The rumors started swirling recently after ex-NHLer Shane O’Brien suggested Matthew Tkachuk wanted out of Calgary. While the Flames are expected to be busy this offseason and are potentially open to changing up their core, Tkachuk’s name popping up was certainly a surprise and something that hasn’t been confirmed by the team. If the Flames are indeed listening to trade offers on the 23-year-old pest, the Pittsburgh Penguins should be the first ones in line banging on the door to get in. The best part about it all for the Penguins is they have some trade assets to get this deal done and Brian Burke’s history with Calgary could help facilitate this move.
O’Brien went on to mention during his rumor rant that the Flames forward prefers a move to the St Louis Blues, while there could certainly be some other destinations pop up that may interest him. Let’s just say it right now, playing alongside Sidney Crosby is something that doesn’t take a lot of convincing.
Tkachuk Holds All the Power on Calgary
The Flames have struggled to find consistency the past few seasons and general manager Brad Treliving is running out of options. There will be trades coming in Calgary this summer, it’s just not quite known yet if Tkachuk is included. Many people don’t realize how offensively gifted the Flames forward is and how he scored 34 goals as a 21-year-old. His 43 points in 56 games wasn’t his best season in 2020-21, but his ceiling of potential is off the charts and he plays a style of game that a lot of teams could benefit from, and none more than the Penguins.
Tkachuk’s contract status is likely his biggest leverage point. He’s slated to earn $7 million next season and then head into restricted free agency in 2022-23. The interesting tidbit here is his base salary for next season is $9 million. Why that’s significant is the fact he’s in the final season of his current deal and holds restricted free-agent status for next season. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) mandates a team must offer restricted free agents a qualifying offer equal to 100% of their base salary from the previous season in order for them to maintain restricted status. So if the Flames go the one-year deal route, they will owe Tkachuk $9 million next season and have no leverage the year after as he would be free to sign with any other team. Kudos to Tkachuk’s agent for landing him this type of contract.
Penguins Have the Pieces and Interest to Send Legitimate Offer
As mentioned, Burke’s history with Calgary goes back to when he held the positions of president of hockey operations and acting general manager from 2013 to 2018. Tkachuk was drafted in the first round in 2016 and Burke played a huge role in convincing Flames GM Brad Treliving to make the pick. His nasty style of play, where he’s able to produce on the score sheet and not back down from his opponents, is hard to come by.
If the Flames are trading a young winger who can score, they will want one in return. Enter Jake Guentzel. The 26-year-old had himself a fine season in 2020-21, scoring 23 goals and 57 points in 56 games. The Flames could use this type of production and it allows them to basically plug and play Guentzel on their top line, taking Tkachuk’s place. The 26-year-old former third-round pick of the Penguins is currently making $6 million on his deal and for three more seasons. This would give the Flames some insurance that at least they know they would get three seasons of control.
If the Penguins are going to move on from the Nebraska native, it would be a lot easier this summer as, after this season, Guentzel has a no-trade clause that kicks in where he submits a list of 12 teams he would like to avoid. For argument’s sake, it’s likely Calgary makes the list.
While it’s never easy trading away a 26-year-old versatile winger who plays with speed and has a 40-goal season under his belt. Throw in the fact he’s scored 48 points in 51 playoff games. But make no mistake, the Penguins management duo of Burke and general manager Ron Hextall are open to making changes to the team that add toughness and size and make them much harder to play against. Tkachuk does all of those things and given he’s three years younger than the Penguins winger, it’s certainly not a step in the wrong direction, even with Guentzel being a fan favorite.
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Because of the age gap between the two players, the Flames would likely want another piece besides going 1-for-1 with this trade. The Penguins don’t have a ton in the cupboards when it comes to prospects, however, their best option to ensure they get this deal done would be to add defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph. “P.O” is coming into his own and is pushing more than ever for NHL minutes. The former first-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes appeared in 16 games for the Penguins this season, recording one goal and four assists while adding 22 hits. The Flames will likely lose a legitimate top-four defenseman to the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft and could easily find room for Joseph to get some minutes next season. An offer of Guentzel and Joseph is a legitimate one for Tkachuk and would certainly stack up against other teams.
With everything Hextall and Burke are saying about changing some dynamics of the Penguins, there may not be a better target than the Flames’ Tkachuk. He has the scoring touch, hockey IQ and skating ability to keep up with Crosby on the top line and would bring a completely new element of nasty to the Penguins, which they so desperately need. His history with Burke in Calgary goes a super long way regarding the comfort level of sending a legitimate offer to the Flames. While Penguins fans would be pretty bummed out to lose Guentzel and Joseph, adding Tkachuk improves the hockey club and brings them much closer to the blueprint Burke and Hextall are looking for.