The Calgary Flames 2021-22 season was a fairly surprising success.
They finished with the second best record in franchise history, came out of nowhere to win the Pacific Division, and had the league’s most dominant top-line duo in Johnny Gaudreu and Matthew Tkachuk. There were a lot of positives there, even if the playoffs ended in a bitterly disappointing second round loss to their long-time rivals from Edmonton.
Now? Everything is falling apart.
Gaudreau already left Calgary to sign a seven-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and now it seems that Tkachuk is about to follow him out the door. And that departure seems to be imminent.
Currently unsigned as a restricted free agent, speculation around Tkachuk’s potential exit started to really boil over when the team elected for salary arbitration this week. Long time Flames writer Eric Francis reported that could be the first step to a trade sooner rather than later.
[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
That hot stove ignited into a raging inferno on Wednesday when The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford and Hailey Salvian reported that Tkachuk has informed the Flames he will not sign a long-term contract with the team. Given that Tkachuk is one year away from unrestricted free agency, Calgary may have no choice but to trade him now. According to Wednesday’s report, Tkachuk has supplied the Flames with a list of teams he would be willing to sign a long-term contract with. And while he does not have any no-trade protection, that list could impact where Calgary sends him as a team not on that list is unlikely to pay a premium price for a player that will not stay long-term.
The Athletic reports St. Louis, Vegas, Florida, Nashville and Dallas are among the teams on Tkachuk’s list. There are obvious salary cap complications for almost all of those teams outside of Nashvillle, but as we have seen time and time again there are always ways for teams to get around that for a player they want. And every player on that list should be doing whatever it can to make room for Tkachuk.
He is in the prime of his career and the type of player that everybody associated with hockey loves. He is a top-line scorer coming off of a 104-point season, he defends well, he drives possession, and he plays with a nasty streak that makes him a pest to play against. He does everything on the ice.
This is a brutal situation for the Flames. For one, it is nearly impossible to win a trade like this or get anything close to equal value back in return. There are typically only two types of trades that get made involving star players: Either the one-for-one that involves a comparable player (think the Subban-for-Weber type of trade), or the usual top prospect, first-round pick, NHL roster player trio that we always see. Tkachuk is so good and so young that the Flames might be able to get an extra first-round pick out of that.
[Related: Blue Jackets sign Gaudreau in free agency stunner]
Beyond that, it would completely wipe out the driving force behind all of the Flames’ success this past season.
When the Gaudreau-Tkachuk duo was on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Flames held a better than 60 percent share of total shot attempts, expected goals, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, while also outscoring teams by a whopping 86-32 margin. It is nearly impossible for a line to do better than that. They completely dominated almost every game.
Without either of them on the ice, the possession and scoring chance numbers dropped down closer to 50 percent while the team was outscored by a 94-97 margin.
Losing Gaudreau was already a massive loss. Losing both him and Tkachuk in the same offseason would be difficult to rebound from.
The Flames are also still facing potential arbitration cases with two other restricted free agents, forward Andrew Mangiapane and defenseman Oliver Kylington.
(All dada via Natural Stat Trick)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.