This has not been a good year for Matthew Tkachuk. He has struggled offensively and hasn’t been the regular driving force we’ve come to expect. So… is Tkachuk just having a down year? Or is this a concerning trend? Knowing he’s the team’s highest paid player and due a $9 million qualifying offer in just over a year, the Flames are hoping for option one. Let’s take a look at why there’s a good chance that’s exactly what happens.
Even considering a 56-game schedule, this is the worst offensive season of Tkachuk’s career. He sits third in team scoring with 31 points in 48 games, but it’s his production at five-on-five that’s most concerning. Tkachuk has put up just 18 even strength points, which puts him sixth on the team. Considering how much he plays, diving into Tkachuk’s five-on-five scoring rates becomes even more telling. All data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Not only is Tkachuk producing at the worst rate of his career, he’s also way down the list compared to his teammates. Tkachuk sits ninth on the Flames in goals-per-60 and points-per-60, which is hard to swallow. Yes, as a team, Calgary has had trouble scoring at five-on-five all year long. Even still, Tkachuk is expected to be one of the team’s offensive drivers, based both on salary and his career to date.
You don’t have to rely on statistics to tell the story of Tkachuk’s frustrating season, either, as they just confirm what we’ve seen with our own eyes. Between the legs passes to nowhere in the defensive zone. Lost board battles that were consistently won in the past. Blueline turnovers. Something doesn’t check out, because these aren’t things we’re used to seeing from Tkachuk.
For the vast majority of his first four NHL seasons, Flames fans could count on Tkachuk as one of the team’s most effective forwards every night. That’s why this year has stuck out so glaringly. There are multiple culprits responsible for Calgary’s infuriating season, but Tkachuk’s drop-off has to be near the top of the list. That’s how important he has been.
The bigger picture
While most of the criticism aimed at Tkachuk this season is valid, I also don’t think it’s time to panic. Good players have down seasons and this has been a miserable year for the entire team. A bit of a deeper look suggests that’s likely what’s happening here. Let’s start with Tkachuk’s underlying possession metrics compared to the rest of his career.
Tkachuk’s impact at five-on-five is comparable to the rest of his career. Even with his drop in production, Calgary still regularly spends more time on the attack and out-chances the opposition with Tkachuk on the ice. When you consider a career-low 7.5% even strength shooting percentage, it partly (and I stress partly) helps to explain a drop in offence.
Individually, Tkachuk is generating shots, attempts, and high danger chances at close to career averages. As such, we haven’t seen a significant drop in individual expected goals. Where we have seen a drop is the gap between expected and actual goals, which is the largest negative of Tkachuk’s career.
The moral here is Tkachuk has still affected the game positively in line with career averages. The production has fallen off significantly and he’s visibly been a less effective player. More often than not, though, seasons that follow trends like this don’t turn out to foreshadow a player’s demise. Most of the time, players have bad seasons, come back the next year and return to form.
Let’s also not forget Tkachuk is a proud player who knows this hasn’t been a good season. Knowing what we do about him, I’d suggest it’s a good bet Tkachuk will be a motivated player with a chip on his shoulder coming into a contract year. While nothing is guaranteed, I very much expect Tkachuk’s next full season to be much better than this miserable shortened one.