The Flames really had something! They finally had a deep, talented roster and career years from in-their-prime superstars and NHL relevance for the first time in a generation, and, best of all, they had every reason to think they could run it back for years to come. And then they lost the Battle of Alberta, and then Johnny Gaudreau shockingly left for Columbus, and now Matthew Tkachuk wants out. They had something, and all of a sudden and through no fault of their own, they have something a whole lot worse.
Something seemed up when Calgary filed for arbitration with Tkachuk earlier this week, a time-buying move to avoid a qualifying-offer deadline. The whispers built from there, and now The Athletic reports that Tkachuk has told the Flames he won't sign a long-term extension, which means the 24-year-old winger is almost a certainty to be traded within the next couple of weeks; Calgary's front office learned the hard way from the Gaudreau saga that they can't afford to lose Tkachuk for nothing.
Tkachuk is no doubt going to command an eight-year deal for big AAV, and he'll deserve every penny of it: Playing his first full season on a top line, he scored 42 goals to go with 62 assists, and has rounded out into a plus defensive skater. Even off the puck he's got that agitator touch, but with more than enough sense and skill to keep from hurting his team by going too far. He's a gem of a player and there isn't a team in the NHL who couldn't use him. And he's in the driver's seat: According to the Athletic, Tkachuk has given the Flames a list of teams he'd be willing to sign long-term with, effectively functioning as a no-trade clause. (That list of teams reportedly includes the Blues, Golden Knights, Panthers, Predators, Stars, Devils, and Rangers, though the exact makeup of the list is disputed by another reporter.)
With a roster still too good to blow up completely, and plenty of money that was set aside for Gaudreau, the Flames will seek NHL-ready talent in any trade, rather than picks or prospects. (A deal with St. Louis, which would send Tkachuk home and move, among other things, the disgruntled Vladimir Tarasenko the other way, feels almost too obvious.) But Calgary is not going to replace Matthew Tkachuk, and it's sure as hell not going to be able to make up for the loss of both Tkachuk and Gaudreau, who combined for 219 points this season as linemates. Poor Elias Lindholm.
I think it's safe to say Calgary has had the worst offseason of anyone, unless you really really like their signing of Kevin Rooney, in which case you can take your nonsense to some other blog, bub. Maybe Vegas comes close, but they did it themselves so they receive no sympathy. The Flames, on the other hand, must be wondering how it all went wrong, and so quickly. It's not even clear why Gaudreau and Tkachuk wanted out. Maybe playing for Darryl Sutter is no fun. Maybe the Saddledome stinks. Maybe NHL players, especially American ones, don't want to live in Calgary—it's certainly gaining a bit of a reputation for that, fair or not. Whatever the causes, the effect is that the Flames are, almost overnight, no longer a Cup contender.