Even though free agency began a full week ago there is still action around the NHL. We’re still waiting for Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg to sign somewhere. Players and clubs that have filed for arbitration are still negotiating to avoid that painful conversation. Meanwhile, trade winds are still blowing and another star player is now stealing headlines around the league.
To borrow a phrase from college sports, Matthew Tkachuk has entered the transfer portal.
This is a brutal blow for the Calgary Flames, who lost Johnny Gaudreau for nothing in free agency. To win their division this past season and now have their two best offensive players potentially gone is a tough blow (at least the Blackhawks were bad last year so some small part of our brains can justify re-starting the rebuild). For the Flames to look at potentially jumping into a retool of sorts after such a good season is a hard turn for the franchise.
Tkachuk, 24 (same age as Alex DeBrincat), topped 40 goals last season (like DeBrincat). He’s currently a restricted free agent who wants the bag, and rightfully so. Originally the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, he’s scored 152 goals in 431 regular season games – all for the Flames.
But it appears he wants out. The Flames are aware of his non-committal to their team enough that they filed for arbitration with the player to protect themselves from him signing an offer sheet with another franchise.
The son of “Big Walt,” Keith Tkachuk, Matthew is one of the players who has become an emblem for the growth of youth hockey in the St. Louis area – which has largely been attributed to the investments made by players like his father in growing the game in the area. His brother, Brody, was the fourth overall pick by the Senators in the 2018 NHL Draft. And others from the area have started productive NHL careers as well.
We bring up that context because, since Matthew was drafted by Calgary, there have been whispers that he wants to go “home” to St. Louis. And the Blues would be crazy to not consider a player of his caliber and size (6-2, 202).
On Wednesday, The Athletic published a story looking at seven potential suitors for Tkachuk in a trade. Of course, the Blues are front and center. But another team in the Blackhawks’ division is also listed.
Let’s talk about those potential suitors …
A case of the Blues
The Blues are an intriguing team right now because of the almost metaverse last couple of years they’ve experienced as a franchise. Two years ago, they were an older team with veteran defensemen leaving. Last summer, their best player, Vladimir Tarasenko, openly asked for a trade while dealing with injury issues.
But this year, St. Louis finished third in the Central Division with 109 points and gave the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche arguably their toughest series of the postseason.
The emergence of young forwards Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou have been a huge factor in their quick renaissance. As has the acquisition of forward Pavel Buchnevich, who scored 30 goals last year after coming over from the Rangers.
St. Louis has young assets and it would make a lot of sense for them to bring Tkachuk “home.” What they don’t have is cap space, which is elaborated well in the piece from The Athletic. With big contracts already on the books and more significant extensions coming in the near future, the Blues would need to do some financial gymnastics to make a deal work.
But Tkachuk going to the Blues – depending on what they gave up – could make them a much tougher team to get around in the Central for the next 5-7 years.
The other team that has been mentioned in multiple places as a potential suitor for Tkachuk is Nashville. The Preds were able to extend Filip Forsberg this summer with a big deal and have a young team that surprised many people with a playoff berth this past season.
Unlike the Blues, the Preds have ample cap space to make them an interesting conversation. David Poile has never spent to the cap ceiling in Nashville, and a Tkachuk move would likely push them into that area.
Potential impact on the Blackhawks
If Tkachuk is moved to a team in the Central Division, it actually helps the Blackhawks in the short term. The stronger the top of the division becomes, the worse the bottom-feeding Blackhawks will be in 2022-23 and likely the following year before Kyle Davidson begins activating his youth movement.
So, higher draft picks in Chicago mean better young players added to the organization. Great!
But we’re looking at Tkachuk signing a max extension wherever he plays next year, which means he’s likely looking for a seven-year contract. And, at 24, that takes him through the majority of the prime years of his career.
It also means when the Blackhawks are ready to go again (theoretically) in 4-5 years, he’s still in his late-20s in the division hitting people hard and scoring goals.
As fans of a rebuilding team that has lost significant pieces in the past, we can sympathize somewhat with the Flames fans’ frustration. But Chicago kept Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews through the primes of their careers and won three championships with them as the centerpiece forwards. Calgary didn’t win anything but a division title with Gaudreau and Tkachuk.
This could become an offseason-defining trade for the Flames and the team they partner with to find Tkachuk a new home. And there’s a good chance if/when a deal happens, the Blackhawks see a lot more of him in the Central Division in the future.