CALGARY – After scoring the first hat trick of his career, Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames wasn’t sure where he would put the keepsake game puck. It’s probably fair to say that some of Tkachuk’s NHL opponents over the past two-plus seasons might have some creative suggestions for where it could go.
Tkachuk joked that he probably should cut the puck up and split it with linemates Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, who set him up for easy tap-ins before he scored an empty-netter to seal the Flames’ 6-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Sunday night. When the same two teams met four days previously in Vegas, Tkachuk accidentally-on purpose ran into Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and touched off a melee that almost resulted in a goalie fight between Fleury and Calgary goalie David Rittich.
And as much as anything, those two games clearly illustrate the value of Matthew Tkachuk to the Calgary Flames. Going into Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Tkachuk has 29 goals, which is one behind Flames’ co-leaders Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and 58 penalty minutes, which is one behind team leader Mark Giordano. Gaudreau, Monahan and Giordano are likely the three most important players on the Flames, but Tkachuk is making a serious case to join that group. He is certainly the most unique player on the Flames, perhaps one of the most unique in the NHL. He can play the game any way you want to play it and excel in it. There are few elite offensive players who can get down in the trenches the way Tkachuk can and there are even fewer physical players who have Tkachuk’s skill level. Aside from registering 3-1-4 totals in the game, Tkachuk executed a spectacular between-the-legs pass to Gaudreau that would have been a goal if not for a terrific glove save by Malcolm Subban.
And that’s why Tkachuk stands to become a very, very rich man, likely at some point this off-season. Coming out of his three-year, entry-level deal, Tkachuk will sign a deal that will pay him seven figures next season and beyond. It will undoubtedly start with at least a seven, perhaps an eight. And it will make him the Flames’ highest-paid player, ahead of both Gaudreau and Monahan.
Considering that William Nylander signed a six-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that carries a cap hit of 6.93 for the next five seasons, it’s easy to see where this could go for both Tkachuk and Sebastien Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes. When comparing players, Nylander should probably be judged more on his 61-point season in 2017-18 rather than his production this season when he missed 28 games with a contract dispute. But even in that context, Tkachuk brings more elements to the game that Nylander does and he’s on pace for an 80-point season.
Much of it will depend upon how the Flames’ approach this negotiation, since Tkachuk does not have arbitration rights. Given Tkachuk’s production and his upward trajectory, the Flames would be wise to get him under contract for the next eight years and buy a couple of years of unrestricted free agency from him. But that’s going to cost them. The fact that he’s already an alternate captain gives you an idea of how much his leadership and fractious play is valued by the organization. Tkachuk is only 21 years old and is thus entering his prime years as a player. If he’s a point-per-game guy now with an ability to impact a game either with his skill or his physical play, what kind of player is he going to be four or five years down the road? And while he may never be the goalscorer or penalty-minute holder his father, Keith, was, a big part of that is because the game has changed so much in both those areas. But there’s good reason to suggest he’ll put up as many points as his dad. After 213 NHL games, Matthew has 66-98-164 totals, compared to 85-86-171 scoring line Keith had in the same number of games.
In true Tkachuk fashion, Matthew said he’s focused on winning games for the Flames down the stretch and helping them in the playoffs. He’s already achieved all of his performance bonuses that will raise his salary to almost $1.8 million, but a big payday is on the horizon. “To be honest, no clue, no idea, don’t even want to think about it right now,” Tkachuk said. “I’ve never been through a negotiation before so I don’t know what it’s like, but honestly, we’ll find out in the summer. That’s all I’ve got for you.”