CALGARY — The news is certainly daunting for Calgary Flames fans.
Less than a week after losing Johnny Gaudreau, the team now very much appears on the brink of having to part with Matthew Tkachuk.
That’s the most reasonable way to interpret news late Monday that the Flames have filed to take Tkachuk to salary arbitration.
The team certainly isn’t making a move like this to save money on his $9-million qualifying offer, as the 24-year-old restricted free agent is sure to make out like a bandit after his 42-goal, 104-point season.
He’ll get a nice raise.
The club did it to prevent a one-year offer sheet, but moreso to buy time.
Optimists will suggest it’s time needed to try coming up with a long-term agreement with the star winger.
Realists will surmise it’s time required to trade the team’s second-best player to a team south side of the border.
Consider me a realist.
In all likelihood, Tkachuk has indicated to the Flames what many have feared for years — that he isn’t interested in extending his stay in Calgary.
If so, the only difference between him and his U.S. compatriot, Gaudreau, is that Tkachuk is being far more forthcoming on his intentions than Johnny Ohio was.
Flames GM Brad Treliving politely refused comment on the move when contacted by Sportsnet, but the reality is clear: if Tkachuk isn’t willing to sign for more than one year, he has to be traded.
The lesson from Gaudreau’s departure was obvious: this can’t happen again.
And so, the Flames took the first step in protecting themselves from the possibility of Tkachuk doing what has seemed like his obvious move all season long: he’d avoid filing for arbitration and sign his $9-million qualifying offer by Friday’s deadline.
It would have entitled him to walk into free agency next summer like Gaudreau did last week.
He hadn’t signed it to this point because a contract like that serves neither side.
Potential trade partners would want the ability to extend Tkachuk for a full eight years, which wouldn’t be possible if he signed his qualifying offer.
If the U.S.-born Tkachuk is simply looking to return stateside, or to a bigger market, surely he and the Flames would work together to try making it happen.
Acrimony at this point would be senseless.
Arbitration hearings don’t begin until July 27, and run through Aug. 11, but if Tkachuk goes through that process he can’t negotiate an extension until Jan. 1, 2023.
A trade before that makes the most sense.
The fear of an offer sheet is likely minimal, as it would be for a one-year offer.
No one is offering between $8.4 million and $10.5 million for Tkachuk, as it would net the Flames two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a third-rounder for a one-year rental.
Anything over $10.5 million would cost four first-rounders.
A $6.3-million to $8.4-million deal would cost a team a first-, second- and third-rounder.
If Tkachuk signed an offer sheet like that, and the Flames matched it, the Flames wouldn’t be able to trade that player for a full year, walking him to free agency.
They prevented that from happening Monday.
None of this prevents Tkachuk from signing a long-term deal with the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2016 and has been rewarded ever since by one of the league’s most unique talents.
The team knows it and will exhaust all resources to try convincing him to stay.
Eight more years of Tkachuk in Calgary is what management has been trying to ensure for months.
But given how much time they’ve already had to talk turkey, it doesn’t seem likely.
Like Gaudreau, if Tkachuk has indeed indicated he wants out, it isn’t about money, as it’s likely his biggest paycheque would come from the Flames.
It’s about lifestyle and family.
The fact that Calgary is far from his St. Louis roots, is across a border and is devoid of a modern rink doesn’t help the Flames’ cause.
Neither did Gaudreau’s departure.
Within the next week or so, this franchise could look dramatically different.
Fans can take solace this is heading towards a resolution, one way or another.
There was some good news for Flames fans Monday afternoon.
Andrew Mangiapane’s agent, Ritch Winter, said on the Eric Francis Show that the 35-goal scorer is keen to sign for longer than the one year that would walk him to the open market.
“I don’t want to get into the negotiations — I share Brad (Treliving’s) view that it’s never really healthy for the process — but I think ultimately to admit that Andrew has submitted a proposal on a multi-year deal tells you he’s quite interested in staying here despite the uncertainty that surrounds Matthew Tkachuk,” said Winter, somewhat ironically.
“Regardless of what happens, Matthew Tkachuk will be replaced by someone in a trade. You may not get a Matthew Tkachuk-type, but you might get an Alex DeBrincat. If Tkachuk is moved, you don’t go from Tkachuk to nobody.”
Interesting that he cited DeBrincat, as his arrival in Calgary would mean Tkachuk is Ottawa-bound, to play with brother Brady.
Don’t hold your breath.
“Certainly Andrew feels very comfortable with the coaching staff, he likes the management team here, he likes the city, he’s had a good experience,” said Winter.
“He said to them he’s quite willing to stay on a longer-term deal.”
Oliver Kylington, Matthew Phillips and Mangiapane have already filed for salary arbitration.