CALGARY — Matthew Tkachuk's decision to leave Calgary was three years in the making.
No, he wasn’t counting down the days, dreaming of the day he could return to the U.S.
As a Calgary Flame, he poured his heart and soul into a job, a team, and a city he adored.
A city that loved him back.
However, in his first interview since being traded, Tkachuk told Sportsnet.ca Saturday that when he put his signature on his three-year bridge deal in 2019, he always knew there was a chance at its conclusion it would be time to leave.
“I put myself in a position with the last deal I signed to kind of reevaluate my life and my career at this stage, and I kind of came to the conclusion after the RFA period (July 13) it was time to look elsewhere,” he explained of the decision that rocked Calgary.
“There’s a lot that went into it. There’s no single reason why I left. At the end of the day, I wanted to re-evaluate where I’m at, and after talking to a few teams I did that, and kind of came down to that conclusion.
“I didn’t know what my decision was going to be until that talking period.
“It all changed then.”
It was then the grass seemed greener, the beach seemed sandier, the air seemed warmer, and the state taxes seemed, well, non-existent.
The possibilities were endless for the 104-point superstar, who knew he could write his own ticket almost anywhere he wanted.
So he acted fast, initiating a phone call he deemed the toughest of his life, informing the man who drafted him sixth overall he would not sign an extension.
Five days later he became a Florida Panther with a sign-and-trade deal that will pay him $76 million over eight years.
A whirlwind, to be sure.
“I’m sitting here, very emotional about my time there in Calgary,” said Tkachuk, who will travel to Florida Sunday for his introductory press conference Monday.
“I’m sad and happy. Very mixed. ... I’m sad I’m leaving so many great people in the city and the organization.
“I feel like I did it the right way. I played my hardest. I tried to be in the community as much as possible. I knew pretty recently it was time for a change. ... There was no second-guessing it or delaying it. I told them right away. It’s like ripping a bandaid off right away. It’s hard.
“I hope people can respect me for that, and for trying to help them out as much as they tried to help me out in this process, because I feel working together really did benefit both of us.”
The call to Brad Treliving, as one can imagine, was emotional.
“It was the hardest phone call I’ve ever had in this sport at any level,” said Tkachuk, 24. “Nothing even comes close to rivalling it. It was a very real conversation. Pretty emotional for me, some of the most emotions I’ve had. And he was too. It was like two friends. We really respect one another.
“I wanted to make sure I worked with him and not leave them dry.
“We worked together and it was really seamless. He did an unbelievable job. He’s one of the most respected GMs in the league for a reason. ... We worked through it and I think we’re both happy with how the results came.”
As beloved as Tkachuk has been in Calgary, the four-piece haul Treliving landed for Tkachuk Friday single-handedly turned the woe-is-me narrative on a dime.
Suddenly there’s excitement and hope in a city that was running out of it.
Losing two 100-point stars within a fortnight can do that.
But adding a 115-point superstar in Jonathan Huberdeau, a top defenceman in MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a first rounder has flipped the narrative, and Flames fans can thank Tkachuk for that.
“I think Tre respected me for talking to him right away about it,” said Tkachuk, who indeed drew praise from the GM earlier in the day. “I could have kept this decision close to me and gone about this a different way, whether it was signing a one-year deal and putting them in a tough spot.
“I wanted to be straight with them right away and being able to work with them made this so much easier.”
As he confirmed, the decision had nothing to do with Johnny Gaudreau informing the club at the 11th hour he was hitting the open market.
“It did not have anything to do with it,” he said. “This is my career. I signed my last contract for the sole reason of (options). I could have taken a longer deal and more money, but I wanted to re-evaluate after a three-year bridge deal, and that’s what I did.”
Tkachuk said he gave Treliving a handful of teams he’d sign long-term with, maximizing the return. The list was quickly whittled down.
“We narrowed it to three teams that I would have been very, very happy to go to, but at the end of the day Florida pushed like hell and it all happened within a day,” he said, before explaining his choice in the Panthers.
“The thing I was most attracted to is the competitiveness and how close they’ve been and how good of a team they are and how great they will be in the future — it’s something I really feel I can help with.
“All the guys are in their mid-to-late 20’s. ... The chance to win was the most attractive. ... The sun, the beach and all that stuff – don’t get me wrong, that’s really, unbelievably attractive, but the chance to win trumps it all.”
Throughout a 25-minute chat from his home in St. Louis, Tkachuk raved about his time in Calgary and the people who made it special.
“I will always remember my time in Calgary as the most important and best years in my life to date,” he said. “I’m leaving as a 24-year-old, young man and I went in as an 18-year-old kid. I’m proud of that and I’m proud of the relationships with people who helped me with that.
“If you’re a trainer, coach, manager, fan, media or security at the rink, I just hope I can go down as one of the guys who is really fun and easy to work with. That’s what I want to be remembered for.
“I truly grew in that city and it’s one of the greatest cities in the world that I’ve been to – it’s so unique. There’s so many cool things about the city.
“I was looking back and reflecting about my draft day, I knew nothing about Calgary. ... Leaving there I hope they can consider me the type of player the people of Alberta can be proud of. Well, in Calgary, not the people up north.
“It will always have a special place in my heart.”