Three months ago, Calgary came into the playoffs as a shadow favorite after a strong regular season and first place in the Pacific Division. Unlike the swaggering attackers of Florida or Toronto, Darryl Sutter’s club initially looked like the perfect fighter for the knockout games – but allowed himself to be drawn into a frantic shootout in games with Edmonton and was eliminated.
Now, literally in a week, this team received two severe blows. The Calgary relied heavily on the Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk trio. First, the left wing fell off it: Gaudreau, as expected for many, chose the game in the USA, but the choice of the state of Ohio was unexpected. Then Matthew Tkachuk’s negotiations with Calgary were interrupted by a sudden application for arbitration, which was filed by the club itself. The journalists were sure that this was a maneuver to buy time and prevent the offer.
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Now these guesses have been confirmed – Tkachuk does not want to sign a long-term contract with Calgary and asks for an exchange. The circle of clubs that the forward outlined is quite predictable – first of all, it is almost his native St. Louis, where Kit, the eldest of the Tkachuks, played. Then there are clubs from states where there is no local income tax (Vegas, Nashville, Dallas), plus teams from the New York metropolitan area – Rangers and Devils.
First line Calgary last season
It is difficult even to find an analogy for this situation. Even in today’s NHL, which is racing towards 80s-level scoring, there are only eight players who hit 100 points in the last regular season. Among them were Gaudreau (115), who left absolutely free of charge, and Tkachuk (104), who at least warned of his departure, while the club retains the rights to him.
Link Gaudro – Lindholm – Tkachuk – the best link in many respects in the NHL last season. This is the most inseparable combination in the league (964 minutes), the most productive link (73 goals in equal compositions), the most effective in terms of advanced statistics (62% of expected goals while on the court). Now only the Swedish center remains, which performed more utilitarian functions.
The fact that Canada is not the most attractive place for hockey players, and so it was known. But the escape of two superstars in a week is already too much, even taking into account all the negative factors of the northern country. Let’s remind them.
First, taxes. We will not describe the local taxation system with multi-stage rates – but if Gaudreau signed a contract for his $ 9.75 million in Calgary, he would pay 47.7% of his income to the budget. Both federal and local taxes are taken into account here – but in Florida, where there is no state tax, you would have to pay 40.5%, a rather significant difference even for millionaires. By the way, if we take Gaudreau as an example, then in Ohio there is a state tax – but, apparently, the extra 4% of income was not a key issue for Johnny.
Panorama of Calgary overlooking the Flames Arena
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Secondly, living conditions. Canadian cities are generally considered rather boring – among them, traditionally, only Vancouver is noted, which became famous in hockey Russia due to the fact that it “stinks of grass” there. In addition, Americans do not particularly like areas with “long, dry, cold, but unstable winters and short, moderately warm summers” (Calgary’s climate description from Wikipedia). But the capital of Alberta, as you know, is not the worst city in this regard – it will be worse in Winnipeg.
Thirdly, the unreal pressure of the media and fans. The craziest cities in this regard are the largest, Toronto and Montreal, but they can also get it in quiet agglomerations. Although Canadians are considered by their southern neighbors to be calm and sluggish people, after defeats they can turn into furies. Even McDavid was insulted and not allowed to pass when he once decided to go out to a restaurant after a series of unsuccessful matches. Not everyone likes excessive popularity – another plus in favor of the southern teams, where hockey is perceived without unnecessary passions at all.
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To these factors are added local ones. Despite the fact that Darryl Sutter is an excellent coach who knows how to build championship teams and make journalists laugh at press conferences, he is a rather old-fashioned and tough person. Los Angeles players were reported to be simply tired of the coach’s demands after a few years of his job. Let’s assume that there are people with a fine mental organization for whom even a year and a half of such a situation is enough.
But there is also a rather exclusive reason — covid restrictions. Governments on the left during the pandemic have been the strictest, and Canadians have stood out. In purely hockey terms, this turned into an empty stadium game when the stadiums in the United States were already full. In everyday life, this creates a bunch of inconveniences of varying degrees, because of which many players do not want to look north of the 49th parallel. This has already been forgotten, but the ultra-tight covid restrictions at the beginning of the year caused mass protests in the country.
Protests against covid measures in Canada
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
None of these factors are critical – but together they create a cumulative effect. An NHL agent in an anonymous commentary for the Daily Faceoff called him “death by a thousand cuts.” Therefore, it is very difficult to remember the transfers of stars from American clubs to Canadian ones – of course, there was John Tavares, plus a large overpayment to 38-year-old Patrick Marlo, but this is not enough.
Most Canadian team leaders are, by some odd joke of nature, Americans, and almost half of the potential US Olympic team played north of their country last season. Guys like Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes have at least managed to sign long contracts – but others, quite possibly, will also force the exchange. The same saga with the trade of J.T. Miller from Vancouver seems to be dragging on forever.
This may also apply to the highest paid American in the NHL – Auston Matthews. The owner of “Maurice Richard”, knocked out 60 goals in the last regular season, has two more years of the contract with “Toronto”. It is quite possible that his relations with the “leaves” will not endure another elimination in the first round. The agent mentioned above believes that in two years Auston will enter the market and will claim the maximum possible salary for the CBA at 20% of the ceiling – Canadian clubs cannot satisfy such requirements.
And what about Calgary itself? This will largely depend on the compensation that the club will receive for Tkachuk. For example, if you look at the same St. Louis, it is difficult to imagine an option in which the club would not include Jordan Kaira in the deal. The same Sutter showed that you can win cups without big stars – but the Flames lineup without two main stars still looks very poor in attack.
Calgary’s management faces a difficult decision whether to go into restructuring or continue to maintain a normal level. Obviously, there is no winner among them.