Panthers Have Their New Franchise Star in Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew Tkachuk started an article he wrote for the Florida Panthers’ team site on Monday with the sentence, “It’s been a few days, but I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet.”

It’s understandable if the shocking blockbuster trade of Tkachuk and a conditional fourth-round draft pick from the Calgary Flames to the Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt, and a lottery-protected first-round pick in the 2025 Draft still hasn’t sunk in for many people. But it really happened, and the Panthers followed it up by signing the 24-year-old forward to an eight-year contract.

Matthew Tkachuk the New Face of the Panthers

After reportedly telling the Flames that he was not interested in signing a long-term extension with them, Tkachuk, who was a restricted free agent, was expected to be traded, though few people thought the Panthers had the firepower to get a deal done. By parting with Huberdeau, though, they were able to acquire a rising star who has still yet to enter his prime.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk is the new face of the franchise in Florida (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tkachuk had a career year this past season, his sixth in the NHL. The Scottsdale, Arizona native had 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) in 82 games, playing on a line with fellow stars Johnny Gaudreau (who left for Columbus via free agency after a season in which he scored a career-high 115 points) and Elias Lindholm (who scored a career-high 82 points).

In his career, Tkachuk has totalled 382 points (152 goals, 230 assists) in 431 games. He also has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 27 career playoff games, including 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 12 games this past postseason. The left winger should be able to more than make up for the loss of Huberdeau and will likely provide playmaking skills alongside center Aleksander Barkov, who had 88 points (39 goals, 49 assists) last season.

The 26-year-old Barkov may be the captain and the longest-tenured Panther, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Tkachuk, who will be in Sunrise for at least the next eight years, is the new face of the franchise. It’s rare that a team is able to trade for and lock up a star player entering his prime, but that’s exactly what the Panthers did.

The Huberdeau Era in Florida Ends

It’s never easy to part with a player like Huberdeau, but the Panthers felt that it was worth getting a player of Tkachuk’s caliber, as the 29-year-old is slated to be an unrestricted free agent next year and may not have re-signed with Florida. Also, while he’s an outstanding player, he isn’t on the same level (or the same stage of his career) as Tkachuk.

Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau left his mark during his 10 seasons in Sunrise (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Huberdeau, like Tkachuk, had a career year this past season, posting 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists) in 80 games. He also had five points (one goal, four assists) in 10 playoff games. Those 115 regular season points were the most ever by a Panther, surpassing Barkov, who scored 96 in 2018-19.

Huberdeau, who was selected third overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NHL Draft and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie in 2012-13, leaves Florida as the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (671), assists (415), and points (613). From the Flames’ perspective, this is probably the best-case scenario, as they got an established playmaker in Huberdeau (along with a solid defenseman in Weegar) for a guy who didn’t want to be there.

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This trade shows that the Panthers will do whatever it takes to strengthen their team and try to contend for a Stanley Cup. Although they lost Huberdeau and Weegar, they got the best player in the deal and locked him up for the next eight years. It wasn’t cheap, but it does bring the Panthers closer to potentially raising the Cup for the first time in their history.

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