpucksdeep

    Treliving has done a superb job signing players. I simply don’t care and will spend zero time worrying about it. Treliving has managed the cap very well and expect nothing different regardless if Tkachuk sets a new standard for the team.