The hockey world was surprised Friday night as the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames traded 100-point superstars in a blockbuster trade.
Florida sent all-time franchise leader Jonathan Huberdeau to Calgary alongside MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 first-round pick, in exchange for 24-year-old Matthew Tkachuk. and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2025.
Earlier in the week, reports indicated that Tkachuk had told Calgary he was not going to re-sign as an RFA; Florida was one of the few desired teams on his trade list, he told ESPN Linda Cohn.
Tkachuk’s contract extension in Florida is eight years, $76 million, with a base salary of $1 million per season, $68 million in signing bonuses.
Obviously, this trade has the fan base disagreeing. Many are disappointed that Huberdeau, one of the most beloved players in Panthers history, is on the verge of passing after 10 seasons in Florida, along with MacKenzie Weegar. The other side of the fan base is excited to see what a young Tkachuk star can bring to a team that has had limited playoff success for the past 25 years.
In this article, I’m going to focus on the type of player Tkachuk is and how he can help the Panthers this season and beyond.
Who is Matthew Tkachuk?
Tkachuk plays a unique brand of hockey not often seen in the NHL today. He’s a 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward who can physically take on anyone in the league, while scoring above a points-per-game rate. If I could describe him in non-hockey terms, I’d say he’s like a Swiss army knife. He can score, punch, fight, pass, swing – he can do anything you want him to do and that’s why the Panthers gave up so much for him.
In 431 career games, he has 152 goals and 230 assists for 382 points. He is coming off the best year of his career which saw him score 42 goals, totaling 104 points in 82 games with the Flames.
When you watch Tkachuk play, you’ll immediately notice his presence in the offensive zone.
Without the puck, he continually works in areas where his teammates can feed him.
He fights aggressively for loose pucks in the corners and will use his big frame to his advantage in 50-50 puck battles. In net, he finds ways to put the puck on goal, even if it’s from the most absurd angles. Tkachuk is extremely calm and can flash his silky hands with a goal behind the legs or a deflection in the air, as he has done many times in Calgary.
Watching more of his game, you’ll see how often he carries the puck in transition. With his long stride, quick release and ability to play, he can score goals or find an open teammate in a prime scoring area.
Obviously, one of the most important aspects of Tkachuk’s game as a power forward is his physical play. There aren’t a ton of players in the league who can pose the body as well as he; step into the shoes of the opposition while staying in the top 10 in points (he ranked eighth in 2021-22). A comparable player would be Brad Marchand. While Marchand isn’t as big as Tkachuk, at just 5-foot-9, both players can punch, score, and irritate opponents.
We know what Tkachuk is capable of on the ice, but how will that help a Panthers team that is one of the top contenders in the league?
First of all, he is only 24 years old. When looking at the age of the Panthers’ core, all players except goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky have 26 or younger, and the Panthers have a 21-year-old backup goaltender in Spencer Knight. Both Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar would have been 29 when the playoffs begin this coming season, and would have been 30 the first year after their current contracts expired. Florida has rejuvenated with this move and it extends its cut contention window.
Why do this trade?
Getting Tkachuk, who is at the peak of his career, extends the competitive window the Panthers will have with their core for several more years. As the second-highest-paid skater on the roster, just behind captain Aleksander Barkov, Tkachuk will play at his highest level alongside most current Panthers players for several seasons.
Clearly, Jonathan Huberdeau is coming off the best season by a left winger in NHL history with his 115-point 2021-22 campaign, but how long can Huberdeau continue playing at this elite level? It was certainly one of the questions the Panthers asked themselves when they made the decision not to offer him an extension and pack the star in Calgary for a much younger player.
With one year remaining on his current contract worth an average of $5.9 million annually, the 29-year-old is set to receive a huge salary, most likely getting a dollar amount similar to what Tkachuk signed for his extension. . Florida has decided that a long-term extension with Huberdeau is not part of their future plans, and that makes sense because a hypothetical eight-year extension at more than $9 million per season would have made Huberdeau the one of the three highest-paid players on the team throughout his 30s (barring higher contracts in the future).
So let’s say Huberdeau signed the eight-year, $76 million extension in Florida instead of Tkachuk, it’s still the same term and the same cap, regardless of the age of the two players. What about the other pending unrestricted free agent who was involved in the trade, MacKenzie Weegar?
Weegar, who is only a few months younger than Huberdeau, was also expected to sign a new contract and his next contract would have required significantly more than his current AAV of $3.25 million. If we look at the contracts of active defensemen in the NHL today, the 25 highest paid defensemen all have an AAV of at least $7 million. It’s safe to say that after Weegar’s 2020-21 season which saw him finish in the top 8 in Norris Trophy voting, he could see potential offers of around $6 million and more on his next contract. With those scenarios, Florida would have tied up about (at least) $16 million on those two while still having three years left on Sergei Bobrovksy’s $10 million AAV contract. That would have seen three players in their thirties earn more than $26 million over several years, not including an additional $10 million for Barkov’s contract.
With this trade, Florida will have some flexibility for next offseason’s free agency, a luxury it didn’t have this year for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the $6.575 million dead cap on buyout penalties. . In 2023-24, Florida would only have $1.24 million in dead cap and $7.8 million would come off the books of Patric Horqnvist and Radko Gudas contracts. The Panthers will have a substantial amount of money to spend next offseason compared to the budget they had this year.
So Florida gets a young player that fits into their current core timeline and they will have more room to bring in players in future seasons.
And this year?
Thinking ahead is always smart no matter how good your team is, but the Panther just won the President’s Trophy the season before before being swept in the second round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team can struggle now, the question is will Tkachuk take them to the next level?
Offensively, Tkachuk’s even strength points per 60 last season were 3.7, while Huberdeau was 3.9. Tkachuk had a better ice goals for and corsi for by 60 than Huberdeau last season while also having a better ice goals against by 60 metric. Tkachuk’s forward stats in 5v5 and even strength in most major categories are also statistically better than Huberdeau’s in the 2021-22 season. These advanced stats show that Florida is getting a statistically better all-rounder in Tkachuk.
If you watched Panthers games last year, most of the season saw Barkov and Huberdeau play on separate lines to balance the top six, creating two top lines. As Tkachuk replaces Huberdeau on the wing, is he playing with former Flames teammate Sam Bennett? Maybe he’s paired with last year’s rookie phenom Anton Lundell, or you put him with captain Aleksander Barkov.
Florida’s newest head coach, Paul Maurice, will have to see what line combinations work best for the team. It would make a lot of sense to see how Tkachuk and Barkov do together on the front row. With Tkachuk’s tenacity in front of the net and his aggressive style of play, he will open the ice for the playing machine that is Barkov. Tkachuk and Barkov would be a nightmare as the duo are both talented scorers and playmakers. Pair that with Barkov’s defensive abilities and Tkachuk’s hard-hitting play, it could be a scary front line.
The Panthers’ final postseason was hugely disappointing, to say the least. General manager Bill Zito went all-in at the trade deadline, exhausting major assets to acquire Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. After winning their first playoff series since 1996, Florida was dominated by Tampa in their four-game series that saw the Panthers swept. Over the 10 playoff games, Florida’s two star forwards, Barkov and Huberdeau, had 3 goals and 12 points.
Across the continent, Tkachuk and the Flames also found themselves on the wrong side of a second-round game with their provincial rivals, losing in five games to the Edmonton Oilers. In 12 playoff games last season, Tkachuk had 4 goals and 10 points. In 27 career playoff games, he has 15 points.
With only one playoff victory to display in Florida’s last 25 years, the front office wanted a new look, hoping Tkachuk will produce in the playoffs, taking Florida to the next level.