Mikael Backlund

Getty Images

Tkachuk bridge deal gives Flames three-year window

1 Comment

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.

***

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.

Rantanen leads Avalanche in OT comeback win against Flames

Associated Press
7 Comments

For most of Game 4, it looked like Flames goaltender Mike Smith would be the hero, but just as they did in Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche bombarded him and eventually it worked. Mikko Rantanen played an instrumental role, scoring the game-tying goal late in the third and then the overtime winner in Colorado’s 3-2 victory.

The Calgary Flames were tied for second in the league in goals scored during the regular season, but so far Smith has been their most important player. The 37-year-old goaltender earned Calgary’s only win of the series by posting a 26-save shutout. The Avalanche have made life too difficult for him lately though.

Just one game after the Avalanche managed to blowout Calgary by launching an overwhelming 56 shots at Smith, they sent another 52 shots his way Wednesday night. Smith held firm though for most of the game. His efforts combined with goals from Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan gave the Flames a 2-0 lead by 6:58 of the third period. That’s despite the Avalanche firing 17 shots in the first period and 15 in the second.

Eventually though, their persistence paid off. Barely a minute after Ryan’s goal, Smith made a great save on Matt Calvert, but J.T. Compher picked up the rebound to finally get Colorado on the board. It was a start, but that might have been as close as Colorado got if not for some late penalty troubles by Calgary. Mikael Backlund took a tripping penalty at 16:39 and Noah Hanifin was penalized for a puck over the glass at 17:23.

The Backlund penalty was the one the Avalanche capitalized on, courtesy of Rantanen shoveling a Nathan MacKinnon centering pass into the net. That pushed the game into an overtime period that lasted 10:23 minutes before Rantanen scored again to complete the comeback.

With that, the Colorado Avalanche have a 3-1 series lead despite dropping their playoff opener. At this point, the Flames would have to make franchise history to advance as they’re 0-8 when trailing a series 3-1.

In a Round 1 that’s already featured some major surprises, the Avalanche seem on course to deliver yet another. Of course, hope isn’t lost for the Flames yet, but if they are to bounce back, they’ll need to rely on Smith less. He’s already had to face 173 shots in this series, which is 28 more than any other goaltender.

Avalanche-Flames Game 5 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Friday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Mike Smith unlikely hero as Flames shutout Avalanche in Game 1

Getty Images

Mike Smith certainly didn’t start this season on a positive note and while he did improve as the campaign went on, goaltending was still a big question mark for Calgary going into the series. Few would have predicted that Smith would end up being the standout in this battle between two high-powered offenses, but that was the case in the Flames’ 4-0 victory over the Avalanche.

Philipp Grubauer, who also had a poor start to the season before bouncing back, did hold up for most of the game. He couldn’t save the Avalanche Thursday night, but he kept them in this one despite the lopsided final score. It wasn’t until late in the second period that the Flames first solved him.

Continuing with the theme of Game 1 defying expectations, rather than one of the Flames’ many offensive stars netting the goal, it was Andrew Mangiapane, who has just eight career goals and was making his postseason debut. For a moment, he looked like an elite forward, weaving through the Avalanche and outmaneuvering Grubauer before finishing him with a backhand.

Late in the second period, Matthew Tkachuk capitalized on a power-play opportunity to score his first career playoff goal. That 2-0 edge would hold for most of what remained until the floodgates opened late. Mikael Backlund added another power-play goal at 17:01 of the third period then just 14 seconds later, Tkachuk scored again to make it 4-0.

Colorado was the clear underdog going into this series, so from that perspective this outcome wasn’t surprising even if how we got to it did deviate from the script. At the same time, the Avalanche couldn’t be discounted and still shouldn’t be. Any team headlined by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen has the potential to be very dangerous and the Flames know full well that their work is far from done.

Avalanche-Flames Game 2 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Will streaky Calgary stay hot or flame out in playoffs?

2 Comments

The Calgary Flames know they’re in the playoffs. Now comes the hard part.

Despite being idle on Sunday, the Flames became the first Western Conference team to clinch a postseason berth due to the New York Islanders’ win over the Minnesota Wild. But the Flames know better than most teams that nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, Calgary has won just one postseason series. A Canadian team has not won the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. The Flames won their only championship 30 years ago. Will this finally be the year that the C of Red celebrates into the summer?

Even the Flames would have to admit they’ve been inconsistent over the last month. After winning seven straight games from February 16 to 27, Calgary dropped their next four in regulation, followed by another three-game winning streak with a jaw dropping 20 total goals during that three-game stretch. Obviously, no team can afford a prolonged lull in the playoffs.

Calgary’s chances to make a run deep into spring begin between the pipes, as both David Rittich and Mike Smith have been up and down this year. While Rittich is enjoying a career season (his third in the NHL) with 25 wins, he owns just a .910 save percentage, which ranks tied for 24th in the NHL among qualified goaltenders (21 or more games played). The veteran Smith has just an .896 save percentage on the year and has dropped three consecutive starts in March. While he once brought the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012, Smith has not been back to the postseason since. The Flames boast the fourth best offense in the NHL this season (3.56 goals per game), but when scoring inevitably dries up in the playoffs, a reliable netminder is vital in the march toward the Cup.

Calgary’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm is one of the best trios in the league. Gaudreau is a Hart Trophy candidate this season with a career-best 91 points, Monahan has already secured his third career 30-goal season and Lindholm has been a rousing success story in Calgary, blowing past any of his previous five seasons with Carolina. It’s also easy to forget just how good Monahan was the last time the Flames were in the playoffs. Though Calgary was quickly swept in four games by the Anaheim Ducks in 2017, Monahan scored a power play goal in all four games. He is one of eight players in League history to tally a power play goal in four consecutive postseason games.

Aside from the top line, Calgary does have depth with the likes of Matthew Tkachuk (73 points), Norris Trophy-hopeful Mark Giordano (67 points) and Mikael Backlund (44 points). They could also get a boost if James Neal returns to form. Neal is getting closer to returning from a lower body injury that has kept him out over a month. The 31-year-old signed a 5-year, $28.75 million deal this off-season, but has been a disappointment with just 15 points in 55 games. Still, Neal has shown the ability to be a big-time player throughout his career and has loads of experience, having played in the postseason each of the last eight years.

Several other statistics from this season bode well for the Flames entering the playoffs. They have a whopping plus-49 goal differential in the third period and lead the NHL with 105 goals in the third period. They are also 21-14-2 on the road and need just two road wins to set a single-season franchise record.

Despite their success away from Alberta, clinching home ice advantage would be huge for Calgary’s chances. There is little doubt that the Scotiabank Saddledome will be rocking come playoff time, but even more importantly, winning the Pacific Division would ensure that the Flames avoid playing the reigning Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights in the First Round. Giordano, however, took the diplomatic approach, saying the opponent won’t matter.

“Well…the team that gets in as the wildcard is going to be playing really well and playing really hard,” Giordano told the Calgary Sun. “I’ve never been a fan of trying to pick and choose who you want to playoffs because the league’s so tight. The team that’s usually in the wildcard is feeling good and playing well. And if you want to go all the way, you’re going to have to go through a lot of great teams.”

To this point, Calgary has proven to be great in the regular season. But they’ll need to find more consistency to end their – and Canada’s – Stanley Cup drought.

The Buzzer: Matthew Tkachuk gets first hat trick before Keith did

Getty Images
1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew generated his first NHL hat trick at age 21 … and 89 days. His father, Keith Tkachuk, generated his first hat trick at age 21, but at 209 days. Getting to that mark sooner than Keith? That’s impressive stuff.

Tkachuk’s third goal was an empty-netter, but he also had an assist in Calgary’s 6-3 win against Vegas, so that’s an impressive four-point night overall. He now has 29 goals and 67 points in 69 games this season, lining himself up for a substantial second contract.

The Flames were so potent offensively, they deserve at least two of the top three spots. At least since no one else really produced on the same scale on Sunday.

As a bonus, there’s this remarkable photo from Getty Images, with also includes Brady Tkachuk, who’s basically unmistakable:

via Getty Images

2. Michael Frolik

As is often the case with the three stars, your preference likely comes down to what you weigh the heaviest. It seems too boring to just reward the entire “3M Line” with all three stars, really, so we’re going to need to make a distinction here.

Again, Mikael Backlund has a strong case. He scored two goals and one assist, with his helper being a primary assist. All of those points came before Tkachuk’s empty-netter.

One of Frolik’s four assists were on that empty-netter, but … four assists, everyone. That’s quite impressive.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Frolik, as this four-point outburst ended what was a six-game pointless streak. Frolik has been a healthy scratch this season, and has generally struggled to convince Bill Peters that he should maintain the 3M-edness of “The 3M Line.” Nights like Sunday argue that, maybe, Peters should take the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) approach here.

3. Pheonix Copley

No goalie generated a shutout on Sunday, but there were some nice performances nonetheless.

Both Jaroslav Halak and Matt Murray provided strong performances in an exciting Penguins win against the Bruins, with Murray stopping 39 out of 41 shots. It’s tempting to give Murray something of a “weekend achievement” award after he made some astounding stops on Saturday, too.

Yet, Copley gets the slight nod. Copley made 33 out of 34 saves to help the Capitals beat the Jets on Sunday. As sparsely used as Copley is, he’s now on a five-game winning streak.

Highlight of the Night

From the great Sidney Crosby pass to the fantastic goal by Jake Guentzel, the GWG from the Penguins – Bruins game gets the nod:

Factoids:

Scores

FLA 6 – DET 1
WSH 3 – WPG 1
PIT 4 – BOS 2
CGY 6 – VGK 3
LAK 3 – ANA 2

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.