It was always possible that Matthew Tkachuk’s time in Calgary could be short. Now, it could be over.
Tkachuk just wrapped up the final year of the bridge deal he signed in 2019, a contract engineered to give Tkachuk and his camp, led by Newport Sports, as much long-term flexibility, leverage and money as possible.
Back in January, we wrote about his potential exit. That looks even more likely now that Johnny Gaudreau is gone and the Flames have elected to take Tkachuk to salary arbitration.
In doing so, the Flames are setting themselves up for clarity on Tkachuk’s long-term future – one way or the other. Either he stays on a long-term deal or goes via trade – ideally before his arbitration hearing, which will be scheduled between July 27 and Aug. 11.
There’s a chance he remains in Calgary, but plenty of signs point toward a trade.
So what comes next?
If a deal is actually imminent, Tkachuk has a lot of power over where he might land; an acquiring team will certainly want to negotiate a long-term extension with him ahead of time. Teams aren’t going to sell the farm for a Tkachuk rental.
The thought is that he’s looking to land in a large, American market — if not with his hometown St. Louis, perhaps somewhere relatively nearby. In January, sources told The Athletic that Tkachuk would have interest in Vegas, Dallas, Nashville and the New York Rangers, to name a few.
Things could have changed from then to now, but we kept that in mind when making this list. And not every major U.S. team made the cut.
The Rangers have Artemi Panarin and potentially expensive deals to negotiate with their own players over the next couple of years. The Boston Bruins are still waiting on decisions from Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and will need all of their available cap space to sign them – plus they still have to figure out David Pastrnak’s long-term future with the franchise. The Los Angeles Kings got their big-ticket winger earlier this summer in Kevin Fiala, then extended Adrian Kempe. The Minnesota Wild and Carolina Hurricanes made sense at first, but the money got too tricky. And the Chicago Blackhawks are actively trying to lose as many games as possible.
Other teams can’t offer the location Tkachuk might be seeking or the return Calgary needs.
Conventional wisdom suggests that losing Tkachuk and Gaudreau in one offseason should trigger a rebuild. However, if the Flames were interested in collecting future assets, they might have just hoped for a massive offer sheet for Tkachuk and the four first-round picks in compensation it would’ve entailed.
Filing for arbitration and using the threat of an offer sheet as their public reasoning tells us the Flames want more than just draft capital. Instead, the thinking is that the Flames want controllable assets in return for their All-Star right winger. Think a combination of established NHL players – ideally under team control or signed long-term – high-end prospects and high draft picks.
It’s fair to use last year’s Jack Eichel trade as a quasi-blueprint. He netted the Sabres a young, promising NHL player in Alex Tuch; a very good prospect in Peyton Krebs; and draft picks in the first and second rounds. Both players came with some uncertainty — Eichel’s health, Tkachuk’s contract status — with Eichel carrying more inherent value due to his position. It’s not a one-to-one comparison, but it’s close enough.
It’s important to note that the Flames are going to be in a tough spot where they might not get an ideal return. Because of Tkachuk’s power in this situation, Calgary would have to pick the best deal that he’s OK with.
So, with that in mind, here are our top seven potential trade destinations for Matthew Tkachuk. In no particular order.
St. Louis Blues
Cap space: $625,000
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: No. 24
For the last few years, the Tkachuk trade discussions have always started with St. Louis. It’s where he grew up; his dad, Keith, starred for the Blues and now works for the team; his family still lives in the area. A homecoming would make a lot of sense and make a lot of Blues fans very happy.
The biggest roadblock for the Blues is going to be salary cap space — even in the short term. Robert Thomas’ megadeal ($8.125 million) doesn’t kick in until 2023-24. That’s also when Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko’s contracts are up. Extending O’Reilly will be the priority, and he won’t come cheap, even at 32 years old — although if he’s not willing to give the Blues a discount, they could let him walk.
They’ve got big money dedicated to a quartet of defensemen at or near 30 years old; Justin Faulk and Torey Krug both carry AAVs of $6.5 million through the 2025-26 season. Colton Parayko is at the same number for a season longer. Nick Leddy just re-signed for four years and $4 million annually.
If they are as serious as you’d expect about adding Tkachuk, real money — and a good, win-now player or two — are going to have to head out. Krug would make sense for the Blues to shed cap space; the fit for Calgary, though, could be an issue.
The best fit, in terms of the type of player the Flames are seeking, would seem to be Pavel Buchnevich, a talented winger coming off a 30-goal season. He carries a $5.8 million hit for three more seasons and, if Calgary wants to avoid an immediate rebuild, is probably their best bet at minimizing the damage of losing Tkachuk (and Johnny Gaudreau).
The issue: Buchnevich is good, young and signed through a large chunk of his prime. Is that a piece the Blues would be willing to lose, even if it meant bringing in Tkachuk? Certainly not.
Perhaps a more realistic option is Jordan Kyrou, who is still 24 years old, under team control, and a very good NHL player; he scored 75 points in 74 games last season, his $2.8 million AAV bridge deal expires next summer, he’ll have arbitration rights and he won’t hit his unrestricted free agent years until 2025. That all would make him a more controllable asset for the Flames than Buchnevich, and a more realistic one for the Blues to give up.
This summer, extending Thomas was St. Louis’ priority. Kyrou’s next deal could be tricky — and not just because of the Blues’ current cap situation. If he builds on last season’s breakout, or simply has another point-per-game run, will he look for a deal equal to Thomas’? Would he look for more? And what would St. Louis even be able to offer, given that they’d have both Thomas’ extension and a Tkachuk contract on the books?
Using Kyrou as the primary chip for Tkachuk could represent the Blues solving a problem they don’t yet have — but it’d also be a steep cost and wouldn’t solve the shorter-term issue of creating space for the new guy. They’d still have a cap crunch and would have to either try to dump a contract on Calgary or solve it elsewhere.
To round out a trade package, Calgary could also look for a 2023 first-round pick, Jake Neighbours and/or Zachary Bolduc.
Cap space: $8.5 million
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: No. 12
Nashville has emerged over the last few seasons as a low-key favored spot for NHL players; Matt Duchene, for one, famously had his mind set on joining the Predators long before he actually signed with them. They’ve also made the playoffs eight years in a row — that’s good, for obvious reasons, and also speaks to the front office’s desire and/or need to be relevant on a yearly basis. It would’ve made sense at times for David Poile to start the rebuild, and he hasn’t. Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Duchene, Mattias Ekholm, Juuse Saros, Ryan Johansen and Ryan McDonagh are all win-now, big-money players who are locked in for multiple seasons, and Tkachuk would fit next to them.
Could Poile pull it off? He’d have to send out some cap to extend Tkachuk. Colton Sissons would make sense; he’s a solid player who makes nearly $3 million annually for the next four seasons. Including him in a Tkachuk deal would get Nashville within shouting distance and work for the Flames – Sissons has years of team control on top of his solid production. He’d work as a complementary piece in a package led by 2019 first-rounder Philip Tomasino, who had 32 points as a 20-year-old rookie last season and is still on his entry-level deal. Beyond him, Wheeler ranks Nashville’s prospect pool in the top half of the league, which the Flames could reasonably choose from.
Detroit Red Wings
Cap space: $10.3 million
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: No. 7
The Red Wings are in a good spot; they have the cap space and roster construction (22 out of 23 spots filled) that would allow them to accommodate Tkachuk immediately, and a prospect pool more than good enough to net him in the first place. They’re short on established, young NHL players with remaining years of team control — that they’d be interested in trading, at least.
The most interesting, realistic package from Detroit? A win-now player like Tyler Bertuzzi (2023 UFA, $4.75 million AAV) or Jakub Vrana (UFA 2024, $5.25 million AAV), younger pros like defenseman Filip Hronek (RFA 2024, $4.4 million) or Filip Zadina (22 years old, RFA) and some combo of picks and prospects other than Simon Edvinsson and 2022 No. 8 overall pick Marco Kasper.
There’s no shortage of options there for Calgary. The issue — and it’s a big one — is whether Tkachuk would have any interest in signing a long-term deal with Detroit. Age-wise, he fits, especially given the moves GM Steve Yzerman just made. A team with Andrew Copp, David Perron and Ben Chiarot is no longer just rebuilding, and the rest of the team’s core — led by 2023 UFA Dylan Larkin, Calder Trophy winner Moritz Seider and top rookie forward Lucas Raymond — is ready to turn the corner.
Detroit probably isn’t in the same tier as perceived front-runners like St. Louis – and frankly, it’s easy to argue that they should be. Why wouldn’t Tkachuk want to, say, replace Bertuzzi on a line with Larkin and Raymond, on a roster as balanced as the one Yzerman has built? He’d be familiar with the area with his experience in the U.S. National Team Development Program – now based in Plymouth, Mich. And he’d be the biggest star on the Detroit Red Wings. Something to keep in mind.
New Jersey Devils
Cap space: $9.6 million
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: No. 4
The Devils, at various points of the offseason, have been linked to a few big-name forwards, most recently Gaudreau. We all know how that ended. In the wake of Gaudreau’s deal with Columbus, New Jersey signed Ondrej Palat to a five-year, $6.0 million AAV contract. In other words, the Devils went out and got a fairly expensive, top-six winger of their own.
What sets the Devils apart, though — despite the money they’ve dedicated to Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Dougie Hamilton and Palat — is the cap space they’re on track to have after the 2022-23 season. New Jersey is projected to have nearly $40 million in space heading into the 2023-24 season.
Now, are there extenuating circumstances? Certainly. For one, they’ve failed to work out a long-term deal with breakout winger Jesper Bratt (73 points in 76 games), and Bratt has filed for arbitration. The team also elected to take Miles Wood to arbitration, though he’s not as significant a piece as Bratt. Those contracts aren’t included in their $9.6 million of available space, which is still a lot of room. But surely GM Tom Fitzgerald wants to keep his long-term cap situation flexible – even after adding nearly $8 million to his bottom line via defenseman John Marino and goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Adding and extending Tkachuk, though, would be worth sacrificing some flexibility.
What makes the Devils an attractive trade partner for the Flames is their variety of assets. New Jersey had one of the better prospects pools in the sport even before adding No. 2 overall pick Simon Nemec at the draft in Montreal. They have the pieces the Flames might covet in return for Tkachuk.
Bratt, on paper, might be an ideal Tkachuk replacement. He’s 23 and coming off a nearly point-per-game season with great underlying numbers — a solid bet to produce in the present and future — and isn’t on track to reach unrestricted free agency until 2024, even though Fitzgerald likely has some of this summer’s cap space earmarked for a possible long-term deal. The longer Bratt is in team control, the better for the Flames, who don’t want to trade Tkachuk for someone who could walk in two years’ time.
Other players Calgary could reasonably target as a centerpiece could be Alexander Holtz (a winger with first-line potential) or Luke Hughes (the No. 4 pick in 2021). Centering a trade around a prospect would mean Calgary might not receive win-now players in return, but they would certainly be cost-controlled.
Other prospects from Wheeler’s rankings to build out the rest of a trade package might include Nolan Foote (a skilled, big-framed winger); or Chase Stillman (a well-rounded forward who was the 29th pick in 2021).
New York Islanders
Cap space: $11.2 million
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: No. 31
Lou Lamoriello’s primary goal heading into this offseason (we think) was adding a legitimate running mate for first-line center Mat Barzal, who played next to a revolving door last season after Jordan Eberle’s exit. The Islanders reportedly talked about J.T. Miller with the Canucks at the draft and showed interest in Gaudreau but couldn’t create the cap room needed to make a serious run, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.
Do those swings and misses mean Lamoriello is going to make an even harder pass at Tkachuk, or are the same mitigating issues going to pop up once more? They’re short on cap space — assuming they’re trying to extend young RFA defenseman Noah Dobson and newly acquired Alexander Romanov — and tradable assets, whether you’re looking for prospects or young NHL players with years of team control. Calgary, as we know, is in the market for both.
Barzal and Dobson aren’t going anywhere; it wouldn’t make sense for the Islanders to bring in Tkachuk just to trade one of their two young core pieces. Ilya Sorokin is untouchable, and the Flames don’t need a goalie. It’s hard to imagine Calgary flipping Tkachuk for 32-year-old Anders Lee or 30-year-old Brock Nelson, either.
Anthony Beauvillier is young, but not exactly a Tkachuk replacement – to put it nicely – and has only two years left on his contract. That wouldn’t work for Calgary. Oliver Wahlstrom has shown some promise, largely on the power play, but it’s tough to imagine him having the cache necessary to serve as a centerpiece and wouldn’t help the Islanders with their cap situation, given he’s still on his entry level contract.
The Islanders need to add offense this summer, badly — and that need might be the only thing that ties them to Tkachuk. This isn’t a one-way street … but it’s close.
Vegas Golden Knights
Cap space: Minus-$1.4 million
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: 22
We know, we’re rolling our eyes too. But, we feel the need to include Vegas because … they’re Vegas.
The Golden Knights are still over the cap, but they don’t care, largely because they have no issues with moving any player at any time. If Calgary is looking to reload immediately without Tkachuk, rather than enter any meaningful rebuild, Vegas would seem to be the spot.
Part of that is because the Golden Knights have no choice but to send out ready-made NHL contributors if they want to bring in Tkachuk. With Reilly Smith officially extended and Max Pacioretty in Carolina as part of a pure salary dump, Vegas needs a new player to dangle as bait for the next big thing. Hello, William Karlsson!
Now 29, Karlsson hasn’t been able to replicate his 78-point season in 2017-18 but remains a strong middle-six option on a contending team. He also carries a $5.9 million AAV through 2027. Jonathan Marchessault is more productive and an easier replacement for Tkachuk — he was a 30-goal winger last season, too — but he’s 32 with two more years on his deal at $5 million. Either (or both) would be a decent option if Calgary is desperate to try to stay toward the top of the Pacific Division in 2022-23. Vegas likely wouldn’t hesitate to move them out, either.
The fit, though, is far from perfect. The Flames would be trading Tkachuk to a division rival for a package headlined, almost certainly, by players near (or past) 30 — and Vegas, after the Eichel trade and years of win-now moves, has minimal future-focused pieces to add. Brendan Brisson, a first-round pick in 2021, might be their best trade chip. He would likely need to be included to balance Calgary taking on older players.
Cap space: $11.5 million
Wheeler’s 2022 prospect pool ranking: 10
Don’t let that big number fool you; the Stars may well need all of their available cap space to strike long-term deals with star winger Jason Robertson and starting goaltender Jake Oettinger. Even bridge deals for both would eat up a huge chunk of that $11.5 million.
They’re in play here because the franchise’s business is built around icing a playoff contender each and every season. Beyond that, owner Tom Gaglardi, in an interview with The Athletic’s Saad Yousuf earlier this week, said the team needs to score more goals. Tkachuk would certainly help with that. The payroll, though, is a problem. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin combine to count more than $19 million against the cap despite both, Benn in particular, aging out of their primes.
Their route to landing Tkachuk would likely start with persuading Calgary to take a package headlined by defenseman Esa Lindell ($5.8 million AAV), and persuading Lindell to waive his full no-movement clause. The Flames, as coached by Darryl Sutter, make strong defense a focal point. Lindell could help with that. The question – outside of the NMC – is how Dallas would finish with the space necessary to sign Robertson, Oettinger and Tkachuk, and whether Lindell’s departure would weaken their blue-line group past the point of viability. Gaglardi also said Dallas’ defensive structure is “our identity,” and Lindell is a big part of that. The Stars would also have to include pieces from a strong prospect pool led by high-ceiling defenseman Thomas Harley and an interesting group of forwards.
Dallas feels like it’s on the unlikely end of potential landing spots. Still, Tkachuk is the sort of big fish Jim Nill isn’t afraid to chase, and Dallas might just be the sort of market that he’s seeking.
– The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford contributed to this report.
— Stats and research courtesy of Cap Friendly.
(Photo: Sergei Belski / USA Today)