Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and the delicate art of asset management
Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike1 year ago
On June 25, 2011, the Calgary Flames used their fourth round pick on John Gaudreau, an undersized United States Hockey League winger with eye-popping offensive numbers. Eleven years later, the Flames will see that asset leave the organization as an unrestricted free agent with no assets being recouped.
It’s easy to be upset about the asset management of Gaudreau in particular, but his situation was a unique one – an exception that may inform future key moves involving Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames were allowed to sign Gaudreau to an extension anytime during the final year of his contract – any time starting July 28, 2021. Perhaps they should have signed him to an extension prior to the beginning of this past season. If they didn’t think they could’ve done it, perhaps they should have traded him – a stance slightly complicated by Gaudreau’s five team trade list in the final year of his deal, but a valid one nonetheless.
Gaudreau didn’t have a great 2020-21 season – heck, the whole team didn’t. His 2019-20 season wasn’t that much better, representing two rather underwhelming offensive seasons following a superb 2018-19 season. Even without Gaudreau’s five team trade list, a return on a swap at that point would’ve been underwhelming, too, given that the acquiring team would be arguing that they’re getting a diminished (or diminishing) asset.
Similarly, Gaudreau’s camp likely pointed to his 2018-19 potential and argued that’s what he was capable of when negotiating for an extension. While the Flames likely had the past two seasons in the back of their minds, sewing doubt. A deal didn’t come to fruition – for an extension or a trade – and Gaudreau went into the final year of his deal, 82 games away from unrestricted free agency, and went nuclear.
Maybe he was due for a bounce-back based on percentages. Maybe it was the changes Darryl Sutter made to the team’s tactics and systems. Maybe it was the steps forward taken by several of his teammates. Heck, maybe Gaudreau went into the season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after he and the Flames couldn’t work out an extension. Either way, it was a perfect storm of unique situations: a promising player fulfilling his promise in a major way, in a contract year, right when his family situation suddenly changed.
Tkachuk is a pending restricted free agent who is potentially one season away from being a UFA. He’s coming off a 105-point season. His promise is very much already fulfilled. There’s no question what the upper limit of his talent is, and he’s shown enough consistency (and progression) that Flames management probably has a good handle on where they think his career can go and what good contractual value could be for it.
Where there were doubts or nagging questions about Gaudreau’s capabilities, there are none about Tkachuk’s.
In other words: the ability to manage the asset exists with Tkachuk in a way it didn’t really exist with Gaudreau. Want to sign him long-term? There’s enough of a consistent sample size involving Tkachuk playing against good players – as an offense-driving guy or a shutdown guy – that you can reach a contractual consensus much more readily than with Gaudreau. Have any doubts about Tkachuk’s willingness to commit to Calgary long-term? Trade him. He has a year left before free agency and no restrictions on his potential movement as an asset.
The Flames will lose Gaudreau for nothing. Teams lose fourth-rounders for nothing all the time, but they’re not usually a first-line player or the NHL’s second-leading scorer when it happens. As we illustrated, there were some unique circumstances that clouded the situation and led to Gaudreau wanting to test the market. It’s unfortunate, but that’s life sometimes.
But the Flames absolutely cannot afford to lose a second member of their top line for nothing. Circumstances led to Gaudreau leaving for nothing. The Flames cannot allow that to happen with Tkachuk. They have to either lock him down for the long term, or move him along.
As former United States president George W. Bush once awkwardly proclaimed: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… you can’t get fooled again.”
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