A week ago, Johnny Gaudreau was still property of the Calgary Flames. Now, for various reasons, the Flames have lost their top scorer to Columbus. (Yes, Columbus.)
And here we are, reacting to the aftermath and aftershocks of that development in the mailbag.
Columbus will probably need to shed about five million in cap space before the end of the season after adding Johnny Gaudreau (and this includes needing to re-up with restricted free agent Patrik Laine). They’re going to to be bailing out the Flames from any challenging contracts or salary cap issues. Heck, they would be more likely to ask the Flames to help bail them out of a salary cap jam.
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We got a lot of Matthew Tkachuk questions in the mailbag this week, so we’re using this as the catch-all for Tkachuk stuff (apologies if we didn’t use your version of the Tkachuk question).
So here’s the deal with Tkachuk: he’s a year away from unrestricted free agency (he’ll have seven years of “accrued service” after the 2022-23 season). His qualifying offer is a one-year deal worth $9 million that walks him to free agency. He’s also able to sign an offer sheet. The next week will be the key one here, as he has until Friday at 3 p.m. MT to accept his qualifying offer. If he doesn’t sign his qualifying offer, then it seems like this negotiation may drag out a bit.
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The Flames just lost Johnny Gaudreau and got nothing in return. They don’t want to do that again. And Tkachuk’s camp knows this, and knows they hold all the cards in this negotiation.
It seems unlikely that any team will sign Tkachuk to an offer sheet because (a) the Flames probably match it or (b) for them not to match it, the deal will need to be preposterously big (and the team acquiring Tkachuk by this means will give up a bunch of draft picks and have to pay him. If you’re a team who thinks you want Tkachuk, you can either wait a year and get him for nothing or make a push right now and try to get him while the Flames are seemingly desperate to get something for him rather than lose him for nothing. The incentives for the offer sheet simply aren’t there on the team side.
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As I wrote last week: from an asset management perspective it’s either Tkachuk signs a long-term deal with the Flames this summer, or he needs to be traded somewhere else so they don’t have this saga lingering over the entire 2022-23 season.
Patrick Kane has a full no-move clause in his contract and I don’t think he’d waive it to go to Canada. He also carries a $10.5 million cap hit, and I don’t think the Flames would be too jazzed about eating it – or the moves they’d have to make to be cap compliant. The Flames also probably don’t have (a) enough dazzling assets to send Chicago to make them consider this move or (b) a willingness to move the dazzling assets they do have. Moving out a first-rounder, Matt Coronato, Jakob Pelletier and possibly more for one year of Kane doesn’t make a ton of sense right now.
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I’m not going to advocate for anybody to lose their job most of the time, and that includes this situation.
Assuming that everybody was forthright with each other, the worst thing you can say is Brad Treliving really should’ve gotten Johnny Gaudreau signed a year ago. But that carries the benefit of hindsight, and of course he should’ve signed the guy who got 115 points. Duh. But Gaudreau was coming off two fairly blah seasons offensively – he was good, mind you, but not $9.75 million good – and I can understand Calgary’s hesitance at giving him oodles of money at that point. (I still think they should’ve done it, but I get why they weren’t gung ho about it.) And once the season ended, Gaudreau’s family situation undoubtedly steered things in the direction they ended up going – if I was having my first kid, I wouldn’t all of my family being separated by a few long plane rides and an international border.
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But Treliving’s entering the final year of his deal, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that ownership will look at how he navigates the rest of the summer – the Tkachuk situation and trying to load up the team for success in 2022-23 – before deciding if they’re going to offer him another contract extension, or if they’re going to go in another direction.
If things do break the Flames’ way, in a year’s time they’ll have Milan Lucic and Sean Monahan coming off the books and freeing up $11.625 million in cap space. Their first order of business will probably be seeing if they can upgrade their defensive group and give that a bit more offensive oomph. Don’t get me wrong: the existing group they have in their top four has balance and they work really well. But they’re one high-end, pricey defender away from having a really, really great defensive group rather than a merely good one.
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(And the following year they’ll need to work on new deals for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, so they might want to leave some wiggle room to get that work done, too.)
Winning is hard. There are 32 NHL clubs and 31 of them lost this year. If you’re an NHL owner, your main concern is making sure your nifty side project – your NHL team – doesn’t become a money pit, so financial sustainability and viability is key. Making the playoffs is great for that, because revenues go way up for each playoff round and you don’t play your players regular salaries for the playoffs.
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Sure, winning a championship would be awesome for revenues, but the challenge is this: you can win a championship after you rebuild, but it’s not a guarantee. And NHL owners might see the perpetual rebuild in places like Arizona and Buffalo and think “Nope, not for me,” because a lot of owners likely don’t have the stomach for even one or two down years in terms of revenues. Factor in the pandemic and how NHL owners – especially in Canada – faced reduced revenues in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 to various extents, and it makes their appetites even smaller to rebuild.
Winning a championship is great and owners (and their entire organizations) definitely want to do it. But they also want to ensure that they can keep their teams running and provide livelihoods to their employees, and if they have to choose definitely keeping the lights on by chugging along in the NHL’s mushy middle or fully rebuilding and maybe winning a championship, you can sort of see why so many teams decide to trudge along rather than tear it down.
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