As Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said Saturday, his city has taken some “gut shots” recently. He won’t admit this next part, but some of them came from his now former players.
There’s an internet video from the playoffs of wingers Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau smiling while riding away in a golf cart down the Saddledome halls.
Gaudreau’s hand gesture eventually turns into a playful middle finger. Tkachuk gives a last-minute wave.
The smartphone clip is basically a snapshot of what happened with the two this offseason.
Both of the Calgary Flames’ 100-point players from last season are gone. And after watching all the interviews about their decisions, reading all the goodbye quotes, it’s easy to interpret some of the parting words as parting shots.
“The thing I was most attracted to is the competitiveness and how close they’ve been and how good of a team they are and how great they will be in the future,” Tkachuk gushed about his new Florida Panthers team in an interview with Sportsnet’s Eric Francis. “It’s something I really feel I can help with.
“The chance to win was the most attractive,” he continued. “The sun, the beach and all that stuff – don’t get me wrong, that’s really, unbelievably attractive, but the chance to win trumps it all.”
The chance to win was the most attractive. Let that digest for a minute.
Tkachuk chose to leave the Pacific Division champs, reigning Jack Adams Trophy coach Darryl Sutter, a second-round playoff appearance for the more attractive chance to win with the Panthers.
Fair enough. Handicapping what has become a very competitive league, full of parity, gets more difficult every season.
But to say that his assessment of Florida offering a better chance to win had nothing to do with the departure of Gaudreau a week earlier – the fourth-place Hart Trophy nominee with the league’s second most points? Impossible.
Gaudreau’s move to the Columbus Blue Jackets immediately impacted the Calgary Flames’ potential to win this season.
“It did not have anything to do with it,” Tkachuk said when asked about Gaudreau’s own choice. “This is my career. I signed my last contract for the sole reason of (options). I could have taken a longer deal and more money. But I wanted to re-evaluate after a three-year bridge deal and that’s what I did.”
Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving was asked the same thing earlier in the day. His answer was the same – Gaudreau’s decision to leave was in no way connected to Tkachuk’s.
And all parties surely believe their words.
To be clear, this is not all to suggest either player was lying about their intentions or doing anything they didn’t have a right to do.
It’s more of a lying by omission sort of thing – even if only to themselves.
Having earned the right to make the departure decisions they ultimately did as free agents, both Gaudreau and Tkachuk would no doubt have passed lie detectors during their end-of-season availabilities. Each raved about the possibility of signing a long-term deal to stay with the Flames.
But they knew there was an equally good chance they could leave.
Gaudreau’s loss with no compensation triggered the Flames masses. Undeniably skilled with the puck, Gaudreau’s public speaking is less dazzling. Fumbling his messaging as he made his first appearances with the Blue Jackets only made things worse in Calgary.
It wasn’t until he penned a column in The Players’ Tribune that Calgarians understood both the difficulty and magnitude of his choice to move closer – but not too close – to home.
A week later, the ‘how’ of Tkachuk’s possible departure included the potential for offer sheets after becoming an RFA on July 13. He was then able to talk to other teams about a possible future.
“I put myself in a position with the last deal I signed to kind of re-evaluate my life and my career at this stage,” Tkachuk said of the three-year bridge deal he signed after his rookie contract. “And I kind of came to the conclusion after the RFA period it was time to look elsewhere.”
Although he put himself into a position where he had options, Tkachuk – like Gaudreau – didn’t know which way he’d go until he started really considering where.
“There’s a lot that went into it. There’s no single reason why I left. At the end of the day, I wanted to re-evaluate where I’m at,” said Tkachuk of his decision. “After talking to a few teams I did that, and kind of came down to that conclusion.
“I didn’t know what my decision was going to be until that talking period. It all changed then.”
And so has the course of the Calgary Flames season.
In part thanks to Tkachuk’s forthcoming decision-making process and honesty, Treliving did an incredible job on the return. He effectively replaced Gaudreau with another 100-point NHL star in Jonathan Huberdeau.
If they can’t at least partially fill the gaping hole left by Tkachuk’s loss, though, he might be right about Florida having a better chance to win it all.