Flames Filing for Arbitration with Tkachuk is a Very Bad Sign

On Sunday, the NHL Players Association announced the list of players who have filed for salary arbitration, including three Calgary Flames: Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington and Matthew Phillips. One notable name missing from the list, however, is Matthew Tkachuk. However, although he didn’t file for arbitration, the Flames chose to file for club-elected salary arbitration on Monday, accompanied by the following message posted on Twitter:

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“The Flames have filed for club-elected salary arbitration with Matthew Tkachuk. This provides us the opportunity to continue to work with his representatives towards a contractual resolution while removing the possibility of an offer sheet.”

Many were confused by this, as it’s rare for a team to file for salary arbitration. As a result, some believed it was good news for keeping Tkachuk around for the long term. While that could still happen, this move seems to suggest the 24-year-old will be on the move sooner than later. Here’s why.

Arbitration Suggests Tkachuk Will be Moved

While filing for club-elected arbitration effectively prevents other teams from extending an offer sheet to Tkachuk, it also seems to suggest he was going to accept the qualifying offer from the organization, which would have been a one-year, $9 million deal. This would keep him with the Flames for the 2022-23 season before he became a free agent, similar to Johnny Gaudreau.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This would have been a major disaster for the Flames. They simply cannot afford to lose two superstar talents while gaining nothing in return. Sure, they could have traded Tkachuk after he accepted his one-year deal, but most teams would prefer to have him unsigned while obtaining his rights so they could work out a long-term deal of their own. Any team making a trade for him on a one-year contract would know he could bolt at this time next year in free agency, which significantly lowers his trade value.

The other issue here is that if his contract situation does go to an arbitrator, an extension cannot be agreed on until Jan. 1, 2023. This again means that any team that might be interested in acquiring Tkachuk would do so knowing they may not get an extension done, which will scare many teams away or lower their offer considerably.

Tkachuk Offer Sheet Not Likely

What this move suggests is that the Flames are looking to trade Tkachuk. While management argued that it was to prevent an offer sheet, that was never a likely outcome in this case.

Any team that would have extended Tkachuk an offer sheet would only have been able to sign him to a one-year deal. Once again, that would have been an extremely risky bet for any team since they would not only have to part with draft picks but could then lose him for nothing next offseason if both parties couldn’t agree on an extension.

Flames Buying Time

The most likely reason the Flames filed for salary arbitration is to buy time. Arbitration hearings start on July 27 and run until Aug. 11. What this means is that general manager Brad Treliving is likely doing everything he can to find the best available trade offer for his star forward, and will try and move him before a deal is resolved by an arbitrator.

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving
Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

Of course, despite being a restricted free agent, Tkachuk holds a fair amount of power here. Technically, Treliving could send him anywhere he wants, but Tkachuk could let any interested team know whether or not he would be willing to negotiate a long-term deal with them. For example, if there are three teams interested in him, if the team contacting Treliving about a trade isn’t one of them, they aren’t going to make a huge offer. This could tie the GM’s hands, as he may be forced to deal Tkachuk to one of his preferred destinations for less than market value.

Devastating Offseason for the Flames

This is not to suggest that Tkachuk will be gone by the end of this offseason, though it feels likely at this point. Players of his calibre, especially those coming off a 104-point season, rarely go to salary arbitration, especially in this fashion. There have been questions (for a few years) about whether he wanted to remain with the Flames long-term, and it appears those questions have been justified. Of course, losing out on the Gaudreau sweepstakes didn’t help, either.

While it remains likely that Treliving will look to negotiate a new long-term deal with Tkachuk over the next week, I expect he will be moved. If so, it will be a devastating outcome for the organization, as they are coming off of a 111-point regular season in which they were considered Stanley Cup contenders by many. This situation has yet to have been resolved, but if Tkachuk is traded, the Flames will regress, likely in dramatic fashion, in the standings for the 2022-23 season.

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