We don’t know if the Calgary Flames will make any major trades this season. But, if they do, one or all of Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are sure to figure into the mix. Whether or not the three players are still in Cowtown at the end of the season will depend on where the Flames sit in the standings at Christmas.
If by then, it looks like they have a shot at the Stanley Cup, there will be little pressure to blow the team up and ship the trio out of the Stampede City for picks and prospects. However, if the Boys in Red get off to a shaky start and success in the playoffs looks doubtful, fans will be at the barricades demanding a rebuild and calling for general manager Brad Treliving’s head.
And who could blame the team’s long-suffering devotees? Blowing it all up and trading the three big guns for a better future makes sense since the next few years are expected to have strong draft classes.
Even so, a strong start to the season will not in itself be enough to keep the trinity in the Flaming C, it will also depend on the players. For example, where negotiations on Johnny Hockey‘s contract extension stand at the 2022 trade deadline will be key. If a deal seems beyond reach he’ll be hawked while the team can still get decent value for him.
Here’s a look at what might lead to the threesome leaving town this season. If they do, their departure will radically reshape the future of the team.
Johnny Gaudreau Trade Scenarios
Gaudreau will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) when his six-year, $40.5 million contract expires this summer, and the Flames can’t let him walk out the door for nothing.
In seven full seasons with the club, Gaudreau has failed to lead the team in scoring only twice. Still, he is no longer the 99-point player he was in the 2018-19 season. If Treliving feels the odds of re-signing him are good, then it makes no sense to trade him, especially if he stumbles out the gate this season and further lessens his market value.
He has a modified no-trade clause (MNTC) that will limit a trade to just five teams and makes it more unlikely the Flames would fetch a better player coming back the other way. If the Flames go deep into the playoffs this spring, then they should be able to remain Cup contenders for the next few seasons, and they’ll need Gaudreau going forward.
On the other hand, assuming contract talks flounder, the Flames could trade him at the 2022 trade deadline as a playoff rental for maximum value. In particular, if the team intends to embark on a rebuild, a package deal involving Gaudreau could bring exciting new picks and prospects to Calgary. Just look at the bonanza the Ottawa Senators reaped on the Erik Karlsson trade with the San Jose Sharks in 2018. That’s paying big dividends now for the Sens.
Nobody knows what the Flames or Gaudreau are looking for in a new deal or even whether both sides want one. I think that if Gaudreau believes the team doesn’t have a realistic shot at winning the Cup in the next two years, he will probably want to return to the United States. However, if he wants to re-sign, he’ll likely want a six-year deal, but at 28-years old, his best scoring years may soon be behind him, and Treliving would probably prefer a two to three-year extension at most.
However, the term should be easier to overcome than salary. Gaudreau knows that a long-term deal with the Flames will be his last chance to earn big dollars. He will be pushing for a significant salary increase beyond the annual $6.75 million he makes now. But that would leave the Flames very short on cap space after “must-do” deals for Andrew Mangiapane and Tkachuk.
Gaudreau is on record saying that he loves playing in Calgary. During his 2020-21 exit interview, he said he is open to an extension if the Flames want him. Still, the progress of contract talks is sealed tighter than a drum at the Saddledome. For his part, he says he won’t be talking much about his contract extension this season.
Matthew Tkachuk Trade Scenarios
Tkachuk is the biggest asset on the Flames, despite his lacklustre performance last season. Suggestions that the Flames should trade him to the St. Louis Blues in return for Vladimir Tarasenko this summer were ludicrous. Other than moving him as part of a deal with the Buffalo Sabres to bring Jack Eichel to town, trading Tkachuk would be pure madness. Or would it?
Tkachuk will be a restricted free agent (RFA) next summer. If the Flames want to retain his rights as an RFA, they have to offer a one-year, $9 million qualifying offer (QO) under the league’s CBA.
Negotiations will be tough because the Flames are dealing with a member of the notoriously hard-nosed Tkachuk family. His father Keith sat out after talks stalled with the Phoenix Coyotes in 1998, and his brother Brady has missed training camp this season while negotiations are ongoing on his new deal with the Senators. Some pundits speculate Matthew will press for a new eight-year contract at a breathtaking $10 million per year.
Tkachuk holds all the cards in these negotiations. If he wanted, he could sign the QO next summer, play for a season and then walk out the door as an unrestricted free agent (UFA). The Flames will not want to negotiate with Tkachuk under a QO. If they can’t sign him before the trade deadline, then it’s better to trade him while they still have him for the better part of two seasons. At least then they would get something for him in a trade.
There has been plenty of speculation this offseason that discussions with Tkachuk are not going well. Sportsnet analyst Shane O’Brien, with admittedly no direct knowledge of the talks, said Tkachuk is unhappy in Calgary and wants to go to his hometown St. Louis where his father was an icon. Some say he wants to play with his brother. Others offered that there was a rift between management and the young star, and some thought the now-infamous “Jake Muzzin puck flipping incident” when his teammates didn’t back him up in the ensuing post-game scrum with the Toronto Maple Leafs caused tension in the locker room.
In my view, this speculation is pure hogwash. Everything I have seen from Matthew and the Tkachuk clan tells me they are all business. For Matthew, negotiations with the Flames will be about extracting the most money possible over the longest term or from any other team that is interested in his services.
If the Flames get off to a strong start this season and appear headed for a long postseason run, there will be pressure on Treliving to sign the supremely talented young hellion to a long-term deal. If they can win now, as management seems to believe, then they’ll need Tkachuk badly over the next few years, and they will pay him the money he wants. On the other hand, if Calgary decides to rebuild or if it is clear by the trade deadline that Tkachuk can’t see his future in Calgary, then he’ll be moved. If he is, the offers of picks and prospects he garners would be impressive.
Sean Monahan Trade Scenarios
Monahan has two years left on his contract and, given his declining performance over the last few seasons, my bet is he won’t be re-signed. That’s why trading him this season is probably a smart move under the right circumstances. It’s not like the Flames haven’t tried to deal him. There have been rumoured talks with the Senators for his services (from, “Are the Senators and Flames potential trade partners for Sean Monahan,” The Athletic, 07/06/21). He was also reportedly almost swapped for Josh Anderson, who at the time was with the Colombus Blue Jackets.
If Monahan has a bounce-back season, then trading him could make sense since he’ll have recovered some of his previous trade value. What’s more, good centres are in short supply in the NHL. With a strong start to the season and at just 26 years old, he could be a top centre again and would interest many clubs once they realize the Eichel sweepstakes are over, and they didn’t get him. However, Monahan, like Gaudreau, has an MNTC clause in his contract that limits the Flames’ trade options to 10 teams.
As long as the Flames think they are contenders, trying to trade Monahan at a diminished value simply for the sake of the trade doesn’t make much sense. Something better would have to be coming back, and that’s unlikely with a flat cap when trades will more likely be one-for-one player swaps. With a cap hit of $6.37 million, he would be difficult to move, and even if a trade were possible, the Flames may have to eat some of his salary.
On the other hand, if the Flames decide to rebuild, then trading Monahan makes sense. Not only would they be unloading an overpriced player, but they should be able to pick up formidable picks and prospects in return – especially if he can bounce back and a Cup contender or two in need of a centre are interested in his services.
Calgary Flames Trades in 2021-22 Depend on the Season Start
Calgary has three very valuable trade assets in Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Monahan. Whether they are placed on the block this season and what the Flames will be asking for them depends on the factors outlined above, none more important than where the team sits in the Pacific Division standings at Christmas. Pay close attention to the start of the season, it will foretell the future.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
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