CALGARY - The ask is significant.
The task, monumental.
After losing two of the league’s eight 100-point players, will the club rebuild or re-tool?
A source close to the situation said the Flames are looking for three or four players in return for the 104-point unicorn.
While discussions with every team are different, based on their personnel, the main goal is to land a top-six forward, a top prospect and a first-round pick.
That’s in line with the return Buffalo got last year when Jack Eichel and a third-round pick went to Vegas for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a top-ten protected first round pick in 2022 and a second rounder in 2023.
The big difference is that the Sabres were free to shop Eichel to any team they wanted.
While Tkachuk’s contract is devoid of a no-trade clause, the Flames are limited to dealing with the handful of teams Tkachuk would be willing to sign a long-term extension with.
Trading him elsewhere would severely limit the return on him as a one-year rental.
A source close to Tkachuk denied the accuracy of an alleged trade list being reported that includes St. Louis, Vegas, Florida, Nashville and Dallas.
Not all the teams on Tkachuk’s actual wish list are interested, or capable, of parting with significant assets to make such a swap, while also committing to pay the rugged winger upwards of $10 million U.S. a year on a long-term deal.
And so, GM Brad Treliving is focused on simply trying to acquire as many top assets as possible, which means he’s faced with possibilities that could include a package of younger prospects and high draft picks that don’t come close to filling the holes left by the abrupt departures of Johnny Gaudreau and his linemate.
If so, some of those assets can either be flipped to address current needs, or kept as part of what could turn into a rebuild.
That's how much the Flames fortunes hinge on this trade.
In 2017, Matt Duchene was sent from Colorado to Ottawa in a three-way deal that sent Kyle Turris from Ottawa to Nashville.
The return for the Avalanche was a conditional first-round pick, a third-round pick, Shane Bowers and Andrew Hammond from the Senators, as well as a second-round pick, Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev.
Again, no trade restrictions limited Colorado’s ability to cash in on Duchene, but the swap was consummated a full year after his trade request was made.
The Eichel deal was over six months in the making.
It has been less than a week since the Flames were informed Tkachuk isn’t interested in signing an extension with Calgary past next season, kickstarting the complicated quest to find the best suitor on his list of approved destinations.
It doesn’t have to happen before the Aug. 11 arbitration date that was set Thursday, but waiting past then hampers the process, as the team acquiring him can’t sign him to an extension until Jan. 1, 2023.
The clock is ticking, the pressure is on.
Meanwhile, the outside possibility of adding any significant free agents like Nazem Kadri or John Klingberg is on hold, awaiting cost certainty of the returning assets.
If the Flames are able to land a top six forward, like a Jordan Kyrou (yes, we can confirm St. Louis is on his trade list — after all, Tkachuk’s father, Keith, is the Blues’ Director of Player Recruitment) as part of a deal, there are plenty of reasons to believe a re-tooled Flames roster can still vie for a playoff spot next season.
The team still has one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, aided by a steady blueline that landed Calgary third in goals against last season.
Sure, offence will be harder to come by without the departing duo that scored 28% of their goals.
But reigning coach of the year, Darryl Sutter, has long been able to squeeze plenty more out of his troops than expected.
There are still plenty of significant players around who helped the Flames run away with the Pacific division last year, like Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and the recently re-signed Nikita Zadorov.
Contract talks with Andrew Mangiapane could also play a significant role in the team’s direction, as the 35-goal scorer is set for an arbitration hearing Aug 5 with just one year left before he too can test the open market.
His agent, Ritch Winter, told Sportsnet on Monday Mangiapane would be open to signing a multi-year extension with the club, but agreeing to terms might be easier said than done given how stellar his numbers are in limited ice time.
Mangiapane holds all the cards, as anything less than market value offered by the Flames would likely mean he, too, is finished in Calgary.
Oliver Kylington’s arbitration hearing is Aug. 10.
As far as rebuilding potential goes, Jakob Pelletier may be ready to step up to the NHL after a stellar rookie season in Stockton, Dustin Wolf was the AHL’s top netminder last season as a rookie, and 2021 first-round pick Matthew Coronato will likely make his Flames debut at the conclusion of his sophomore season at Harvard, where he was one of the nation’s best newbies last year.
These are dark days in Cowtown, as Gaudreau and Tkachuk not only represent one of the most horrific double departures in NHL lore, but they have further hampered the club by handcuffing Treliving from moving the team forward on other fronts.
While expediency would serve the team well, maximizing the return on Tkachuk is more important.
So much so, the organization’s direction will be dictated by it.