Predators Should Target Matthew Tkachuk Despite High Cost

On Wednesday afternoon, a bombshell was dropped in the NHL when Calgary Flames’ forward Matthew Tkachuk‘s name was confirmed to be on the trade market. Despite contract negotiations circulating throughout the early days of the summer, the story dissolved into a forward unwilling to sign long-term in the city of Calgary, thus putting general manager (GM) Brad Treliving in a tough spot. The Flames’ summer was already hot enough as it was, losing Johnny Gaudreau one week ago to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and now they stand to lose two pivotal pieces from their top-six lineup.

According to an article published in The Athletic, co-written by Jeremy Rutherford and Hailey Salvian, the Nashville Predators are among the five teams considered desirable landing spots for Tkachuk (from ‘Matthew Tkachuk tells Flames he won’t re-sign long-term; trade likely: Sources’, The Athletic, 07/20/22). While Flames beat reporter Eric Francis has stated these rumours have no merit, one has to wonder if Predators GM David Poile will pick up the phone to make a pitch.

Related: Islanders Would Be a Great Landing Spot for Matthew Tkachuk

The Predators have some assets and desirable pieces that could make for an entertaining offer, but just how far is Poile willing to go? There are several teams out there with greater prospect pools, a surplus of draft picks, and players better suited for the Flames’ build, but Nashville still has the potential to make a run for the 42-goal scorer. Here are some assets it will likely take to land Tkachuk in Tennessee.

Ryan Johansen/Matt Duchene/Mikael Granlund

Starting with salary cap concerns, the Predators have under $9 million and slightly above that if forwards Markus Nurmi and newly-acquired and signed John Leonard begin the year in the American Hockey League (AHL). The money left behind is quite possibly equivalent to what Tkachuk could be asking for, if not more. This brings Poile to an undesirable position of moving a higher-paid player, which will drive up the price of assets to pull the offer off.

Matt Duchene Nashville Predators
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Between Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, and Mikael Granlund, Duchene holds the highest stock value. He’s coming off a turnaround season where he scored 42 goals, a career-high, and led all forwards on the team in points with 86 in 78 games. He was also one of the better post-season performers in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite a first-round sweep against the Colorado Avalanche. His price tag is hefty at $8 million for four more seasons, and he’ll be 35 by the end of his current deal.

Johansen is paid for one year less at the same average annual value, is two years younger, and also enjoyed a successful year in Nashville with 63 points in 79 games. He was one point shy of tying his best season point total as a member of the Predators and ensured hockey fans that he still had some spirit left in his game. On the other hand, Granlund is coming off his most productive season in Nashville and has the best contract of the three players at $5 million for the next three seasons. While they would add a winger to their top six, Nashville could lose a top-six centre in return. Having said that, the issue is potentially a non-factor if Cody Glass receives a legitimate shot at proving his worth in an offensive role. Should he fail, the Predators would find themselves in some troubling waters.

Tanner Jeannot

Coming off a monster rookie season where he led the NHL in goals among all rookies, Tanner Jeannot‘s name would have to be in the mix. At 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, he’s the type of player Flames fans would love to have on their team, as he scored 24 goals and 41 points in 81 games while playing primarily on the team’s third line alongside Yakov Trenin and Colton Sissons. He’s big, has the wheels to fly down the wing, and hits like a truck. Plus, not only is he willing to drop the gloves, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a battle he lost during the 2021-22 season.

Tanner Jeannot Nashville Predators
Tanner Jeannot, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jeannot had a disappointing playoff run in his first appearance on the grand stage, but that shouldn’t undermine his value to a team that loves playing fast and physical. There’s a spot for him in Calgary’s top six as well if one of Tyler Toffoli or Andrew Mangiapane switches over to the left side, and playing with one of Elias Lindholm or Mikael Backlund would pair well with his style. With head coach Darryl Sutter prioritizing defensive-minded hockey and ironing out all the details, a 24-goal winger who started nearly 70 percent of his faceoffs in the defensive zone while playing on the team’s third line would be an attractive piece to add.

Predators in the Prospect Pipeline

Due to the expected amount of offers coming through the wire, Poile will have to add a prospect to the package to spice things up and draw some interest back. Unfortunately, the Predators don’t have many defensive prospects that catch the eye. Nashville has an eye for defensemen in the later rounds, hidden gems that go from third or fourth round picks to top-four defensemen at the NHL level, leaving their defensive depth with few appealing names. They have a few players of interest on offense and one between the pipes, and may have to say goodbye to at least one in order to acquire Tkachuk.

Zachary L’Heureux (19), Luke Evangelista (20), Egor Afanasyev (21), and Jáchym Kondelík (22) are all up-and-coming talents that play different roles, yet stand to be NHL calibre forwards in a few years. L’Heureux is your typical small forward with the heart of a lion, plays physical, and loves to take on any challenge thrown his way. Evangelista was a prolific goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League, while Afanasyev held his own in the AHL. Kondelík was named NCAA (Hockey East) Best Defensive Forward this past year, excelling at both ends of the ice.

Any of the players mentioned above would be a phenomenal addition to the Flames’ depth chart and a bitter pill to swallow for Predators fans. Should they look to avoid losing one of them, goaltender Yaroslav Askarov could be worth considering for the management team in Calgary. The ink on his three-year, entry-level contract is still fresh, but the goaltending pipeline is becoming extremely crowded with the addition of Kevin Lankinen this offseason. The signing leaves the organization with six goaltenders fighting for spots in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL, creating an interesting battle for starting time in the 2022-23 season.

Team Russia Yaroslav Askarov
Russia’s goalie Yaroslav Askarov in action during Euro Hockey Tour between Russia and Czech Republic on February 14, 2021 (Photo by ANDREAS HILLERGREN/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)

Connor Ingram is also a considerable candidate for a package if Lankinen slots into the Predators’ backup spot. At 25, he has one year remaining on his current deal and is a restricted free agent at season’s end, and he looked sharp in the first-round series against the Avalanche. Losing either of the two goaltenders would be a blow to the depth chart, but Saros is still young at 27, signed for three more years, and the team will have a decent amount of money coming off the books by then, so retaining him shouldn’t be worrisome.

Predators Final Package Offer

The Predators’ final offer could look a little something like this; Johansen, Jeannot, Askarov/Ingram, and their 2023 first-round pick. The combination clears up enough cap space to sign Tkachuk long-term and give Nashville a 1-2 punch on the left side with Forsberg while providing the Flames with solid assets to set them up, both present and the future. Calgary receives a powerplay contributor who can play in the team’s top six, a winger that can slide between the first and third line, a solid goaltending prospect, and a first-round draft pick that could slot anywhere between 15th-20th overall.

For Nashville, with the aforementioned players departing, the team is now left with some decisions on their four forward lines. The defensive core is left untouched and set in place for the following season, and Saros will start most of the campaign with Lankinen playing the odd game in relief. It sets up the potential for the following rotation.

Filip ForsbergMikael GranlundMatt Duchene
Eeli TolvanenCody GlassMatthew Tkachuk
Yakov TreninColton SissonsPhilip Tomasino
John LeonardMichael McCarronZachary Sanford

With Granlund jumping up to the first-line centre spot, it opens the door for Glass to showcase his offensive capabilities while playing with Tkachuk on his right side. There is also potential for two lines that are interchangeable to balance out the chemistry and match up against opposing teams’ specific strengths and weaknesses. The third line is nearly untouched, with Philip Tomasino filling in for Jeannot, and the newly-constructed fourth line being a one-trick pony of crash-and-bang hockey.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Their lack of depth on both sides led to their unceremonious exit in last year’s playoffs, and they now have a chance to improve their offensive exponentially. They take a hit down the middle and possibly on their third line, but the near future holds the potential for a team that becomes the desired landing spot for free agents. Whether Poile is comfortable pulling the trigger on this deal or if Treliving believes it to be the best package, fans will have a long summer ahead before we get that answer.

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