As Flames and Tkachuk barrel towards divorce, Calgary's losses become a cautionary tale

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles against Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Calgary Flames during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 22, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Editor's note: Since the publication of this story, Sportsnet has confirmed that a Tkachuk trade is imminent after the star turned down an extension. Read the latest here.

CALGARY – Although the Calgary Flames’ decision to take Matthew Tkachuk to arbitration was done largely to buy time, expect things to move quickly.

No one in the hockey world should be surprised if the superstar winger is traded within the next week or two.

A resolution is forthcoming, and the Flames’ filing Monday night can easily be interpreted as a move indicating the Phoenix-born winger doesn’t want to sign anything longer than a one-year contract in Calgary, walking him into unrestricted free agency next season.

The Flames can’t allow that to happen (again), so the divorce proceedings begin.

Flames GM Brad Treliving and Tkachuk both declined to comment on a situation they’re undoubtedly working together on to facilitate a move to a landing spot where Tkachuk is more apt to ink an eight-year extension. 

Losing both Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk this summer was always a very real possibility for the Flames, but that doesn’t cushion the blow of what is likely to end up being one of the biggest back-to-back setbacks an NHL organization has endured in decades.

Two-thirds of the league’s top line, gone.   

At least this time there will be compensation, and plenty of it, as Tkachuk’s unique toolbox makes him one of the league’s most valuable commodities.

Blessed with the ability to turn a game on a hit, fight, chirp or snipe, Tkachuk is coming off a 42-goal, 104-point season at the ripe old age of 24.

His and Gaudreau’s southern migrations are part of a disturbing trend by American-born players that should serve as a cautionary tale for Canadian GMs.

It’s also a warning for Leafs fans who may very likely be dealing with a similar separation involving Auston Matthews next summer, when the team will try extending him before his no-movement clause kicks in for the final year of his contract.

Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Matthews are American-born superstars whose move to Canada was made by virtue of the draft.

By all accounts, the three have cherished their experiences while flourishing in their adopted hometowns.

But when the choice is theirs, who can blame them for choosing to return stateside?

Closer to home and the equator, further from higher taxes and living in a fishbowl.

Bigger endorsements and larger exposure await, as do their family and friends. 

Tkachuk will be the third high-profile American to leave Calgary in the last handful of years.

The Flames were forced to trade Adam Fox’s rights four years ago, after he made it clear well after being drafted by Calgary he would only leave Harvard to play in his home state, New York.

Two trades later, he got his wish, and eventually got a Norris trophy as a Ranger.

Canadian teams have been dealing with similar southern departures long before Wayne Gretzky married an American actress who called Los Angeles home.

The Canucks are currently dealing with J.T. Miller’s reluctance to re-sign in Vancouver, the Jets experienced it with Jacob Trouba, and the Habs just satisfied Jeff Petry’s wishes to return to the U.S. with a trade.

The salary cap does not provide Canadian teams with a level playing field, as most American teams provide tax advantages, warmer weather and better lifestyles.

But as the border issues with Covid reinforced, nothing beats the desire to get closer to friends and family.    

Gaudreau’s decision to turn down and extra $15 million from the Flames proved there’s nothing the organization could have done to prevent his departure.

Ditto for Tkachuk.

City council’s move to essentially nix the Event Centre deal isn’t helping the situation in Calgary (nor are our annual deep-freezes), but there’s no blame to lay on the club.

They now have to make the best of the situation.

As long-time player agent Ritch Winter outlined on the Eric Francis Show earlier this week, players look at money, opportunity and lifestyle when choosing destinations.

Every player ranks them differently.

As good as the Flames' team had become last season, Gaudreau and Tkachuk want significant scenery changes, as is finally their right.

Surely it gives Canadian GMs cause to pause when they consider drafting Americans.

As soon as the Flames selected highly-touted Matthew Coronato 13th overall in 2021 we asked Treliving if he worried the New Yorker would pull a Fox.

“There’s always risk, but at the end of the day, you have to take a player at his word when he tells you he wants to play for your team,” said Treliving that day.

Coronato has not deviated from his draft-day declaration he wants to play for the Flames, which will likely happen late this season, after his school’s playoff run is over.

Especially in Canada, there’s a risk any player will consider bolting when they have the leverage and opportunity to do so, American or not.

“With Johnny leaving, everybody is recognizing Calgary has a problem, Winnipeg has a problem, Vancouver and Montreal have problems,” said Winter.

“Toronto and Edmonton don’t necessarily have as big a problem, and theirs isn’t solved by weather. Theirs is solved by both having two of the greatest offensive players in the game.”

Indeed, in Edmonton the mood is different, as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are draws to a contending team in a spectacular rink, prompting players like Evander Kane and Brett Kulak to take less money to stay there. 

They also signed American goalie Jack Campbell to a five-year deal.

There was some good news for the Flames earlier this week when Winter revealed his client, Andrew Mangiapane, has given the Flames a proposal on a multi-year deal that would extend his stay past next summer, when he’s currently slated to be a UFA.

He’s from Ontario.

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