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When Matthew Tkachuk signs his new contract, it has the chance to be the largest deal ever signed in Calgary. Even if he doesn’t sign for the max eight-year term, Tkachuk will almost certainly carry the highest average annual value on the team. But Tkachuk’s cap hit isn’t the only thing ready to set a new standard for the Flames; he’s also poised to reset the team’s bar in another important area.

The financials

Due to the rapid evolution of the salary cap year over year, comparing AAVs apples to apples has become difficult. As such, looking at a player’s percentage of the salary cap has become a useful tool when discussing contracts. This is where Tkachuk will very likely set a new standard, at least in recent years.

The last two significant RFA contracts signed by Calgary came in the summer of 2016 with @Sean Monahan and @Johnny Gaudreau. At $6.375 and $6.75 million respectively, both Monahan and Gaudreau were hovering at around 9% of the then $73.0 million salary cap.

Player Date AAV CH%
Sean Monahan August 19, 2016 $6.375 8.73
Johnny Gaudreau October 10, 2016 $6.75 9.25

We can debate if Tkachuk should come in at a lower percentage of the cap than either Monahan or Gaudreau, but I’m not sure how much it matters. This season’s cap is set at $81.5 million, which would put Tkachuk at a $7.11 million AAV at Monahan’s percentage and $7.54 million at Gaudreau’s. I just can’t see Tkachuk coming in at under $8 million on a long-term deal, which means he’ll likely end up with the highest percentage on the team.

It’s interesting to look at cap percentages from prior big deals signed by the Flames, too. Jarome Iginla’s longest deal (5 years at $7 million per) counted 13.92% of the then $50.3 million cap, while Dion Phaneuf (6 years at $6.5 million) came in at 12.92%. It’s tough to compare those contracts to Tkachuk’s, though, mainly because they were signed more than a decade ago.

Performance

Regardless of what his deal ends up looking like, @Matthew Tkachuk will become one of Calgary’s three highest paid forwards. Based on his performance and the current NHL economy, that’s probably the way it should be. Tkachuk’s first three years in the NHL have been impressive from a production standpoint, especially compared to what we saw from Monahan and Gaudreau leading up to their second contracts.

Player GP G A PTS P/G
Johnny Gaudreau 160 55 88 143 0.89
Sean Monahan 237 80 79 159 0.67
Matthew Tkachuk 224 71 103 174 0.77

The debate as to where Tkachuk belongs in the hierarchy among young Flames forwards is fascinating. Some believe he’s the most important of the bunch due to intangible things he brings. Others look at his skating and suggest he lags behind Gaudreau and Monahan in importance. Count me as one of the former; I put him and Gaudreau on pretty even footing at the top of the list, even though Monahan plays centre.

I think we can all agree Gaudreau is Calgary’s most important offensive piece. Tkachuk, on the other hand, is the team’s best all-around winger. Not only has his offensive game progressed significantly, but Tkachuk is also used in some of the most difficult head-to-head situations anywhere. His underlying metrics below speak to that.

Player GP CF% OZS% G60 P60
Johnny Gaudreau 160 48.2 55.4 0.83 2.02
Sean Monahan 237 46.0 51.3 0.95 1.69
Matthew Tkachuk 224 56.7 45.6 0.78 2.01

To date, Tkachuk’s production at five-on-five is almost on par with what we saw from Gaudreau in his first two seasons and superior to Monahan in his first three. Additionally, Tkachuk’s possession metrics are a polar opposite of Calgary’s dynamic duo, which needs to be factored into the conversation.

Projecting a deal

As I reported last week, the Flames and Tkachuk’s camp are barely talking, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As it stands right now, it doesn’t serve Tkachuk (or any of the other high profile unsigned RFAs) to be ahead of the curve. Everyone is waiting on everyone else, which means we’re waiting on the first guy to set the market.

The best we can do currently is look at the two players who have signed, even though neither circumstance is a perfect comparable.

Player AAV CH%
Auston Matthews $11.634 14.63
Sebastian Aho $8.454 10.37

Matthews inked his five-year deal with the Maple Leafs in early February and set the high bar, which isn’t likely to be exceeded (at least on the same term). Since entering the league, Matthews has scored goals at an unparalleled rate at both five-on-five (1.51 G/60) and overall (1.74). That’s higher than Ovechkin, Malkin, Laine, Tarasenko, and well, every other player. As such, comparing Tkachuk and the rest of this RFA class to Matthews isn’t always the easiest exercise, because Matthews is essentially in a league of his own.

Aho, on the other hand, doesn’t compare straight across due to the nature of his contract. Because Montreal negotiated his deal on an offer sheet as opposed to Carolina, Aho’s deal is somewhat of a red herring. In saying that, Habs’ general manager Marc Bergevin might have done his counterparts a favour by giving Aho such a team-friendly deal.

Of the remaining RFAs, I’m really not sure who’s going to sign first. I would not be surprised, however, if multiple players end up missing significant time in training camp. I would suggest one or two players missing regular season games is a solid possibility, too.

While there’s still plenty of unknown surrounding Tkachuk’s deal, there are a few things we can be sure of. Due to cap inflation, we’re almost certainly looking at the highest AAV on the team. Based on that same inflation and a changed business model, Tkachuk is also likely to fetch the highest percentage of Calgary’s cap we’ve seen in more than a decade.


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