The Florida Panthers turned the hockey world upside down just before midnight eastern time on July 22 as they announced arguably the biggest trade of the offseason so far. The Calgary Flames sent to them forward Matthew Tkachuk and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2025 in exchange for a king’s ransom in forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a first-round selection in 2025. There is no doubt that Tkachuk is a generational type of talent, but the amount that general manager Bill Zito had to give up was way too much for anyone.
Tkachuk’s Glorious NHL History
Matthew, son of NHL legend Keith Tkachuk and brother of Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, was drafted sixth overall in 2016 by the Flames. From his first season, Calgary knew he was going to be something special as he finished his rookie season with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists). That same season, he got a taste of Stanley Cup Playoff action as he was featured in four games. Then in his sophomore campaign, he tallied 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) in eight fewer games than he played the previous season. He continued his rise in his third season, as he hit a new career high at the time with 77 points (34 goals, 43 assists) and scored his first career playoff goal that postseason.
Last season was easily the best of Tkachuk’s career, though, as he finished the regular season with a new career high across the board with 42 goals and 62 assists along with 10 playoff points (four goals, six assists) in 12 games. Additionally, it was the first season he played a full 82 games.
Was Tkachuk Worth That Much?
The Panthers ended up coughing up arguably one of the faces of the franchise in Huberdeau after he just had the best season of his career with 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists). As a result, he became the first 100-point player in Panthers’ history. In addition, he owns the franchise record for points, assists, games played, points in a single season and assists in a single season. Unfortunately, his time in Florida ended on a sour note.
In addition, they gave up another strong asset in Weegar. Although he struggled mightily in the playoffs last season, he was on the top pairing with Aaron Ekblad and had his own career year with 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) through 80 games and a plus-40 rating.
Are the Panthers Better With Tkachuk?
The top-six is still extremely dangerous and will be even stronger once Anthony Duclair returns to the lineup. However, the Panthers still have a gaping hole on defense without Weegar. Past Aaron Ekblad, their reliable defensive pieces are Brandon Montour, Gustav Forsling and Radko Gudas. Having said that, the team did make efforts to sign depth pieces in Michael Del Zotto and Mark Staal to help strengthen the group. They also re-signed some of their young prospects in Matt Kiersted and Lucas Carlsson. But unless some of them step up or take a huge stride in their development this year, their goals-against average is going to skyrocket from last season.
On paper, the Panthers can still stay competitive and get back into the postseason. But the dreams of a deep cup run this year might be a tad farfetched with the roster they have right now.
Could the Trade Pay Dividends Now & in the Future?
The shining light to this trade is that the Panthers locked up a young forward at 24 years old who is already hitting his prime in Tkachuk instead of giving the same extension to someone who’s about to turn 30 in Huberdeau. In addition, the contract expires when he turns 32 and there’s no guarantee that Huberdeau or Weegar sign an extension to stay in Calgary, which would make the trade work better for Florida in that instance. Additionally, the Keith Yandle buyout will drop down to just over $1 million and the Scott Darling buyout is off the books completely after this season, giving them more money to potentially build a stronger team in 2023-24.
It was definitely a bold move by Zito that could tear the locker room apart and has already left many fans with their hearts in pieces. But, it is also a sign that he’s done playing around and is willing to relinquish pieces of the core if it means future success. However, only time will tell if the trade was the right call to make.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!