It’s the end of July. The draft is complete. Unrestricted free agency is but a memory. Salary arbitration has been dealt with. But Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving still has the biggest pieces of his summer to-do list yet to deal with.
A new contract for Matthew Tkachuk
Since the draft, Treliving has come to terms with nine players – five re-signings and four UFAs – on new deals. Let’s not diminish the work that’s been done; Sam Bennett’s deal is some tidy work for a player that could be in the top six for the next couple seasons, while Treliving has also locked up a pair of goaltenders for $5.5 million combined.
But the professed top priority since the end of the regular season has been a new contract for restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk. He hasn’t signed yet. But to be fair, aside from a pact forced by Montreal’s offer sheet to Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, none of the major RFAs have re-signed with their clubs.
At this point, it seems fairly obvious that no team or player wants to the be first to blink and set the market. Deals for Mitch Marner, Brayden Point and Mikko Rantanen will likely set the absolute ceiling for a Tkachuk deal, while Brock Boeser and Kyle Connor set the floor. (Similarly, Tkachuk’s deal would have an impact on everyone else’s deals.) It’s a massive, interconnected game of contractual chicken and it’s hard to say which GM or player will be the first to blink.
But from a team construction standpoint, it sure would be nice if the Flames had a bit of cost certainty heading into the buyout window.
The second buyout window
If you’re Treliving, the good news is you just saved your bosses $9 million of real cash by way of the James Neal for Milan Lucic swap. The bad news is your bosses are about to write a cheque for $275 million for a new arena, and there’s a really good chance that you’re about to ask them to eat some more money. By virtue of having players file for arbitration, the Flames get access to a second buyout window that runs from Tuesday at 3 p.m. MT through Thursday at 3 p.m. MT.
We’ve gone into this a lot this summer: the Flames could contend for a Stanley Cup this season. To do that, they need to open up some cap space so they can (a) deal with injuries in-season and (b) potentially add some bodies at the trade deadline. Buying out Michael Stone – their probable seventh defenseman with a $3.5 million cap hit – seems like a prudent move. While it would be nice to know Tkachuk’s cap hit before going through the buyout process, Stone’s cap hit is too high for a designated healthy scratch and the Flames would need the space no matter what – even if Tkachuk improbably signs a tiny, tiny deal.
Open up some cap space to optimize the roster
In an ideal world, Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki should be on the Flames roster this coming season based on how well they played when they were healthy and their performances in the AHL. (A case can be made for Oliver Kylington, too.)
Ignoring the salary cap, what’s the best Flames roster that can be constructed with the current pieces?
Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Backlund – Bennett
Mangiapane – Ryan – Frolik
Lucic – Jankowski – Cznarik
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Valimaki – Andersson
Buyouts: Brouwer, Stone
Assuming Tkachuk signs for $7 million and Andrew Mangiapane for $900,000, this roster has a cap hit of about $80.8 million, which would allow just $666,000 for injuries, additions or general tweaking. It also includes no Dube, but it’s unclear where he would fit in (and who he would bump out).
Can the Flames improve on their barely compliant roster by shipping out somebody like Michael Frolik? More importantly, can they do it without losing their cap flexibility going forward? If the deal was a slam-dunk, it would probably have happened by now, so moving out his $4.5 million cap hit might be difficult.
All due respect, he’s taken this long because they have higher priorities – like signing their starting goaltender and Tkachuk. Mangiapane doesn’t have a ton of leverage, but he was a very useful player for them down the stretch. A one year, one-way show me deal at somewhere around $900,000 sounds like it would be a fit for both sides.
As painful as it sounds, folks: Treliving’s dealt with the easy stuff. The challenging part of the off-season – signing Tkachuk and trying to fit everybody under the cap – is still to come.