dsThe Johnny Gaudreau gamble didn’t work out for the Calgary Flames.
They can’t afford to double down with Matthew Tkachuk.
Before the Gaudreau drama unfolded in a way no one could have anticipated, Tkachuk’s was also top billing. Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving talked openly about his top priorities.
A new deal for Gaudreau was more urgent with the ticking clock, which by Tuesday night’s announcement must have sounded to Treliving like the dreaded chime preceding the appearance of villain Vecna in the fourth season of Stranger Things.
As soon as the 115-point player broke the bad news he wouldn’t be returning to Calgary, Treliving needed to pivot.
Not to the unrestricted free agent market to find a replacement for Gaudreau, but to the restricted free agent whose next move may ultimately determine the entire direction of the Calgary Flames franchise.
Sounds a bit dramatic, right?
Important experience gained by younger Flames
But losing two 100-point players a year apart could put the organization years behind in its trajectory. Internally believing it is a team on the cusp of a Cup run, the Flames have a tremendous core of young defencemen and a few forwards who finally earned that important multi-round playoff experience this season.
It didn’t go as planned, but to continue the forward progression, Tkachuk has to be part of the solution. Not part of the problem.
And an eerily similar situation looms if the Flames and Tkachuk’s negotiating camp can’t come to some sort of longer-term consensus before the next season begins.
Talks are taking place but so far there’s little being said about the deliberations. Top of mind is whether Tkachuk really wants to be here beyond this season.
Like Gaudreau, he emphatically said at the end of the season that he wanted to be a member of the Calgary Flames. For many years to come.
Gaudreau likely meant what he said at the time. The opportunity to make a change and pick his next destination proved to be more important once the countdown of the clock ticked toward its end.
If there is any doubt about Tkachuk’s desire to stick around and be a cornerstone player for the Calgary Flames, they have to get to the bottom of those feelings much more quickly.
Tkachuk is sitting on an as-of-yet unsigned qualifying offer worth $9 million for the coming season. He could sign it and play out the year in Calgary, then choose to move on as his left-flanker decided to do this week. At the age of 25, Tkachuk would arguably just as valuable if not more costly than the man whose glove he kissed before every game last year (yes, that’s Gaudreau).
Now is the time to make sure we don’t find out.
Lesson learned — no time like the present for a signing
Treliving likely learned from being on the wrong end of the risk. He gambled by respecting Gaudreau’s request for a pause on negotiations during the season. Waiting until players have dispersed for the offseason can dull the intensity of their affection for the team that drafted them.
Gaudreau’s surprise signing in Columbus stung. But maybe it’s the kind of impact that ensures the same mistakes won’t be made with Tkachuk. Perhaps there will be a new approach to negotiations.
Make your best offer early. If there’s no traction by the fall, be ready to put Plan B into action. (That might be Plan C since Gaudreau was Plan A, but I think you get the point).
Don’t let any temptation to see if Tkachuk will make less of an offensive impact without the star winger by his side. He scored 40 goals and 100 points for the first time last season with Gaudreau on his wing.
Pay him what the market today would dictate he get from others. Make him feel valued and important to the future of the franchise. Promise him the captaincy when he’s earned it — but let him know there’s a clock ticking before other options are explored.
Losing Gaudreau for nothing is painful. But with the team feeling confident in its coach, core, goalie and its chances in the 2022 NHL Playoffs, there was never a good time to trade a top player.
That baton has been passed to Tkachuk – even if the transition was fumbled a bit.
And what they do with that will determine whether the team is a contender for the Cup or Connor Bedard.