“I’m in training camp now — my work is done there,” smiled the Flames winger, who made headlines league-wide with his recent comments on the 32 Thoughts podcast on his little bro’s contract stalemate with Ottawa.
“I’m off the clock officially there. I’m focused on this up here and they worry about that over there.”
Was he surprised his words caused such a stir?
“I don’t get surprised by anything in Canada any more,” he chuckled.
Nothing ever seems to surprise fans either, when it comes to the talented muckraker.
However, his unpredictability disappeared early last season when the man known for his skill as much as his post-whistle engagement, went relatively silent, disappearing regularly from the scoresheet and the headlines.
A post-game puck flip to the chest from Jake Muzzin prompted a nuclear reaction from Tkachuk followed by a relatively vanilla stretch from a man who is at his best when in the midst of, well, everything.
Asked if he was making a conscious effort to stop stirring things up, the 23-year-old shrugged.
“You guys notice that stuff more than I do,” said the former 34-goal scorer, who had a late flurry of success to finish with 16 goals and 43 points in 56 outings.
“I don’t really make my living from post-whistle stuff. I’ve got to do way more than that to show myself as a player. So, I’m focused on that this year as well.”
Did he see himself as being the same player last year?
“I just don’t think I was at my best for enough time,” he clarified.
“I thought there were bits and pieces I played the way I know how, but I was not as consistent. I know going into last year, that’s the one thing I wanted to be better at was my consistency. I have to get back to that. Getting back to being an impact player every night. Last year I wasn’t.”
Nor were many of his teammates, which explains the team’s fifth-place finish in the North Division and the need to change coaches mid-stream.
“I think, quite frankly, if you asked all the guys that were here last year if they played up to their standard, if there’s anybody that said that they did they are probably lying,“ said Tkachuk, who has started camp on the left side of 200-foot stars Elias Lindholm and Blake Coleman.
“As a team we were nowhere near where we needed to be, especially coming down the stretch in the second half when we had a chance. This is a really big year.”
As someone whose game rises with the emotion of a game, few others will benefit more from the roar of the crowd than Tkachuk … and he knows it.
“Yes, definitely — I think it will impact everybody’s game,” he said.
“It sucked last year with no fans. Huge games last year without anybody in the crowd. It’s a different feel. It’s not the same at all. The energy we’ll get from these pre-season games is something we haven’t felt since March of 2020 -– that’s a long time ago. I definitely feed off that and am excited about that, home and away.”
A restricted free agent next summer who could take his one-year qualifying offer of $9 million and walk into free agency, his questionable future in Calgary is one of the biggest things preventing him from being the obvious replacement for departed captain Mark Giordano.
“I don’t think about that stuff too much — that’s way out of mine and the rest of the players’ decision,” he said of the vacant captaincy.
“It’s not like that changes you as a player or as a leader or the way you are on or off the ice. I’ve said since my rookie year that ever since I was five years old I’ve played the same way, and acted the same way, and I don’t think anything is going to change the way I’ve done things in the past. I just want to come in here this year and be really passionate and competitive. Last year wasn’t the year myself or anyone else wanted. So, a fresh start. I’m really excited to be here to change the last few years for this team.”
Changing people’s opinions isn’t a motivator.
“We’re not here to change peoples’ minds on how we are as a team, or what they think of me, and I’m not trying to prove people wrong or anything,” he said.
“I just want to go out there and be part of a great team this year and have a great end result.”
The Flames’ pre-season started in horrific fashion Sunday, with a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of a much younger Edmonton Oilers lineup. The Flames were outshot an unheard-of 49-15.
Other than the excitement of having fans in the Dome for the first time in 18 months (roughly 8,500 showed up) there weren’t many positive developments.
Coach Darryl Sutter said he wasn’t worried about the result, as he was just focused on individual performances.
When asked about 20-year-old Jakob Pelletier, Sutter winced, pointing out only how young Pelletier is.
He had better things to say about goalies Dan Vladar and Adam Werner, who split duties, stopping 21 and 24 shots respectively, while allowing two goals apiece.
The six-foot-five Vladar was acquired from Boston for a third-round pick and is penciled in to play roughly 15-20 games as Jacob Markstrom’s backup. The 25-year-old, with just five NHL games to his credit, insists he isn’t looking that far ahead, and is simply concentrating on having a good camp.
The Flames dressed two veteran forward lines, which included newbie Lance Pitlick, who left the game with a lower body injury. In the previous two prospects games, the Flames lost defenceman Johannes Kinnvall and forward Connor Zary to injuries.
The Flames play Vancouver on Monday night, in Abbotsford, B.C.