Grit and goals returned to the Calgary Flames in time for the regular season with the re-signing of Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames announced a three-year, US$21-million deal with the 21-year-old winger Wednesday morning.
Head coach Bill Peters said Tkachuk would undergo medical tests upon his arrival in the afternoon and will play in the final preseason game Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.
Calgary opens the regular season Oct. 3 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Part of a 2019 cohort of restricted free agents who have altered the NHL contract marketplace, Tkachuk was skating in Ontario awaiting a new contract before reporting to training camp.
“It’s not like he was in the Bahamas on the beach, so I know he’s been working hard,” Peters said. “I know he’ll want to hit the ground running and I know he won’t want to listen to the narrative of, ‘If you get off to a slow start, it’s because you missed however many days of camp.’
“He doesn’t want to hear that. We’ll try to get him up to speed as quick as we can. He’s a smart player so I don’t see any issue there.”
Tkachuk’s new contract keeps him with the team through the 2021-22 season.
The deal carries an annual average value of US$7-million, which is the highest on Calgary’s roster.
The contract is back-end loaded, according to capfriendly.com, with a third-year payday of US$9-million.
Star winger Johnny Gaudreau and captain Mark Giordano are both on the books with salary cap hits of US$6.75-million through the 2021-22 season.
Top-line centre Sean Monahan, 24, stands at US$6.375-million through 2022-23.
“I’m sure he’ll take all the guys out for dinner, but other than that, money is behind the scenes,” Monahan said. “You just play hockey and you’re teammates and friends.”
Tkachuk has compiled 71 goals and 174 points in 224 regular-season NHL games since he was drafted sixth over all by the Flames in 2016. He has two goals and an assist in nine playoff outings.
The son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk and older brother of Ottawa Senators winger Brady Tkachuk put up career-highs in goals (34), assists (43) and points (77) last season.
Matthew Tkachuk excels around the opposition’s net, irritating defencemen and goalies and scoring from close range with deflections and tip-ins.
“Not everybody brings what he brings to the table so it’s nice to have that back in our room, back on the ice with us,” Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic said.
“He’s [got] a unique set of skills with what he can do to kind of get under guys’ skins and how hard he plays down low. With his skill set, his hands around the net, his touch, his playmaking ability down low, [it’s] as good as anybody. ”
Getting the 6-foot-2, 202-pound forward back in the fold means a key part of the Flames nucleus remains in Calgary.
The Flames topped the NHL’s Western Conference last season with 107 points before a hasty first-round exit in five games at the hands of the Avalanche.
Tkachuk turns 22 in December. He’s been pegged as a possible future Flames captain because of his vocal leadership and dressing-room presence.
Unlike Mitch Marner’s six-year, US$65-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tkachuk’s is a bridge contract allowing the Flames to squeeze under the salary cap while giving Tkachuk the prospect of a richer deal in the not-so-distance future.
Calgary was slightly over the cap with the Tkachuk transaction, so a roster move is a possibility.
Peters said Tkachuk will be reunited with centre Mikael Backlund and winger Michael Frolik on Calgary’s second line and will return as the net-front presence for the top power-play unit.
That bumps Sam Bennett out of the top-six role he’s had in training camp and Milan Lucic off the No. 1 power play team.