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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.

  • redhot1

    The internal cap is a myth, its fairy dust, it isn’t real. And Brad is a wizard for wishing that myth into existence. It worked for Gaudreau, but times have changed a lot since then. Any agent worth his salt should laugh at the concept, to be frank.

    If you can sign Tkachuk for less than 9 million on an 8 year deal you do it. If Tkachuk is ever afforded the opportunity to play on the first line, 80 points in a season would be the floor.

    I really see no downside to investing in Tkachuk heavily. Rugged, dependable, durable, skilled, chippy, and a mega pest. He’s the future captain for me, and I’d like to see him stay in Calgary as long as possible.

    • slapshot444

      Hmmm, your not quite right about the Gio cap myth, it’s very real, it cost Brodie a ton, and it made Johnny miss training camp. The cap will be busted for Tkachuk for sure as the numbers have gone up, that was inevitable and Pat is bang on in his “new math” making the idea length of the new contract 7 years. The number will be what it will be but 9m is out of the question on 7m a bit low. We will likely get to talk about this all summer as Tkachuk’s agent will want to see where the Flames end up before settling.

  • How's She Goin'

    If Treliving can get this kid inked for under $8M per over 5-6 years the guy deserves the key to Lanny’s ranch. This will be interesting to watch for sure. In the past, Tre has been comfortable waiting it out and it’s led to some great deals for the Flames. It will be interesting if the buzz surrounding offer sheets creates any urgency on his part to get this done sooner and at what AAV & term??

    • Guest

      People have funny math about term in the NHL and on this site. Would you rather have 6×7.5 or 8×9.0 as a contract? This difference is years 7 and 8 are priced at 13.5(!) per season.

      Now its possible the cap goes up 50% in the next 6 years and MT is worth a cap adjusted 13.5mm (which would be 9mm today plus 50% increase in the cap), but that seems stretch.

    • Kevin R

      This list of players arent about to get offer sheeted. To get these players to sign it would have to be a Matthews type of deal & that would cost 4 or 5 1st rounders. Its the 3-5 million type players that are going to get offer sheeted because these RFAs are going after a way huger piece of the players salary pie.

  • 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

  • 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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

    • 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.

  • cjc

    This wouldn’t be such an issue if they didn’t have some bad contracts on the books (Bryout, Neal, Stone, and even Ryan to some extent). That’s almost 14 million right there. As great as Treliving is with RFAs, he sucks with UFAs.

    That said, look at Gaudreau. 72 goals and 203 points in his first 3 seasons. Tkachuk might get close in goals, but he’s not going to pick up another 50 points this year. Of course Gaudreau only had 2 full seasons under his belt before signing, but still. And it doesn’t account for the increased scoring this year.

    Then look at the list of comparables. He is the lowest scorer of all of them over their careers, and second lowest this season. Nylander, who signed in December and has better counting numbers over his career signed for less than 7 million AAV. Tkachuk’s possession and zone starts should count for something, but it won’t push things up too much.

    Tkachuk’ll exceed the internal cap or he won’t sign, but he’s going to have a tough time arguing more than 8 million on a long term deal. 8 million should be acceptable, particularly if they lockout-proof it by giving a huge amount as signing bonus. Given what they did for Monny and Gaudreau, I think they go 6 or 7 years at something closer to 7.5 AAV.

    There are factors that put upward pressure on Tkachuk’s contract, and factors that put downward pressure on it. I don’t think Matthews’ contract changes the landscape at all.

  • 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.

  • Richard B. Rittich

    He could get signed for am escalating rate. Be under the internal cap for the balance of Johnny’s contract, then shoot up. The AAV would be higher than Johnny or Gio but technically he’d be under.

    • Crazy Flames

      I think the USD thing is a little over blown. Ticket prices in Canada are easily 30-50% higher then USA markets. Same goes for merchandise and I’m going to assume concessions are similar. Most of the Canadian billionaire owners deal in USD. The owners love it if the dollar is par but I don’t think they are hurting at the current level and even lower.