What’s transpiring with the Calgary Flames is almost hard to believe.
They’re the defending Pacific Division champion. Head coach Darryl Sutter earned the Jack Adams. They had finalists for both the Selke and Vezina trophies, and a fourth-place finisher in the Hart Trophy voting last season. A trip to the second round of the NHL playoffs for just the second time since 2004. Two points shy of boasting a pair of 50-point defencemen. Three 40-goal forwards – all on the same line – and two of them 100-point players for the first time.
Seems like a place that would be attracting top talent, not losing it.
Yet here we are, a little more than a week into free agency, and the Calgary Flames are at serious risk of losing two-thirds of that top trio that carried the team into new territory in 2021-22.
Their top point producer Johnny Gaudreau made a shocking departure on opening day as an unrestricted free agent. Flames GM Brad Treliving believed to the bitter end that deal would get done, but lost the Gaudreau gamble.
Unwilling to take the same risk with Matthew Tkachuk, Treliving changed the game with his decision to take the player to arbitration. That eliminated the risk of offer sheets, and gave the two sides a hard deadline to come up with a long-term deal before the arbitration process determines a one-year contract that must be at least the $9 million that was on Tkachuk’s qualifying offer as a restricted free agent.
We know that prior to the Gaudreau decision, Tkachuk had expressed a desire to stick around. His partnership was even part of the pitch to Gaudreau.
But that sudden and massive change to the Calgary Flames roster may have altered Tkachuk’s line of thinking. If he clearly indicates a lack of interest in re-signing a long-term deal with the Calgary Flames, the team has no choice but to trade him and get the most they can.
“He was happy for me,” Gaudreau said of Tkachuk on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast this week. “He shot me a text and he’s like, ‘I heard so many good things about that city.’ He’s obviously from St. Louis but he’s like, ‘It kind of gives me a St. Louis kind of vibe.’
“He was super happy for me, just said, ‘Wish we were still playing together but all the best.’”
The Flames can’t make up for losing Gaudreau for nothing, but they can ensure they don’t get burned again.
With Murray Edwards intent on avoiding a scorched-earth approach, don’t expect the team to load up with picks and prospects if Tkachuk decides to follow Gaudreau out of Cowtown. There’s no appetite to go Bust for Bedard. Over the next few weeks, the Flames will be listening to other teams’ best offers while determining whether Tkachuk is willing to sign for a term and dollar amount that’s satisfactory.
That’s the million-dollar question.
Where is Tkachuk’s head at?
Just like Johnny, people are speculating that Tkachuk wants to live and play in St. Louis, where he grew up. Gaudreau didn’t get back to Philly, and Tkachuk has no control over where he ends up if it’s not Calgary.
But it’s also still possible Tkachuk wants to remain with the Flames longer-term. Maybe not for the maximum eight years, but his brother Brady signed for seven with the Ottawa Senators at 22, and Matthew could sign another four or five years and set himself up for a second big payday as an unrestricted free agent before he turns 30. Maybe even a shot at playing with his little brother.
How likely is that considering all that has transpired since the season ended? Only Tkachuk and his camp know for sure.
But at least the hockey world will find out sooner than later this time.