Tkachuk bridge deal gives Flames three-year window

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The Calgary Flames likely breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when they signed Matthew Tkachuk to a three-year deal with a $7 million AAV.

Once you get past the inevitable envy of the Lightning signing Brayden Point for even less, this is a nice deal for Tkachuk and the Flames.

Granted, it does make things pretty snug for the Flames, as they may even need to go with 22 instead of 23 roster spots covered, unless GM Brad Treliving does some juggling:

Frankly, the most interesting questions come from the longer term than the short. To be specific, it looks like the Flames’ clearest window to compete for a Stanley Cup happens over the three seasons of Tkachuk’s bridge deal, from 2019-20 through 2021-22.

Three crucial contracts are set to expire after 2021-22.

  • Tkachuk, 21, will see that $7M “bridge” deal end.

It will be intriguing to see how that plays out. Following the lead of other key RFAs, Tkachuk’s deal is structured in a way that he could accept an expensive (possibly approximately $9M) qualifying offer to play out 2022-23 before he’d be eligible to become a UFA.

Naturally, that doesn’t guarantee it would happen that way, as the Flames can sign him to an extension as early as the summer of 2021. Tkachuk’s leverage is considerable thanks to this deal, however, and Calgary must brace for an expensive haul thanks to another huge name looming …

  • Johnny Gaudreau, 26, sees his bargain $6.75M expire after 2021-22 as well.

Gaudreau was a bargain at that rate when he signed, and has only cemented his status as a hyper-bargain as he continues his ascent among the most prolific playmakers in the sport. To put things mildly, Gaudreau will expect (and, frankly, deserve) a big raise starting in 2022-23.

  • Mark Giordano, 35, will see his Gaudreau-matching $6.75M cap hit end.

Giordano’s aged miraculously, winning his first Norris Trophy last season. We’ve seen some great defensemen enter their twilight years remaining at a high level, so there’s a decent chance that the Flames won’t regret Giordano’s remaining years.

That said, sometimes the aging curve hits hard and fast, and Giordano’s contract expiring could be a blessing by the end of 2021-22. Would it be enough to spread that $6.75M between Tkachuk and Gaudreau and call it a day? Maybe not, but the pieces might just fall together for that to absorb most of the damage.

Even more term

Naturally, there are questions beyond the big three, although Calgary’s done well to avoid many albatross deals.

Sean Monahan (24, $6.375M) only has one more year on his contract than the big three (ending after 2022-23), while Mikael Backlund (30, $5.35M), Elias Lindholm (24, $4.85M), and Noah Hanifin (22, $4.95M) see their deals expire after 2023-24.

They did exchange the James Neal albatross for Milan Lucic (31, $5.25M [after salary retention] through 2022-23) during this offseason, though.

It will be interesting to see if Treliving might have an escape route in mind with Lucic.

Via Cap Friendly, the 2019-20 season is the last year where his actual salary (in the latest case, $6M) exceeds his $5.25M cap hit. From 2020-21 and on, Lucic’s cost reads out as:

2020-21: $3M in bonuses, $1M in base salary
2021-22: $2.5M bonus, $2.5M base
2022-23: $3M bonus, $1M base

A budget-challenged team could look at Lucic’s cap hit/salary disparity as an asset, especially if Calgary coughed up some futures for some cap bribery. Such a deal could be especially sensible for a cheaper team after the Flames paid Lucic’s bonuses heading into 2020-21 or 2022-23. Lucic has clauses, so it wouldn’t be a guaranteed smooth process, but that Neal trade is more complex if you factor in the Flames possibly wiggling out of Lucic’s cap hit in the future.

Goalie, young player, and core questions

Other matters will need to be settled. They don’t have much certainty in net with Cam Talbot seeming to be a stopgap and David Rittich to be determined as a starter or even a platoon option, but the good news is that they’re not boxed into a bad and/or expensive option, either. Beyond Giordano and Hanifin, the Flames’ other most prominent defensemen are entering contract years.

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Ultimately, you can add Tkachuk’s bridge deal to a nice list of Flames’ discounts. Yet, like their best bargain with Gaudreau, it will only last so long. The Flames need to make it count.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.