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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Flames may have to pay big bonuses to lock up Matthew Tkachuk

If you take a gander at any salary cap tracking site – such as PuckPedia – you may notice something interesting. The Calgary Flames have given out among the least in signing bonuses in the entire National Hockey League. But with negotiations with Matthew Tkachuk ongoing for a new contract, it seems likely that the Flames may need to divert from their usual stance in regards to big bonus payouts.

How signing bonuses work

In a standard NHL contract, players are paid every two weeks during the regular season. But in the case of a player with a signing bonus, they would get a big chunk of their money up-front in early or mid-July – it varies by contract. Both regular pay and bonuses are subject to escrow, but the appeal of a bonus-laden contract is that you get a bunch of your money all at once rather than getting it paid out in smaller installments throughout the year.

Also, bonuses make buyouts more difficult – buyout calculations are based off regular salary, not bonuses – and are paid out even if there’s a lockout between the NHL and the NHLPA.

If you’re an NHL club with a lot of cash on hand, paying a player all at once or during the season doesn’t really matter. But if you’re living hand-to-mouth – needing revenue throughout the year to help pay your bills – then bonus-laden deals can be a big, big problem for you.

A brief history of Treliving bonuses

Most entry-level contracts involve signing bonuses. But once a player leaves their ELC years, bonuses are pretty rare. Since he’s been general manager, Brad Treliving has been fairly remarkable in two ways: he hasn’t paid bonuses to many players, and the amounts have always been pretty small relative to the total contract value.

Here are all the non-ELC bonuses Treliving has paid out:

  • Deryk Engelland: $500,000 (5.7% of a $8.75 million contract)
  • Mikael Backlund: $4 million (12.5% of $32 million contract)
  • Troy Brouwer: $1 million (5.6% of $18 million contract)
  • Mark Giordano: $4 million (9.9% of $40.5 million contract)
  • Johnny Gaudreau: $6.5 million (16.0% of $40.5 million contract)
  • Sean Monahan: $3.5 million (7.8% of $44.6 million contract)
  • Noah Hanifin: $3 million (10.1% of $29.7 million contract)

In 2019-20, the Edmonton Oilers are on the hook for over $16 million in bonuses. The Toronto Maple Leafs? $53 million. The Flames? Less than $3 million.

But that’s probably going to change in a big way.

Recent RFA deals involve tons of bonuses

Regardless of the duration of Tkachuk’s next contract, it’s very likely that his cap hit will come in north of $6 million. As we saw with Sebastian Aho’s offer sheet, bonuses have become a big, big part of deals for big name player – whether they’re restricted or unrestricted free agents.

Keeping our focus exclusively to big name RFAs with $6 million or larger cap hits, most of the recent major deals have included hefty bonuses:

  • Sebastian Aho: $38.62 million (91.5% of $42.27 million contract)
  • Timo Meier: $8.6 million (35.8% of $24 million contract)
  • Auston Matthews: $54.52 million (93.7% of $58.17 million contract)
  • William Nylander: $24.3 million (54.0% of $45 million contract)
  • Dylan Larkin: $1 million (3.3% of $30.5 million contract)
  • Nikita Kucherov: $44.5 million (58.6% of $76 million contract)
  • Jack Eichel: $15 million (18.8% of $80 million contract)
  • David Pastrnak: $7 million (17.5% of $40 million contract)
  • Leon Draisaitl: $14 million (20.6% of $68 million contract)

If you’re the Tkachuk camp, you’re at the very least thinking of Kucherov and Nylander as your main comparables – if not Aho. That doesn’t just play out in terms of cap hit, but also bonus structure. If a player wants to feel important, giving them a ton of up-front money is a good way of making them feel important.

In other words: don’t be shocked if around two-thirds of Tkachuk’s annual cap hit is paid out in up-front bonuses.

Something’s gotta give

Because of the Canadian dollar’s depreciation, the Flames are around the middle of the pack league-wide for revenue – and are probably getting some revenue-sharing. But their owners are still pretty deep-pocketed and have shown a willingness to spend to the cap, so it’s unlikely that cash flow will be the primary concern surrounding the Tkachuk negotiations.

However, the Flames are bumping up against the cap and are hoping to keep things tight as they try to make a run for a silver chalice of some kind. If they’re hoping to keep Tkachuk’s cap hit below any internal figure – perhaps the “Giordano cap” of $6.75 million – then giving Tkachuk a bonus-laden contract chock full of up-front dough might be an effective compromise.

But whether it be paying someone more than his captain or paying out hefty bonuses, it seems likely that Treliving will have to budge off one of his perceived contract stances.



  • Bobby Bitman

    I know he will propbably get significantly more than 6.75 but he is not worth it. Anything over 8 is way too much for his skill set. He isn’t an offensive driver, he’s a poor skater, his playoff performance after the first game was non-existent. Other than being an excellent puck deflector in front of the net and stirring crap up after the whsitle, he’s not more than 7 imo. Plus, if he gets big coin, the expectations of MT will go up, and I just don’t think he will be able to meet them. Just my opinion the BT has to be careful not to overpay. I hope he is working on his skating and quickeness this summer and comes back significantly quicker, then he might be worth around 8. Trash away if you must, but if you look at MT ‘s whole game, is he worth more than 6-7 ?

    • MDG1600

      I think you are under estimating Tkachuks hockey IQ and excellent hands – he is an excellent passer and good finisher. You aren’t wrong about his skating but the way I see it if he could improve that area of the game he might edge in to the legit superstar category.

        • Justthateasy

          Bridge deal then. See how it goes. Pay as you go. If he proves legit then pay up when the time comes. Sensible. Extra pat on the back to make player feel important. Same as you get when you go to work everyday.

          • HarveysFleaCollar

            Why would the Flames want to bridge deal unless they plan on trading Tkachuk before he signs his third deal? Does anyone remember what happened to les Canadiens de Montréal with PK? Bridge deal for 2 years 5.75 million, has two offensive juggernaut seasons and gets grossly over paid with a 8 year, 72 million contract. So…let’s say Tkachuk signs for 2 years at the internal cap..great deal for the Flames you think..but..Tkachuck and his trajectory keep going up..say he has two seasons and 145 points over these 2 years. Now, Tkachuk is going to ask for upwards of 12 million with inflation, other deals signed, and the cap going up. Pay the man a little more now and save longterm.

          • HAL MacInnis

            The strange thing is, once you make enough to pay the bills and have a few luxuries, money provides very little incentive. Something that is demoralizing though is seeing your teammate making twice your salary for the same results, regardless of how much you are making.

            Paying a player more money does almost nothing towards getting better results. What matters most is the culture in the locker room and the coaching staff. I think Tkachuck will agree to the Giordano limit. If he can’t respect what Giordano does for this team and see the bigger picture of having a few extra pesos to round out a competitive team, I’d see what we could get in a trade.

            Treliving has the right mentality in trying to keep salaries to a reasonable amount. I hope the players can appreciate that and still be satisfied with their millions. I still hold a grudge with Johnny Hockey when he held out on salary negotiations and compromised the start of the season a while back.

          • HarveysFleaCollar

            The guy has proven it at an amount that is peanuts compared to what others get for comparison. Keep pushing him into a corner saying prove it and not ponying up..and he will walk when he is allowed or demand a trade. Treat your stars properly and maybe other stars will stay or follow.

          • HarveysFleaCollar

            No dice Hal. How many people where you work turn down raises? Most places and jobs I’ve been a part of you pay your dues as the young green guy as Tkachuk has done and then get paid.

          • HAL MacInnis

            [quote]No dice Hal. How many people where you work turn down raises? Most places and jobs I’ve been a part of you pay your dues as the young green guy as Tkachuk has done and then get paid.[/quote]
            That’s the most common way of looking at things, unfortunately. Keep beating that drum though.

    • Budgie

      Hey Bobby, I’d bet your Flamin Red Pant Suit that Tkachuk gets a bridge deal-Calgary can’t afford to make Tkachuk the highest paid player-he will like get 6.75 or the bridge deal. As Sammy Maudlin say’s-he’s got talent but he’s no Pat Bouttette. Rittich, Mangiapanne, and Bennett are waiting for their deals too-if a trade isn’t made for Cap Space then it will be tough to get everyone signed. Then you have Neal’s contract upping everyone’s value. Not Neal’s fault.

      • Bobby Bitman

        The red pant suit is a non-starter. However, the baby blue ruffled tux shirt is in play. A bridge deal makes sense, Budgie. If he hits it out of the park, he’d be in line for a payday. I hope this does not turn into a Marner-type situation. Not at all a leafs fan, but sounds like Mitch Marner is not going to bend on what he thinks his value is.

    • CowboyBob

      I agree, do not overpay. There are things he does well, net presence, deflections, cycling the puck, passing, but there are a lot of things he needs to really work on that are below average for an NHLer, skating is a big one, defensive zone play without the puck, forecheck, (likely related to skating).

  • cornwallroyals

    He will probably come in around 7.0 to 7.5M per year. The internal cap of 6.75M per year was set back in 2015. At some point it will have to be exceeded otherwise we are not going to be able to sign any star players. This is the one that is going to break that barrier.

  • SouthernFlame

    Its hard to compare Tkachuk to anyone but getting 70+ points aint bad and its only going to get better. No he is not a finesse player but I agree with MDG1600 about his hockey IQ and the passing and finishing. Does he deserve anything above 8.5? I dont think so. I cant wait another 2 months, this offseason is killing me.

    • Kevin R

      Nope way too much. No way Tkachuk gets more than Aho & Aho has set the market to some extent. With no huge bonus front loading, Chucky gets around 6years at 8.0mill. per. I would prefer to bonus him & get this cap hit down to around 7.2mill per. There has to be value for the team to prepay with the pending CBA coming up. Player & team need to find that just right mix of bonus & salary/term.

  • cjc

    Even some UFA contracts have had big signing bonuses. I think a big driver of this right now is the potential lockout. But if Carolina can afford to pay Aho >90% of his total contract up front, Calgary’s ownership will be willing to do the same with Tkachuk.

    • Willi P

      Carolina did not have a choice if they wanted to keep Aho. Montreal forced them with their offer sheet with hopes that the owner would not want to pay money up front. Carolina had to agree to the contract to keep the player.

      I highly doubt MT will get 90+% of his salary in bonus money up front.

  • Off the wall

    Contract negotiations are complex.
    Signing bonuses are subject to escrow, which basically means the player doesn’t receive ALL of the bonus signing, as some has to be held back due to profit sharing in the league. I don’t know what that number is, but I can’t imagine the players who signed for all the bonus money would like to share their bonuses with NHL clubs who lose money or because of the weak CDN dollar, as players salaries are paid in US funds.

    So even if Tkachuk gets a hefty bonus laden contract, he’s only going to see about 50% of the bonus, subject to escrow on the balance. It might look fabulous to us as fans, but I can guarantee you we’re headed for another lockout, and this time it will be due to escrow.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      Escrow is more like 5-10% this year. Probably closer to 5%. That was why cap only went to 81.5 instead of 83. Players were getting fed up with >10% escrow so for last couple years they have not been forcing the increased cap upon owners. As per CBA they can increase cap by 5% regardless of how much revenues increased. The escrow is the equalizer that prevents players from taking more than 50% revenues. Once the REAL revenues are known, players are given back a portion of their escrow.

  • Off the wall

    Another reason why you won’t see elite players sign in Calgary?
    Maybe I’m just grumpy today, however consider this…

    We have a penny pinching GM, a club that is in need of a new arena, (profit) and the weak Canadian $.

    It’s no wonder clubs like Toronto can and NYR can hand out money and attract the players.

    They are the have’s of the NHL.
    We are the have not.

    That’s why we can’t have nice things.

    I’ll let myself out…

    • flames2015

      I’m glad Treliving is not just throwing cash out on players that are cost controlled. At the end of the day, he’s getting them signed to fair deals. I rather that, then be like Edm and Van, who are bottom feeders and right smack against the cap.

      • Off the wall

        True.
        Perhaps I’m just pissed at watching my Landlord raise the rent to the maximum, while he goes out and buys more toys.

        Just this year he’s bought an old classic truck, a new motorcycle and today he arrived with a BIG grin on his face, with a brand new top of the line truck. I already dislike him, now he’s just rubbing salt in our eyes.

        I won’t sign the new rental contract with him, cuz he’s a Dick and the worst Landlord I’ve ever encountered.

        Mrs Otw and I are looking for another place to call home and with vacancy rates hovering around 1%, the chances of us finding something affordable is just silly. He’s going to get his way no matter what. And I can’t do a damn thing about it…

      • Flaming moe

        The flames are right up against the cap lol Tre isn’t throwing money around because there is none to throw around. He wasted it all on bad contracts like Neal, Stone etc. The little money left is all for chucky.

        • Loud_voices

          Neal and Stone are just bad fits, not bad contracts. Neal had never scored under 21 goals before coming here and Im still not ready to sell on Neal yet, I think he can turn it around. To put Neal’s contract into perspective, Brandon Dubinsky gets 5.88mill per and he’s only scored over 20 twice in his career. And I’m pretty sure the main reason for acquiring Stone was just incentive to try and coax his brother into coming here. The only problem is Calgary is ripe with defensive talent ready for NHL duty. And it’s not like stone is getting crazy money… He’s getting paid what a proven bottom of the line NHL defenceman gets paid.
          Rittich should be on a 2+
          Bennett should be on a 3+
          Chucky should be on a 6+
          Frolik or stone would need to leave for this to happen. I think the Flames are in prime position to compete for years to come because of the smart signing Tre has done. There’s always going to be signings that don’t work out but the good far out way the bad with Tre. Our highest paid players are at 6.75… one had 99 points and the other won the Norris trophy .. name one other team with 2 players with such achievements that get paid less?

          • Luter 1

            I’d take Dubinsky in a heartbeat over Neal. Plays with heart, Neal showed none even in the playoffs when he had an opportunity to redeem himself. Too much emphasis on how many goals someone scored.

  • Bobby Bitman

    As some of you have pointed out, there has been a change in young players coming out of their entry level deals. A lot of them want big money for their second contract, not necessarily willing to bridge to their thrid contract. They are willing to sit out until some Gm overpays them (Nylander IMO) and some of them seem to want the money, doesn’t matter if it affects the team or cap space. Not saying this is a bad thing, especially for the player. Things are changing. 2 years ago, I thought Draisaitl was vastly overpaid at 8.5. Looks OK now though, especially for 8 years. Will be interesting to see what Point, Rantenen, MT, McAvoy, Marner eventually sign for.

    • Kevin R

      Actually they want big dollars & bridges to get them to UFA at young ages so they can cash in again. Players Union have a big issue coming. Wouldnt be surprised if after a huge internal battle & vote within the players union, they will want the league to implement a Cap on RFA salaries at the next CBA.

      • Bobby Bitman

        Good point. The older players would vote for that cap but I dobt the younger players would. As we sit here commenting on this blog, with mortgages, bills, kids education, etc. it seems so sureal. Not at all begruding what players make, they have worked very hard to get to the best league in the world. however, some do come across as a tad bit entitled and spoiled IMO.

    • Budgie

      Even worse is the UFA deals and the older players coming back from Europe for big contracts like Ilya Kovalchuk. The key is finding affordable prospects who can play on your 4th. line-even 3rd–the rest of the money goes to the high salaries like Neals-I’ll bet you a Tex and Edna Boyle Album or a Schmengie Brothers cassette that Tkachuk ends up being the highest paid Flame

      • Mickey O'Reaves

        Matthew Tkachuk’s next contract will “blow up good…real good” BT’s artificial (yet brilliant) internal salary cap.
        Just the way it is, Daddio.

        • Budgie

          The balance on the team will blowed up real good too. Gio and Gadreau won’t be the top paid players. I hope Tkachuk works on his skating-skate Matty skate, swish, swish, swish, please pass the vegetable

  • Garry T

    I have focused on a bridge deal for 3 to 4 years at $4.5 mil per. Have been boooed on that incessantly. So today looked at sending Stone’s $3.5 mil contract or to Stockton for his last year. Frolik wants out and his $4.5 mil hit will be gone prior to season starting.. Have upped Tkachuk’s package to five year deal at $6mil per. Then it is no use having a farm team unless you graduate players to control the budget. Am graduating Quine to first line with J and M. Quine is big, skilled and can skate with Johnny. Brought up
    Buddy Robinson for RW line 3. Spare D is Valimaki, spare forwards, Dube, Czarnik and Froese. Cap with two inexpensive wingers comes in at $76.5 mil with everybody signed. Brouwer $1.5 mil to be added to the $76.5.
    See my post on Bennett story near end of posts, page 2. No need to panic.

    • Albertabeef

      Do you read replies? I have told you several times a bridge contract for Tkachuk can not be more than 3 years. Also if you post that Robinson and Quine should be in the line up while Dube eats popcorn, you should expect a lot of trashes.

  • 89Flames

    I know most people love Chucky. Me included. But he isn’t worth 8 mill. 6 max, but even then I think he still needs to improve some areas of his game or his contract will kill us like his dad did to the Jets… The kid has grit and great hands. But he does not get points outside of 10 feet from the net. He’s weak on his legs and his skating ability is pitiful. After getting a giant contract don’t expect him to improve on any of the areas that are needed. And we’ll regret it. He’s a great kid but this NHL is fast, and when he’s that slow at 20/21 don’t expect him to get faster with age. He has a long way to go to be an elite NHL player. He better not get paid like one until he proves it

  • Loud_voices

    Honestly I think too many people underestimate Trelivings signing ability. Gaudreau was easily worth 8+ mill and Tre got him for under 7. Chucky has the physicality but that is all he has over Gaudreau. Gaudreau had way more hype come signing time too. Compare to the market all you want, Tre is going to be looking internally and being like “well you’re definitely not better than this guy, so we aren’t going to pay you that”. He might get slightly over 7 because of inflation/ cap increase buy I guarantee Tre will hold out on him all year if he has too. And I don’t think Chucky would be willing to jeopardize his career like that.

  • Loud_voices

    Neal and Stone are just bad fits, not bad contracts. Neal had never scored under 21 goals before coming here and Im still not ready to sell on Neal yet, I think he can turn it around. To put Neal’s contract into perspective, Brandon Dubinsky gets 5.88mill per and he’s only scored over 20 twice in his career. And I’m pretty sure the main reason for acquiring Stone was just incentive to try and coax his brother into coming here. The only problem is Calgary is ripe with defensive talent ready for NHL duty. And it’s not like stone is getting crazy money… He’s getting paid what a proven bottom of the line NHL defenceman gets paid.
    Rittich should be on a 2+
    Bennett should be on a 3+
    Chucky should be on a 6+
    Frolik or stone would need to leave for this to happen. I think the Flames are in prime position to compete for years to come because of the smart signing Tre has done. There’s always going to be signings that don’t work out but the good far out way the bad with Tre. Our highest paid players are at 6.75… one had 99 points and the other won the Norris trophy .. name one other team with 2 players with such achievements that get paid less?

    • Budgie

      Colorado-Nathan MacKinnon-6.3 Landeskog 5.6 Raatatatat 1.6 Mackinnon finished 8th in scoring
      Barkov on Florida 5.8 finished close to Gadreau in points. Success is finding a young player like Raatenen and have him play on your top line while still on a ELC-scouting and Drafting have never been more important as salaries are pushed higher under a Cap.