Giving Matthew Tkachuk a bridge deal is the Flames’ best move

It hasn’t always been easy, but Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving should be given credit for his ability to manage the team’s salary cap. Even though at times it’s taken creative measures, he’s always managed to wriggle his way through tough cap situations. This off-season he’ll face another test in the form of Matthew Tkachuk’s new contract.

But a bridge contract could go a long way in giving Treliving’s team some flexibility.

A simple payroll philosophy

Roughly six months after taking on the job, Treliving signed his first major player contract when he got TJ Brodie to agree to a five year contract worth $23.25 million (a $4.65 million AAV). It was seen as a pretty savvy move and a precursor to the expected contract extension for Flames captain Mark Giordano the following year.

But when details came out regarding Brodie’s contract structure, something odd emerged: the first year of Brodie’s deal saw him make only $3.9 million, with the remainder of his salary spread through the remaining four seasons. The detail was significant because the 2015-16 season was the final year of Giordano”s existing contract. While it was never made explicit, the message was pretty clear: either Brodie’s camp or Flames management (or both) felt it symbolically important enough that Brodie not make more than the team’s captain.

The Giordano cap is born

Throughout his tenure, Treliving has operated under a pretty simple logic for cap distribution: the team has 23 mouths to feed, so they have to make decisions. Given all that, the evident main rule is that the team’s best players make the most money.

When Giordano signed his extension, it was August 2015 and he had just finished his best season to-date – and second strong season since becoming Flames captain. He had generated a crazy amount of Norris buzz – derailed by his late season bicep tear – and so it made a lot of sense to lock up the veteran player to a long-term deal. He was signed to six year deal worth $40.5 million (a $6.75 million AAV) that began in 2016-17.

A year later, Gaudreau was signed to an identical six year deal worth $40.5 million (also a $6.75 million AAV). At the time Gaudreau had just a pair of seasons to his credit and while he had been productive – he had 78 points in 79 games in his second season – it would’ve been a stretch to say he was the Flames’ best player. Best offensive weapon? Sure. But not their undisputed best player. So Treliving dug his heels in and, seemingly determined to pay Gaudreau for what he’d done and not what he was going to do, got him to eventually sign off on a deal that paid him the exact same cap hit as the team’s captain.

Through three seasons, Tkachuk has quickly emerged as one of the better two-way players and agitators in the league. He might be the second-best two-way Flames forward behind Selke contender Mikael Backlund. Is he more important to the team’s success than Gaudreau or Giordano? Not yet, but he might be in a few seasons.

Tight cap, but a bridge could fix it

As we’ve documented, the Flames have a tight cap situation to deal with. To afford to sign Tkachuk to a long term deal and retain some flexibility, the Flames will likely need to move out a big piece. But another option could be to simply bridge Tkachuk.

I’ve admittedly been operating under the assumption that whatever form Tkachuk’s deal would take, it would likely include him making $6.75 million for the three remaining seasons on Giordano and Gaudreau’s contracts – the other years of the deal would have a higher salary, which would bring the deal to a cap hit of somewhere around $7.9 to $8.5 million depending on length.

But a discussion this past week on Sportsnet 960 The Fan between Pat Steinberg, Ryan Pinder and Will Nault changed my mind a bit regarding bridge deals.

The Flames have a limited competitive window just opening up. Cap flexibility is at a premium, and they’re a group that would probably like to tinker with their roster a bit to give them the best chance possible at having a parade before 2022. If they can bridge Tkachuk and keep him at Giordano and Gaudreau money, it helps the Flames maximize their chances.

The best move for both sides

It takes two sides to make a deal. The Flames perspective on this is easy: it keeps the internal cap structure intact and punts the big money contract for Tkachuk down the road a bit. It also allows them the aforementioned cap wiggle room.

But from Tkachuk’s perspective, it makes sense, too. Signing a long-term deal right away is risky for Tkachuk, particularly in that it locks him in at a cap number while the cap is seemingly perpetually rising. Signing for a shorter deal allows him to go for a second RFA deal in the summer of 2022 with six full seasons under his belt, but it also allows for the possibility that his role will continue to grow as he matures as a player. If nothing else, doing two shorter deals instead of one big one allows Tkachuk’s representation to maximize his value over the period – and it potentially maximizes his potential to get some hardware with the Flames over the next several seasons, which in turn would also likely bump up his value.

If the Flames are successful over the next three years, it’ll help their core players maximize their earnings over the long term. It makes sense for the Flames and for Tkachuk to work towards a three year bridge deal with a $6.75 million cap hit to get the team through their competitive window with some flexibility, and allow Tkachuk a chance at a big-time payday in a few seasons.

  • Jobu

    Jobu doesn’t understand this thinking.

    So Tkachuk signs a bridge deal and then get a high ankle sprain 2 years later that severely impedes his performance in year before his next contract.

    Why take the chance? Take the guaranteed money. And then take more guaranteed money when that contract is over.

    Besides… what is the real difference between 64 million and 100 million? You already have more money than you know what to do with.

    And its also be stated by some that he might not want to be here for 8 years let alone what a second RFA contracts would get you in years at max dollars.

    Sorry guys… Jobu doesn’t see this in his cigar smoke.

  • Puck Head

    Both options have a certain amount of risk for both parties.

    MT’s disappearance in the playoffs left me wondering if he deserves to be paid like an elite player. He really doesn’t deserve anything more than a shorter term ‘show me’ deal. I don’t want the team to be saddled with a player for 6 to 8 years if he doesn’t show up in the playoffs. Sure, you can make the argument that most guys didn’t show up but a few did (Ryan, Mangiapane to name a few). Star players who get paid big bucks have to show up and lead.

    His failure to show up is on his shoulders. If he showed up we won’t be having this conversation.

    • Budgie

      I disagree, Ryan and Mangiapane were decent, the non-showers were Gadreau, and Monahan to name a couple-Monahan had a cracked thumb, Gadreau was checked closely-no room for him to move.

    • CowboyBob

      I agree, that playoff performance should cost MT some money. His inconsistency and skating ability shows he is not elite at this time. If improves both of these than I think he has the ability to be an elite talent in the future.

  • MDG1600

    IMHO a bridge deal would be good for the Flames but I don’t see the upside for Tkachuk. I say good for the Flames because I am still not sure if Tkachuk is a complimentary piece or if he is the future team leader and someone who drives the play and couple more years to figure that out before forking over the big $$$ would be nice. For all the talk on FN about how the lack of size and grit is what hurt us vs. Colorado I also saw our lack of team speed as a real problem. I worry Tkachuks poor skating is going to limit his upside.

    • Shoestring

      The upside for the player is the cap increasing and signing for more at each contract. Sign for the same % which is more actual $$ each contract. Or sign for what today’s market is dictating and having that salary locked in, or sign for more if the market dictates it with the next contract.

    • The Red Knight

      His Hockey IQ is off the charts , that’s why he’s considered one of the best two way players in the game already , he is usaully always in the right spot/position, his anticipation evens out his speed , the kid has elite skills , trade who ever you have to , 8 years at 7.5 max and this contract will look like a steal . Bad playoffs for most of the team , but I believe Bennett,TKACHUK,Anderson did lead in points in the playoffs.

      • CowboyBob

        Nothing can completely even out bad skating in the NHL. Only one answer, MT needs to find a great skating coach and commit 1000s of hours of hard work to make up for what he didn’t learn as a kid and teenager over the next three years. What was Keith thinking, could he not see he was a weak skater as a kid??

  • Bobby Bitman

    The challenge may be that MT ‘s camp may think he’s worth big coin (8 plus) per year.

    But as many on here have alluded, is he the real deal (not like James Neal, a different kind of real deal), or is he a no-show in the playoffs and a poor skater? Personally, I feel that he has much to prove before getting more money than Gio / JG.

    • Budgie

      Bobby-“How are Ya!” I am all for Tkachuk but a contract based on bonuses to earn the top money. You have to give him more than Neal, like 5.5 and performance bonuses. Say hi to Edith Prickley for me

        • Budgie

          Bobby Bitman I swear is a spoof of Edmonton’s own Bobby Curtola. James Neal looked to be a bit slower than the rest of the players, he is a team guy, he can be useful to stand in front of the net and tip pucks. Flames didn’t resign Chiasson for a small amount and splurged on Neal, looks like a mistake but it may work out somehow if Neal rebounds or someone wants him

  • freethe flames

    An interesting option. Arguments on both sides are valid. The Matthews deal was not a bridge deal nor a long term commitment. How does this impact Tkachuk’s thinking.

  • BendingCorners

    I think the cap issue is overblown. BT is a tougher negotiator than KD and will get his four RFA signed for collectively less than 13MM, leaving himself some in-season wiggle room. Tkachuk will sign for 5 or 6 years for between 6.9 and 7.5 per year.

      • HOCKEY83

        I don’t think ufa rfa matters at all when talking about the quality of player. Matthews wasn’t UFA…look at his contract. 11.6 mil for being just slightly better than a point a game guy for 3 seasons. It’s not crazy to think tkachuk is only worth a couple mil less than that. Lets hope he signs for less but not a crazy thought.

        • Willi P

          IMO, Dubas panicked on that Mathews deal because of what happened with Nylander. So far, Dubas is the only one that did not leverage the RFA years and also signed a 5 year deal. Horrible negotiation. Can’t see BT doing that.

          • freethe flames

            Other contracts do matter. The Flames internal cap also matters but not to the same extent. Nylanders @7m, Matthews @11m cap; where do you put Tkachuk in comparison? Despite his flaws he fits somewhere in between. Lot’s depends on how a salary is structured. Would a deal that pays hims the Flames internal cap at $6.75 x2 with $10m upfront get it done? This sets him up for life, settles the flames internal issues and allows him to get a big payday again and set a new cap limit if he earns the captainacy in 2 years,

  • 🐃💩

    I find it humorous when posers..I mean posters on here bash Matthew Tkachuks skating and use it as a reason to bridge deal or pay him less than Gio because of a donkey cap within the organization. Do you know that the biggest knock on Gretzky’s game was his skating..same goes for Brett Hull. I think both had ok careers. Now I’m not comparing MT to either..just saying his game is so strong in other aspects, that he makes up for his subpar skating. If the kid was that bad of a skater..he’d be living in Kieths basement going to college…