The Calgary Flames announced via Twitter this evening that they have filed for salary arbitration with star forward and current RFA Matthew Tkachuk ahead of today’s 5:00 pm ET deadline for club-elected salary arbitration. Tkachuk had declined to file for salary arbitration prior to yesterday’s deadline for player-elected arbitration, with many expecting the Flames would decline to do so as well. Now, the two sides will have until Tkachuk’s hearing to negotiate an agreement on a new contract, otherwise the matter will be put in the hands of an arbitrator.
The decision to elect arbitration is an interesting one from Calgary’s perspective, but could realistically provide them with advantages in the negotiation process with Tkachuk. The main advantages for Calgary, as cited by PuckPedia, are to eliminate the possibility of an offer-sheet and to prevent Tkachuk from unilaterally accepting the $9MM qualifying-offer the Flames previously made in order to retain the forward’s rights. Though an offer-sheet could conceivably solve the negotiation issues for both sides were Calgary to match, it could also come in the form of a deal the Flames would strongly prefer not to make, but still not worth declining and taking the applicable draft picks. Removing Tkachuk’s ability to accept the qualifying offer also provides the Flames with leverage by preventing Tkachuk from simply ending the negotiation with a one-year deal that would take him straight to the UFA market next summer. Now, Calgary can continue negotiations with Tkachuk without the looming threat of another team forcing an offer on them or Tkachuk unilaterally ending it by accepting the qualifying-offer.
Although he elected not to pursue arbitration, there is still benefit to arbitration for Tkachuk. Now, Calgary must file, at the very least, at the $9MM qualifying-offer. Tkachuk will of course file at a higher number and while the arbitrator may rule in his favor, or for Calgary, or at some number in between, he will be guaranteed at least the same $9MM salary next season.
With the departure of fellow star winger Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk a UFA after this upcoming season, the Flames have been left in a difficult position with their future. The organization will need to decide if it wishes to continue as a contender and work to replace Gaudreau, or lean towards a rebuild, and if so, what that means for Tkachuk. At the same time, it forces the difficult decision onto Tkachuk, who must decide if he wants to commit to Calgary for the long haul or if he, like Gaudreau, wants to move on. Presumably, negotiations have been taking place and even if they have been amicable, the two sides may have hit an impasse where progress seems impossible. By filing for arbitration, both parties now have a hard and relatively immediate deadline to come to an agreement, which may move the needle.
No date and time is yet known for any specific arbitration hearings, but a schedule is expected shortly. Hearings will run between July 27th and August 11th. Thus, Tkachuk’s 2022-23 contract will be certain no later than August 12th.