Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk needs to channel his fire

Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s nothing, and I mean nothing more exciting than a good ole’ fashion NHL fight.

Call it a slobberknocker, call it a brawl, whatever you call it, but when a pair of players – especially long-time rivals – throw down their gloves and lock up after a heated on-ice exchange, it is must-see television.

But do you know what just might be even more entertaining? I’ll give you a hit, it happens even less often, but when it does, it trends on Twitter for hours.

That’s right; we’re talking about a total, unequivocal, on-ice breakdown.

From Carter Hart destroying a stick on his net after suffering a 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins to Austin Watson throwing fists after his team dropped seven goals to the Vancouver Canucks in Brandon Sutter’s first career hat-trick, there is nothing quite like watching a player let their emotions out for the world to see – even if they are often made fun of relentlessly for it.

But I just might have the most entertaining on-ice meltdown you’ll see thing season courtesy of Calgary Flames left-winger Matthew Tkachuk.

Down 4-3 with the game quite literally over, Tkachuk, who is kneeling on the ice, rises to his skates and is met with an ill-aimed puck flipped into the number from Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin. Was this shot intentional? Probably not. I mean, the Leafs are in the midst of a two-game win streak over Calgary, and the flip has turned the longtime Los Angeles King into a bit of a folk hero for his ‘masterful mind games‘ but the decision- and his immediate reaction to it – was just too perfect for it to have been premeditated.

What I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, is that Muzzin was surely pleased with the elder Tkachuk brother’s reaction to said flip, as the 23-year-old not only locked up for a fight with the offending party and Leafs forward Zach Hyman but then ‘flipped out’ on his way to the locker room while using his helmet to inflict blunt force trauma on some unsuspecting water bottles.

If you’re a fan of any team but the Calgary Flames, you love to see it. But if you happen to be a member of the now virtual C of Red, well then… oh boy…

Is Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames’ fire exhilarating or alarming?

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While many a fan will still call this section of the Calgary Flames’ history “The Johnny Gaudreau-era,” that’s becoming increasingly up for debate with each passing season.

Sure, Gaudreau is still very much a member of the Flames and is currently leading the team in points and goals on the season with seven and four respectably, but ever since Tkachuk turned in 48 points as a 19-year-old rookie and followed it up with three more impressive seasons, the team’s proverbial ownership is very much up for debate.

Tkachuk plays the most minutes of any forward not named Elias Lindholm, is the highest-paid player on the team with an AAV of $7 million, and will likely earn a long-term deal in the $8-10 million range when he hits restricted free agency at the end of the 2021-22 season.

One could make the argument that the Flames’ ceiling is directly related to Tkachuk’s, especially as he fully sets into his hockey prime.

If Tkachuk can take a step forward as a leader, focus all of his energy on the ice, and continue to put up an average of 58 points a game moving forward, he can be the fire that propels the Flames forward like ‘The General‘ (the train, not the car insurance).

But then again, we’re talking about a player with at least three outstanding feuds as we speak – one with Drew Doughty, one with Zack Kassian, and now a budding one with Muzzin and his Toronto Maple Leafs. Just how far can Tkachuk progress forward to become the ice-blooded sniper off the wing when he’s so easily goated into focusing more on getting in body checks than pucks into goals?

Can a player mix it up and still dominate on the ice? Most definitely, but riddle me this, how often do you see players like Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, or even Johnny Hockey himself getting baited into such petty feuds?

While everyone will point to Alex Ovechkin as a player who likes to fight and is still averaging 44 goals a season, but honestly, if that’s the bar we’re comparing wings to in the NHL, you’ll be severely disappointed.

No matter how you slice it, Tkachuk is a supremely talented player. He’s got great size, is a good passer and can rocket a puck into the goal like very few other players in the NHL right now. If you held a hypothetical league-wide fantasy draft, there’s a very good chance Tkachuk would be taken in the first round and could instantly become the best player of about a dozen players in the league right now if he were to magically become available in free agency.

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The Flames have, without a doubt, been a better team in the four years since Tkachuk came to town in 2016 than in the four years prior, and they will surely remain a competitor in the North/Pacific Division indefinitely as long as their current core remains intact.

Then again, if the ‘power forward’ starts to focus too much on the power part and not enough on actually playing forward, it’ll increasingly make games like the Flames’ 4-3 loss to the Canucks all the more frustrating – especially when you consider Tkachuk missed all four of his shots on goal in said contest.

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Between you and me, I think Matthew Tkachuk is one of the most exciting players to watch in the NHL. He’s crafty, creative, powerful, and can make plays like these a bit more frequently than many of his peers. If Tkachuk can fully commit all of his fiery passion to the game of hockey, he genuinely could become one of the faces of the league as older players like Alex Ovechkin start hanging up their skates for good. But if he continues to get sidetracked by on-ice squabbling often baited on by all-too-aware foes, it’ll result in even more social media pile ons, as opposed to what really matters, wins for the Calgary Flames.