It’s been a rough offseason for the Calgary Flames. They already lost superstar Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency, and now it appears Matthew Tkachuk, who’s fresh off a remarkable 104-point season, could be on his way out of Calgary as well.
On Monday, the Flames filed for salary arbitration with Tkachuk, which eliminates the possibility of the star winger accepting an offer sheet from another team. It also buys the Flames more time to negotiate a new contract with Tkachuk’s camp.
But according to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis, it’s appearing quite unlikely that Tkachuk will return to Calgary next season, and he believes the All-Star could be traded as soon as this week.
"The Calgary Flames have done this to buy more time (with Matthew Tkachuk). It's pretty clear to me that the two are parting ways... I do believe this will be wrapped up within the week." - @EricFrancis on @101espn. #STLBlues— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) July 19, 2022
If the Flames are indeed unable to reach an agreement with Tkachuk on a new contract, there will likely be numerous teams interested in trading for the 24-year-old.
One of those teams absolutely should be the Philadelphia Flyers.
On paper, it almost makes too much sense. Tkachuk is a young, dynamic forward coming off the best campaign of his career. He posted 42 goals and 62 assists with the Flames last season, and it’s possible he still hasn’t even reached his ceiling yet. Plus, Tkachuk plays a tough, hard-nosed game that would have older Flyers fans reminiscing about the cherished, but outdated era of the Broad Street Bullies.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has made his intentions of adding more high-end skill to the roster known since the end of the regular season. And given Tkachuk’s immense talent and grit, it’s hard to imagine any player fitting better with that vision.
Still, while the Flyers should be in on the Tkachuk sweepstakes, it’s hard to imagine that actually being the case based on the things they have — and have not — done this offseason.
For starters, the Flyers are in a very difficult spot cap-wise. According to CapFriendly, the Flyers are actually $98,107 over the the $82.5 million salary cap ceiling. Much of this can be attributed to the hefty contracts recently given to defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.1 million AAV) and Tony DeAngelo ($5 million AAV).
Of course, being cap-strapped isn’t always the kiss of death. There are many ways to free up cap space — trading players and contracts is the most common of which, and it is possible the Flyers could move enough bodies to make a trade for Tkachuk work.
Unfortunately, the Flyers have proved unwilling to make such moves this offseason, as was made clear by their inability to land Gaudreau in free agency.
Gaudreau, a native of South Jersey and lifelong Flyers fan, reportedly wanted to sign with his hometown team when the free agent signing window opened. However, the Flyers would have needed to move numerous assets — and likely the $7 million contract of James van Riemsdyk — in order to make room for Gaudreau on the roster. And at the end of the day, the Flyers chose to allocate their resources elsewhere rather than even attempt to pursue Gaudreau.
Instead, they signed 31-year-old forward Nic Deslauriers, who has posted 85 points in 506 career NHL games, to a four-year contract worth $1.75 million annually. They also reacquired 35-year-old defenseman Justin Braun after shipping him to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline in March.
“You’d have to move multiple contracts to be able to (add a star player like Gaudreau),” said Fletcher during his media availability last Wednesday. “You have to have a team as well. In some cases, contracts are extremely hard to move. In other cases, there’s players that we don’t want to move. We feel they’re a big part of our future.”
Two of the players Fletcher may have loosely been referring to are forward Travis Konecny and defenseman Ivan Provorov — arguably two of the more moveable players on the Flyers’ roster.
Konecny has become a fan favorite since being selected by the Flyers in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but he most definitely is not an untouchable asset. With a cap hit of $5.5 million over the next three seasons, a trade involving Konecny would open a significant chunk of space to make room for a star player — like Tkachuk. Provorov also has three years remaining on his contract with an AAV of $6.75 million. Once considered one of the top young defensemen in hockey, Provorov’s play has regressed as of late. Still, the 25-year-old is not a lost cause, and it’s possible he could experience a rebirth on a different club.
To acquire a talent like Tkachuk from the Flames, the Flyers would likely be forced to part ways with Konecny or Provorov (or even both players) alongside a high draft pick (or even multiple high draft picks). Last week, it was reported the Flyers refused to trade their 2023 first-round draft pick to clear cap space for Gaudreau, and that 2023 pick would also likely be a key piece in a potential Tkachuk trade.
The Flyers’ stinginess is understandable. It’s never ideal to trade young players like Konecny or Provorov while they’re at perhaps their lowest value. It’s also difficult to move valuable draft picks with a largely depleted prospect pipeline.
But that stinginess is also what’s keeping the Flyers from acquiring the most important asset currently absent from their roster — a player with high-end talent.
Winning in the NHL is difficult for any team. Even the mighty Colorado Avalanche, a team filled to the brim with high-end talent, took several years to finally win a Stanley Cup since becoming a postseason regular in 2018. But for teams completely bereft of skill, winning becomes that much more elusive. No matter how good the coaching is.
If the Flyers truly intend to compete in 2022-23, a trade for Tkachuk would certainly be a step in the right direction. But superstar players aren’t easy to acquire. And given the Flyers’ actions throughout the offseason, it’s pretty clear which route they’ll choose to take.