38Matthew Tkachuk
Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

Matthew Tkachuk set for Flames’ biggest cap number in more ways than one

When Matthew Tkachuk signs his new contract, it has the chance to be the largest deal ever signed in Calgary. Even if he doesn’t sign for the max eight-year term, Tkachuk will almost certainly carry the highest average annual value on the team. But Tkachuk’s cap hit isn’t the only thing ready to set a new standard for the Flames; he’s also poised to reset the team’s bar in another important area.

The financials

Due to the rapid evolution of the salary cap year over year, comparing AAVs apples to apples has become difficult. As such, looking at a player’s percentage of the salary cap has become a useful tool when discussing contracts. This is where Tkachuk will very likely set a new standard, at least in recent years.

The last two significant RFA contracts signed by Calgary came in the summer of 2016 with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. At $6.375 and $6.75 million respectively, both Monahan and Gaudreau were hovering at around 9% of the then $73.0 million salary cap.

Player Date AAV CH%
Sean Monahan August 19, 2016 $6.375 8.73
Johnny Gaudreau October 10, 2016 $6.75 9.25

We can debate if Tkachuk should come in at a lower percentage of the cap than either Monahan or Gaudreau, but I’m not sure how much it matters. This season’s cap is set at $81.5 million, which would put Tkachuk at a $7.11 million AAV at Monahan’s percentage and $7.54 million at Gaudreau’s. I just can’t see Tkachuk coming in at under $8 million on a long-term deal, which means he’ll likely end up with the highest percentage on the team.

It’s interesting to look at cap percentages from prior big deals signed by the Flames, too. Jarome Iginla’s longest deal (5 years at $7 million per) counted 13.92% of the then $50.3 million cap, while Dion Phaneuf (6 years at $6.5 million) came in at 12.92%. It’s tough to compare those contracts to Tkachuk’s, though, mainly because they were signed more than a decade ago.

Performance

Regardless of what his deal ends up looking like, Matthew Tkachuk will become one of Calgary’s three highest paid forwards. Based on his performance and the current NHL economy, that’s probably the way it should be. Tkachuk’s first three years in the NHL have been impressive from a production standpoint, especially compared to what we saw from Monahan and Gaudreau leading up to their second contracts.

Player GP G A PTS P/G
Johnny Gaudreau 160 55 88 143 0.89
Sean Monahan 237 80 79 159 0.67
Matthew Tkachuk 224 71 103 174 0.77

The debate as to where Tkachuk belongs in the hierarchy among young Flames forwards is fascinating. Some believe he’s the most important of the bunch due to intangible things he brings. Others look at his skating and suggest he lags behind Gaudreau and Monahan in importance. Count me as one of the former; I put him and Gaudreau on pretty even footing at the top of the list, even though Monahan plays centre.

I think we can all agree Gaudreau is Calgary’s most important offensive piece. Tkachuk, on the other hand, is the team’s best all-around winger. Not only has his offensive game progressed significantly, but Tkachuk is also used in some of the most difficult head-to-head situations anywhere. His underlying metrics below speak to that.

Player GP CF% OZS% G60 P60
Johnny Gaudreau 160 48.2 55.4 0.83 2.02
Sean Monahan 237 46.0 51.3 0.95 1.69
Matthew Tkachuk 224 56.7 45.6 0.78 2.01

To date, Tkachuk’s production at five-on-five is almost on par with what we saw from Gaudreau in his first two seasons and superior to Monahan in his first three. Additionally, Tkachuk’s possession metrics are a polar opposite of Calgary’s dynamic duo, which needs to be factored into the conversation.

Projecting a deal

As I reported last week, the Flames and Tkachuk’s camp are barely talking, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As it stands right now, it doesn’t serve Tkachuk (or any of the other high profile unsigned RFAs) to be ahead of the curve. Everyone is waiting on everyone else, which means we’re waiting on the first guy to set the market.

The best we can do currently is look at the two players who have signed, even though neither circumstance is a perfect comparable.

Player AAV CH%
Auston Matthews $11.634 14.63
Sebastian Aho $8.454 10.37

Matthews inked his five-year deal with the Maple Leafs in early February and set the high bar, which isn’t likely to be exceeded (at least on the same term). Since entering the league, Matthews has scored goals at an unparalleled rate at both five-on-five (1.51 G/60) and overall (1.74). That’s higher than Ovechkin, Malkin, Laine, Tarasenko, and well, every other player. As such, comparing Tkachuk and the rest of this RFA class to Matthews isn’t always the easiest exercise, because Matthews is essentially in a league of his own.

Aho, on the other hand, doesn’t compare straight across due to the nature of his contract. Because Montreal negotiated his deal on an offer sheet as opposed to Carolina, Aho’s deal is somewhat of a red herring. In saying that, Habs’ general manager Marc Bergevin might have done his counterparts a favour by giving Aho such a team-friendly deal.

Of the remaining RFAs, I’m really not sure who’s going to sign first. I would not be surprised, however, if multiple players end up missing significant time in training camp. I would suggest one or two players missing regular season games is a solid possibility, too.

While there’s still plenty of unknown surrounding Tkachuk’s deal, there are a few things we can be sure of. Due to cap inflation, we’re almost certainly looking at the highest AAV on the team. Based on that same inflation and a changed business model, Tkachuk is also likely to fetch the highest percentage of Calgary’s cap we’ve seen in more than a decade.

  • Willi P

    MT is the third most important forward on this team and should be paid accordingly. The Monahan and Gaudreau deals ate up some UFA years. If MT gets a number over 7, it should be for 6-7 years. I think BT should bridge him for 3 years and see how he develops.

    Just because Dubas screwed the market (and himself on Marner) by folding his hand on Nylander AND panicked on the Matthews deal does not mean BT should do the same with Tkachuk.

      • Willi P

        Yes, screwed the RFA market by paying UFA money to an RFA on a 5 year deal (not getting any UFA years). At least PC got some UFA years out of McDavid who is a far superior player.

        Matthews isn’t even the top centre on his own team and is paid more than UFA Tavares. Total panic signing after he screwed up the Nylander negotiation.

        • HarveysFleaCollar

          I disagree. Not a panic move. Smart move. You bridge Matthew’s, he is asking for league max in 2 or 3 years. Matthews is the better 200 foot center in my opinion, and judging by the way Babcock played him, thinking the same.

          • Willi P

            As is your right to disagree. IMO, a smart move would have been to negotiate longer, no need to sign him last February. Then sign him to either a 4 year deal (still RFA after 4 years) or a 8 year deal, getting RFA discount years from either contract. Instead, Dubas will now have to pay his own RFA Marner over $10M and he drove up the salaries of all the other RFA’s

  • Kevin R

    Someone want to tell me why its so fnnn important to wait for the market to be set or if they are happy with the deal being offered they dont want to be first to sign????? 6 year deal at 7.5 per, load up some front end bonus & he’ll be 27 when its done & put an end to this stupidity. This should be called Housewife’s of the NHL there is so much drama being hyped up.

    • Oil Spilly

      For most of these players (Laine, Tkachuk, Point, Marner, Rantanen etc) it will be the biggest contract negotiation of there lives. 8 year deals puts most them almost into there 30’s. That’s when you are seeing a lot of players past there primes. It’s not like before where 28 was your prime. Hockey has become so so so fast.

      So Kevin it’s very understandable why it seems so “dramatic”. As I’m sure it would be for you, if it were your son signing the contract. I see why it’s more problematic for the flames organization due to Chuckys lack of speed.

    • Oil consuming Flames

      I agree that Treliving will be a tough negotiation partner. However, I don’t believe Tkachuk will miss any regular season games. He’s not wired to sit out while his team is playing games. if he doesn’t have a deal by training camp, I suspect that he will talk to agent and insist on finding middle ground and getting a deal done. He’s too competitive to sit idley by

      • mrroonie

        For an RFA who signs after the start of the season, the first year cap hit is prorated based on the number of days remaining in the season. Using a basic $8M per year contract and signing Oct. 24 (roughly 1/8 season based on calendar days from start to end of season), his first year cap hit would be in the $8.5M to $9.1M range depending on length of contract. The further into the season it gets, the more ugly the cap hit gets. For the remaining years it would be over $7.8M.

        Nylander’s cap hit last year was almost $10.3M on a $45M/6 year deal signed Dec. 1 which would have had a normal AAV of $7.5M if signed before the season. His remaining 5 years are $6.9M AAV.

        • cberg

          Yes, unfortunately it does, or something very similar. Nylander was paid for a full 82 game year but only played ~2/3 of the season (54 games played). His actual Cap last year was ~$10.28mm. His remaining contract Cap is ~$6.96mm per year. He signed and was paid $17.3mm for 2019 ($9mm-salary, $8.3mm-signing bonus) but the total contract average was $7.5mm per year. Every game one of these RFAs sit out their Cap goes up that year unless they are only paid for the games they actually play, proportionally. If Tkachuk signs a similar $7.5mm per year deal, but sits out till Dec, and gets paid full amount for the partial year, his 2019-20 Cap WILL BE ~$10.28mm. I’m not sure if the calculation is based on Calendar days or games played but it’ll work out to pretty much the same. For any team up against the Cap there will be huge pressure to get the deal done before the season starts because it only gets worse the longer the player sits.

          To me, it is a team game. If Tkachuk refuses to sign, let him sit.

  • calgaryfan

    Tkachuks point totals being better than Monahan and Gaudreau’s early years is probably due to the team being better now, the Flames were not a good team. The Flames spent a lot of time in their own zone blocking shots under Bob Hartley. There is no denying Tkachuks hockey IQ and ability to score. I could see him and other RFA’s missing some games this season.

  • buts

    His point totals are very close to JG and SM with fewer offensive zone starts while lining up against other teams top lines. Imagine what his point totals would be if he played with better players than Backlund and Frolik! He will get north of 8 I’m sure and BT presently has no room. Question….if MT misses 20% of the season is his cap hit 20% less?

  • Off the wall

    Good analysis Pat.
    We better get Byng signed soon and hopefully for at least 5 years. If he gets a bridge deal, Tkachuk is going to get outrageous $ on his next contract.

    What if Peters’ decides to move Byng up to the 1st line with Monahan and Gaudreau, instead of being with …I miss the net Backlund? His points total will skyrocket and then we’ll realize how good he is.

    Yup, better get him signed longer term, or we’ll be lamenting his next contract FOR SURE!

    Here’s a Byng hug for you naysayers! 🤗

  • Off the wall

    Reasons why Tkachuk ( Byng) is gonna get paid;

    1. No one chews a mouth guard like Byng. Bar none..

    2. His hockey IQ is to good to be wasting away with 2nd line duties

    3. He plays with Backlund and still registers massive points

    4. He’s wearing an A for a reason

    5. His agitating style results in penalties drawn

    6. He’s the best tipper on the entire team and practices it religiously

    7. His shot is accurate and he seldom misses an opportunity to score , unlike Backlund and Frolik

    8. Remember his shootouts? Yeah, he’s that good!

    9.Only 21, and he’s already on pace to summit Monahan ( sorry Thunder)

    10. His trajectory is going up each season. Stop the poor skating (ramble) and watch him.
    He’s our Byng!

    • CowboyBob

      These are all good points. However, I simply can’t leave the skating issue. it’s a fundamental skill for any hockey player and a necessity to be considered elite. He is a bad skater, and while this might not impact point production, it makes him much more ineffective in other areas of the game, such as play without the puck, defence zone play, backcheck and forecheck. He is good, but not elite. $6.5, 5 years. BT I want a cup, don’t wreck this team by overpaying MT.

        • Bobby Bitman

          Agree with both Bob and Jack. He’s good, like really good. But I would like to see improved quickness and skating and more from MT when it really counts, like in the playoffs, before Tre pays over 7.