SUNRISE, Fla. – Talk about a Friday night news dump.
The Florida Panthers roster, and the entire NHL really, received a major shakeup with the news that Florida was trading for exciting young forward Matthew Tkachuk.
One of Florida’s foundational pieces, Jonathan Huberdeau, along with defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and prospect Cole Schwindt would be going back to the Calgary Flames in the deal.
Also, the Panthers 2025 first-round pick now belongs to Calgary, meaning the Panthers, at least for now, are without a first-round draft selection until the year 2026.
Florida also received a conditional fourth-round pick in the trade.
Tkachuk, a restricted free agent, quickly signed an eight-year contract with the Panthers worth $76 million.
“Matthew is a tenacious, physical competitor who possesses a tremendously unique skillset,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said in a statement released by the team. “He is a consistent elite offensive contributor and has emerged as one of the most complete and dynamic young players in the National Hockey League. We are thrilled to be able to add a generational talent to our lineup.”
Here’s my quick reaction to this blockbuster move:
Florida is receiving a young star in Tkachuk that is still growing and maturing into the player he will become.
He broke into the league at just 19 years old in 2016-17 and has hovered around a point-per-game pace while growing his game over the past several seasons.
The 24-year-old broke out last year, racking up 42 goals and 104 points for Calgary.
Zito and the Panthers clearly feel Tkachuk’s best hockey is still in front of him, so locking him up for eight years at a $9.5 million AAV (average annual value) could very well end up a bargain if he continues to improve and the salary cap remains at an upward trajectory.
Huberdeau turned 29 over the summer.
He’s grown into one of the premiere playmakers in the NHL.
So why would Zito make this move?
Huberdeau is going to get a massive contract offer sometime in the next year. He’s earned it.
It will likely exceed Tkachuk’s by a million or more per season.
When that deal ends, Huberdeau will be in his late 30s. When Tkachuk’s deal ends, he’ll be 32.
Florida clearly feels they’ll get similar, if not better, production from Tkachuk, who’s younger and cheaper, than from Huberdeau, who is older and will be more expensive.
It was highly unlikely that the Panthers would’ve been able to keep Weegar, who, like Huberdeau, will be an unrestricted free agent when the upcoming season ends.
Florida comes out of the deal with the younger Tkachuk locked up long term while Calgary gets Huberdeau and Weegar, and their expiring contracts, which is why the deal needed to be sweetened with prospect Cole Schwindt and a first-round pick.
Did the Panthers overpay? Maybe. Time will ultimately tell.
They’re banking on Tkachuk becoming as good, if not better, than Huberdeau is now (and its already close debate) and having the additional roster flexibility of locking him up at what could be a very reasonable AAV.
That’s IF Tkachuk, at worst, stays exactly as productive as he was last season.
Those who have watched Tkachuk closely over the past few years may not think it’s a very big ‘IF’ but Florida is still taking a bit of a gamble.
That gamble is only exacerbated by the fact that a longtime Panthers star and fan favorite in Huberdeau is now gone. Yes, it’s business, but situations like this are never easy.
You’ll see just as many Huberdeau jerseys walking around FLA Live Arena during a Panthers game as you will Barkov or Ekblad.
Both he and Weegar have been with the team long enough that the sadness will reverberate from the locker room through the stands.
But as they say, it’s not show friends, it’s show business.
“On behalf of the entire Florida Panthers organization, we would like to thank Jonathan and MacKenzie for their immense contributions to the Florida Panthers, both on and off the ice, during their tenures in South Florida,” Zito said in the statement released by Florida. “They have both blossomed into exceptional athletes and people. Their contributions as players and people made an indelible mark on our franchise and we wish them both continued success in their future.”
I’ve said over the past couple months that I had no problem with Zito swinging for the fences at last season’s trade deadline and selling first-round picks for Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot.
When you have an open window as a Cup contending team, you go all in every chance you get.
Zito and the Panthers higher ups know this team is close.
They also know it’s one built to last, with guys like Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett and Anthony Duclair among a roster of young players signed for the foreseeable future.
Now they’ve added a young, high-end talent that will help keep the team full of firepower for seasons to come.
Production-wise, the Panthers are hoping they’re getting a younger, cheaper Huberdeau with a higher upside.
To acquire that, it cost Florida Huberdeau, Weegar and two high-end future assets.
The best way I can think of wrapping this up is with a quote from a recent popular TV show:
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.”
Zito and the Panthers are making their claim to sit on Lord Stanley’s throne.
The season starts October 13, it ends April 13 and the playoffs will begin shortly thereafter.
We’ll see how long the Panthers survive, and if its long enough to get their claw marks on the throne.