Right now, life is pretty good for the Calgary Flames. Not only are they atop the Pacific Division with a 30-13-6 record, but they are also on a 10-game winning streak, matching a franchise record. While things are going great right now, however, they might become stressful this offseason.
Several key players on the team will need new contracts, the main two being Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, two main reasons why the Flames have turned things around in such a big way this season.
Gaudreau, who is coming off a six-year deal with a cap hit of $6.75 million, sits fourth in league scoring, with 64 points in 49 games. Tkachuk isn’t far behind, with 56 points in the same span. He is coming off a three-year deal that pays him $7 million annually.
Flames May Not Have Room for Both
General manager Brad Treliving would love to have both players back for not only next season but many moving forward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that will be an easy task. Not only have they earned raises thanks to the great seasons they are having, but the organization has two other important players who will also need new contracts in Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington. As Flames fans are well aware, those two have also been having exceptional seasons and will be in for a raise.
As of now, the Flames will have just over $27 million in cap space heading into next season, but that is with only 12 players under contract. Let’s first assume they choose to give new deals to both Mangiapane and Kylington. For Mangiapane, despite a slump after a red-hot start, he has 25 goals in just 49 games and has recently started to heat up again. Given his improvement in the goal-scoring department each season, paired with his very solid defensive play, he is likely in store for a contract in the $5 million range.
Projecting Kylington’s next contract is a bit trickier. Prior to the 2021-22 season, he appeared to be an afterthought in the organization and was even placed on waivers prior to the start of the 2020-21 campaign. After going unclaimed, he suited up for just eight games with the Flames, spending the majority of the season on the taxi squad. However, he has been able to rejuvenate his career this season, posting six goals and 24 points in 48 games with a plus-27 rating. The 24-year-old has earned himself a raise, though it is tough to say exactly worth how much. For the sake of pinpointing an exact number, let’s put him at $3 million.
If those two deals come to fruition, that already lowers the Flames’ cap space from $27 million to $19 million. Sure, that would still be enough to sign both Tkachuk and Gaudreau, but keep in mind that it accounts for only 14 signed players. Unless they are planning on filling out the remaining holes roster with young talent on cheap contracts in Stockton, they may not have room to bring back both Gaudreau and Tkachuk.
Taking guesses as to what Gaudreau and Tkachuk’s contracts may or may not look like is tough given that we don’t know exactly what is going on in their heads. Flames fans of course assume they both want to stay, and they could be right. Perhaps one or even both of them will feel inclined to take a discount to remain in Calgary and help keep the team competitive.
If that isn’t the case, however, Jeremy Rutherford and Hailey Salvian of The Athletic recently estimated the value of both players. They suggested that a Tkachuk contract would be an eight-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of roughly $10 million. As for Gaudreau, they failed to mention term but estimated his deal to be $8.5 million. If that were the case, it would bring their roster count up to 17 players with only $500,000 left in cap space, which again means the organization might be forced to pick between one or the other (from ‘Jeremy Rutherford and Hailey Salvian: What we’re hearing about Matthew Tkachuk’s future in Calgary,’ The Athletic, 01/27/22).
Benefits to Keeping Both Tkachuk and Gaudreau
Flames fans will vary when it comes to who they’d like to keep. For many, Tkachuk is future captain material, and he is four years younger. He also has a much more physical nature, one that many believe is key to having success in the playoffs.
For Gaudreau, there is a big-time connection between him and the fanbase he has spent the past eight seasons playing in front of. He has led the team in scoring in five of his first full seven seasons with the Flames and, barring injury, should do so once again in 2021-22. While he lacks the physical element Tkachuk brings, most would agree that his overall skill and offensive abilities rank higher than Tkachuk’s.
Going with Tkachuk would seem to be the logical choice if management has to pick, simply because of his age. However, just last season, there were reports of a locker room rift after some of his teammates supposedly told him to cool it with some of his on-ice antics. While those issues appear to have blown over, who’s to say they couldn’t come up again if the team happens to struggle in future seasons?
Trade Options To Free up Cap Space
Of course, if Treliving really wants to keep both, there may be other ways he can go about doing it. Perhaps the most obvious would be to try and move Sean Monahan and his $6.375 million cap hit, though that would be no easy task given that he has scored just eight goals and 21 points this season. There are also players like Mikael Backlund and Milan Lucic who are on lucrative deals, though finding a trade partner for either of them could prove to be difficult.
For now, Flames fans should continue to enjoy where the team is at, and let the pieces fall where they may. Who knows? Maybe Treliving has a trick up his sleeve and will be able to bring both back in multi-year deals. If he is forced to choose between one or the other, however, you can expect to hear mixed reactions around the league.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.