CALGARY — After spending Monday night texting with Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk was thrilled to hear after practice his good pal had consummated a new deal Tuesday.
“I’m happy for him — it’s a lot of money,” said the Calgary Flames forward of the five-year, $58.17-million contract his former teammate from the U.S. National Team Development Program signed with the Maple Leafs.
“I’ll text him here in a little bit and hopefully he’ll pick up a nice little dinner next time I see him.”
Tkachuk knows better than anyone else the Matthews deal will net him far more than just gratis grub. The contract raises the bar for the long list of other star-studded restricted free agents, like Tkachuk, who are champing at the bit over the lucrative possibilities that lie ahead this summer.
“I’m sure everybody is pretty happy with Matthews right now,” beamed Tkachuk, who regularly texts with his junior linemate Mitch Marner as well. “I’m sure Marns is pretty happy too as well — that’s a lot of money for a great player.”
The debate will rage on in Toronto now over how the Leafs can possibly shoehorn Marner into their salary cap structure after GM Kyle Dubas opted to bend significantly in a deal that buys just one year of unrestricted free agency with no discount for the previous four years.
One respected Canadian team executive I reached out to referred to the “incompetence” of the deal interfering with the framework the rest of the league’s executives will have to work with moving forward.
Another management-type sympathized with Dubas for having to bend considerably in the negotiations so he could lock up a cornerstone player and avoid the type of distractions and ugliness that came with the William Nylander contract fiasco.
Flames GM Brad Treliving respectfully declined to comment on the deal, as has long been his policy. But you can bet he was paying close attention.
“For Toronto’s sake, they probably wanted it done before the trade deadline this year in case they wanted to move other guys or bring other guys in,” said Tkachuk. “It seems like it’s great for both Auston and the team.”
What will be fascinating is whether Marner or Tkachuk will be one of the next guys doling out free meals to pals.
It was previously suggested that it will be the last RFAs to sign this summer who may be the biggest winners, piggy-backing on other deals and setting the table for more ugly, Nylander-like stalemates that drag into next winter.
“I don’t know — that’s probably what every player will talk with their agents about going in,” said the six-foot-two, 212-pound left winger. “Maybe it’s a little bit of a waiting game, but you just try to take care of what you can take care of within your deal. I’ve never been in this position, so I guess I’ll find out this summer.”
Tkachuk isn’t in line for more than $11 million annually like Matthews. But you can bet the deal he’ll likely ink with the Flames is now going to be healthier than whatever he might have signed before Matthews paved the way with even more gold. Should he and the Flames be able to prolong their relationship, he will undoubtedly be the highest-paid player in Flames lore, eclipsing the $7 million Jarome Iginla pocketed for many seasons.
For a player who brings more intangibles than any other RFA this summer, not to mention the 20th-most points in the league this year, $8 million isn’t out of the question either. Fact is, it’s a fool’s errand to try pegging his AAV now given how much hockey is left in the season and, potentially, this spring.
With every goal, three-point night and playoff success will come more dollars for a star who has 24 goals and 57 points this season while also drawing more penalties than anyone in the NHL since he joined the league.
None of this is to mention the increased possibility of offer sheets being thrown around this summer, which was yet another concern motivating Dubas to ink his stud centre.
“(Offer sheets) haven’t been in play a lot recently, but there’s been a lot of talk, and a lot of people thinking this is the year it’s going to happen,” said Tkachuk, a tremendous student of the game, on and off the ice. “You can’t predict that stuff, but you never know. Maybe.”
Perhaps he’ll be the target, as there isn’t a GM in the league that wouldn’t want a gifted agitator with his pedigree on their side.
Potential poachers may also be taking long looks at players like Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Patrik Laine, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, William Karlsson, Sebastian Aho, Charlie McAvoy, Jacob Trouba and Marner as well.
They all need deals, and all likely did a jig over Matthews’ pact.
“It seems like every summer, whether it’s restricted or unrestricted guys, there’s always a big fish that sets the bar for that summer,” said Tkachuk, 21. “It doesn’t seem like there’s like one contract that sets it up forever.
“You have a guy like (Connor) McDavid’s contract set it up for his guys that summer a couple years ago, (Jack) Eichel then came, and now it’s Matthews.
“A lot of big guys — some of the best players in the league — are all coming off entry-level, so it kind of changed the perspective there a little.”
Actually, it has changed it a lot.