If you were nervous about the Calgary Flames’ ability to sign Matthew Tkachuk to a long-term deal after losing Johnny Gaudreau to free agency, Monday’s news that they were filing for club-elected salary arbitration probably didn’t too much to ease your anxiety.
Let’s walk through the different scenarios for how this situation could play out.

Tkachuk gets a one-year deal

Without arbitration, Tkachuk had the ability to simply accept his one-year, $9 million qualifying offer on before 3 p.m. MT on Friday and get a deal that could walk him to free agency. If you’re the paranoid type who thinks Tkachuk wants out of town pronto, accepting his qualifying offer was perhaps the most expedient way.
Salary arbitration may be the second-most expedient way, though. Rather than having a Friday deadline, the salary arbitration award would be a day or so after the arbitration hearing. Based on CBA rules, the award would be at least $9 million for one year, perhaps higher, because the Flames’ arbitration request must be $9 million.
So if Tkachuk is hellbent on getting a one-year deal and getting out of Dodge, all club-elected salary arbitration would do is delay him getting his deal by a few weeks.
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Tkachuk gets a long-term deal (somewhere else)

Without arbitration, Tkachuk was able to sign an offer sheet. If he signed an offer sheet, the Flames would get to choose whether to match it (and keep Tkachuk) or not match it (and get draft picks). If you eyeball Tkachuk’s market value at around $10.5 million for seven years – roughly what the Flames were said to have offered Johnny Gaudreau – then Tkachuk would fetch four first-round picks. (Offer sheet compensation levels are based on total compensation divided by five if the deal involved is five years or longer.)
If the Flames went “We’ll take the picks, thanks,” then Tkachuk would have a long-term deal somewhere else. That’s off the table now.

Tkachuk gets a long-term deal (in Calgary)

But equally off the table is somebody else doing the negotiating for the Flames and then the Flames matching that offer sheet.
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The only avenue for the Flames to hash out a long-term deal with Tkachuk right now is actually hashing one out. If you’re the optimistic sort, you’re thinking “Cool, that sounds fine.” But allow me to crash through your wall of optimism like a pessimistic Kool-Aid Man: if negotiations were going well, the Flames wouldn’t have felt the need to make a move designed to block Tkachuk from accepting his qualifying offer. I would suggest that the Flames filing for salary arbitration is, in fact, a sign that things aren’t going terribly well. This is my speculation, but for a team to utilize a mechanism that teams to seldom use in this situation is quite significant and probably not a good sign.

Tkachuk withholds his services until he gets a deal he likes

Back in 2019, Tkachuk didn’t sign until Sept. 25 – the notion being that his camp sat out of training camp, unsigned, until he got a deal that he liked. That’s not an option now, so at the very least this business won’t be lingering around for months. It’ll be dealt with by early August.
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Where does this all end up?

If certainly feels, at this juncture, that the simplest move for the Tkachuk camp could be waiting for an arbitration award. But if that happens, the most prudent move for the Flames may just be a trade – either before the season or early in the season. I would imagine the Flames are hoping not to lose Tkachuk in free agency next summer for nothing, and I would also imagine if that’s where things are headed, both sides would prefer not to have that saga linger for an entire season like Gaudreau’s did.
If there’s any middle ground to be found on a long-term deal, it’ll be found within the next two weeks. If not, it’s hard to imagine that Tkachuk will be a Flame for very much longer.

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