Flames GM says Matthew Tkachuk is a star: ‘He drives our team’

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss the renewed rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames and more.

This is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for (since Jan. 11 anyway): The Battle of Alberta returns.

The last time these two saw each other we got one of the best and most heated games in recent memory between the provincial rivals. The focus was mostly on Edmonton’s Zack Kassian and Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk — the latter laid one-too-many big, perhaps borderline legal, checks on the former and Kassian finally boiled over. The end result was a costly penalty, which Calgary used to score the game-winning goal on the ensuing power play.

Kassian earned a two-game suspension for his attack on Tkachuk, which conveniently ends in time for Wednesday’s game. And in fact, comments Kassian made after the league decided to suspend him are what really set the tone for this next meeting.

“I’d do it again…. He messed with the wrong guy. I don’t think he realizes we’re in the same division, and I have a great memory,” Kassian said.

The whole debate about whether Tkachuk should or should not have fought Kassian, or if he needs to fight someone else, perforated the public sphere. Depending on which side of the line your rooting interests lie, you’re likely going to view Tkachuk at one extreme or the other. It’s all ridiculous in the eyes of Flames GM Brad Treliving.

“I’m not a big believer in going out and making proclamations in the media and talking about this stuff, but I’ll be the first one to support my guys,” Treliving told 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. “And it’s bothered me some of the comments about Matthew that’s been said.”

While Kassian is having a strong year measured against his own career, it’s little coincidence he’s on pace for a personal best in goals playing on Connor McDavid’s wing. Tkachuk, meanwhile, has been steadily on the rise in his four years as an NHLer and, Treliving notes, is a line driver in his own right.

Such a distinction doesn’t give a player the freedom to play dirty, but it also doesn’t preclude him from playing with an edge. The beauty of Tkachuk is he walks that line as a physical player, while bringing so much offence on his own. There aren’t many players like him in the league.

“This is a top guy, this is a top player,” Treliving said. “Does he get under the skin of people? Yeah. But some of the comments that he’s this, that, or the other, he’s a unique player in the league and there’s 30 other managers who would take him in a heartbeat. He drives our team on a lot of nights, most nights.”

Both Colin Campbell and George Parros are expected to be in the building on Wednesday to have front row seats for whatever happens in the next chapter. Treliving noted that this game — and the next one between the two on Saturday — has huge implications in a tight playoff race, so perhaps not much will come of anticipated physical fireworks. But if that should occur, the Flames will be ready to back up their heart and soul player.

“Sometimes the hype or all the noise around it is one thing, but it’s going to be two very important points,” Treliving said. “That’s going to be our focus. If there’s things that need to be looked after or, like I said, if people are making proclamations that they’re going to get somebody…we’ll be prepared for it. We’ll support our teammate, we’ll make sure we’ve got Matthew’s back.”

At this point, Wednesday’s game is must-see TV. And, if on the off chance it doesn’t bring the same level of in-your-face vitriol as the last time they met, don’t worry — we get to do it all over again on Saturday.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.