CALGARY — Heading into free agency, Matthew Tkachuk’s original goal was simple.
Sign as long as possible for as much as possible.
Who could blame him, especially in a thriving hockey market, on a team that finished tops in the west last regular season.
In his eyes, a five-year pact that would walk him into unrestricted free agency like his pal Auston Matthews signed would have been ideal. Six or seven years was every bit as intoxicating to drink in, especially when the average annual value would then have to approach somewhere in the $9-million range.
After all, at age 21 he’s already being tabbed as the Flames’ future captain.
However, as Labour Day approached and the stalemate between Tkachuk and the Flames made it clear training camp wasn’t in his future, the feisty winger had a significant change of heart that ultimately got the deal done.
“We thought long-term was going to be the way from the start,” said Tkachuk late Wednesday afternoon, as part of a whirlwind day that started with agreement on a three-year, $21-million deal at 1:30 a.m.
“Talking to Tre (GM Brad Treliving) we knew the cap-room issue.”
There, um, wasn’t much of it, which is why Treliving then explained to Tkachuk a better path for everyone involved.
“When this process started, you bring up what’s important to both sides — you don’t just get in and start arm-wrestling about numbers,” explained Treliving of how the process took a sharp turn last month.
“We both wanted him here long-term, so we spent a lot of time over months and months looking at a way for the longest term to work.”
It couldn’t. So Treliving explained that short-term could help both sides achieve their goal.
“You explain, ‘This allows you to get back to the trough in three years,’ but also his goal was, ‘How do we keep this group, and how do we add to this group, and how do we win with this group?’”
It changed negotiations on a dime, although they still needed a good month for other RFAs to sign and establish the market. Monday’s Brayden Point deal (three years at $6.75 million per year) was the tipping point.
“I didn’t really think about (a three-year solution) too much until maybe late August and once that was brought up to me, I was really intrigued and I wanted to do it because I knew it would benefit both sides,” said Tkachuk. “These are the guys I’ve played with for three years and have made it so fun to come to the rink every single day on and off the ice. That was a big part.
“We both came to the conclusion before camp that a three-year deal was going to work best. The best-case scenario happened where there isn’t one guy that had to be moved in this process. That was a fear. You never want to see that happen.
“We had such a great team last year and we brought in some pieces that make us that much better and can make us more successful in the post-season.”
And so, his linemate, Michael Frolik, can stay, despite his $4.3-million cap hit.
So can T.J. Brodie and his $4.65-million salary.
“We didn’t want to get into a distressed transaction,” said Treliving, who read endlessly about how tough his decisions would have to be as he tried wedging Tkachuk into a cap with little more than $6 million remaining.
“There’s risk involved with that. We’ve seen it around the league and everybody chooses their different path. We’ve seen lots of commentary — pick your name that this guy or that guy would have to leave town. It’s important to realize that’s how we got to the term we got too. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to be here long-term.”
With Tkachuk in the fold, the team now has five of its top six forwards locked up for the next three years, to go with Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano and their new security blankie, Milan Lucic.
At just a shade over $82 million in salary, the team will likely open the season Thursday in Colorado with just 13 forwards on the roster instead of the usual 14.
It will be tight, but it will work.
Heck, they can now even continue to contemplate signing PTOs Zac Rinaldo and/or Tobias Rieder.
If the goaltending can keep up with the rest of the group, the Flames have a three-year window to compete for the Stanley Cup — something he dreamed of all summer long while attending various Cup parties in his hometown, St. Louis.
“This wasn’t a negotiation that was profanity-laced 24/7,” said Treliving.
“It was key that we felt we had a partner at the other side of the table that understood our position and we were able to get a deal.”