There’s blockbuster trades, and then there’s the Matthew Tkachuk trade.
In what may be the gutsiest move in the last decade, the Florida Panthers acquired 24-year-old star Matthew Tkachuk. What they gave up certainly fit a player of Tkachuk’s caliber: Johnathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 first round pick.
Immediately, this trade becomes one of the biggest in NHL history. Per ESPN stats and info, it is only the second time in NHL history that two 100-point scorers the season prior were traded for each other. The other time? When the Oilers trade some guy named Wayne Gretzky to LA in exchange for Jimmy Carson, among others.
Obviously, a trade of this caliber is never a no-brainer for either GM. There were pros and cons and arguments to be made for why both sides won this deal. Here are some of the pros and cons for the Panthers on their side of the Matthew Tkachuk trade.
Pro: Matthew Tkachuk is Really, Really Good
This may seem incredibly simple, but its worth reiterating: the Panthers got the best player in this deal. It may not seem obvious at first glance considering Huberdeau’s 115-point (wow!) season last year, but Tkachuk is more well-rounded than Huberdeau.
Last season, Tkachuk tallied 104 points (42G, 62A) in 82 games. Fewer points than Huberdeau, but he has a much better knack for scoring goals. His career shooting percentage (13.5%) is significantly higher than Huby’s (12.6%) and he’s a much more willing shooter as well. Tkachuk finish last year with 253 shots compared to Huberdeau’s 222.
With context, these stats point to the fact that Tkachuk is a more self-sustaining player. While Huberdeau enhances the surrounding talent with his incredible play-making, Tkachuk creates the offense for himself. Tkachuk’s ability to drive play himself is inherently more valuable than Huberdeau’s skill set, even if Huby has the higher point total. Tkachuk also has the better defensive game, which always contributes to winning.
Con: The Defense Took a Huge Step Back
With Mackenzie Weegar now off to Calgary, the Panthers already thin defensive corps just got thinner. Aaron Ekblad is now the only true top pair defenseman on the roster. Guys better suited for top four roles, such as Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour, will have to play above their heads, and aging veterans like Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto will play more than expected.
We saw how the Panthers struggled last year when Ekblad went down with an injury. Players played bigger roles they weren’t suited for, and the team allowed an unseemly amount of goals. This may be the reality for this upcoming season, and the team may rely on simply outscoring their opponents yet again.
Pro: The Matthew Tkachuk Trade Clears Up the Cap Situation
Immediately after Florida acquired Tkachuk, he signed an 8-year, 76 million dollar deal (9.5M AAV) with the team. That locks up the dynamic duo of Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov for the next eight years. With Huberdeau and Weegar now gone, it also removes the threat of their expiring contracts.
Both Weegar and Huberdeau are set to be UFAs at the end of the season, and the team would likely not have had the money to re-sign both of them. This means they would have likely lost at least one of them for nothing.
In addition, the Panthers will have almost 16 million dollars of cap space to use next off-season, with only smaller contracts needing new deals internally. They could use this cap space to shore up their defense, or provide cap relief to another team experiencing a cap crunch. Regardless, the Panthers managed to avoid an upcoming cap nightmare with this move.
Con: It Uprooted a Really Good Thing
As I’ve stated before when the Panthers hired Paul Maurice, this team did not need to make any major changes. Yes, the playoff loss was incredibly disappointing, but they also had a historically good regular season. All of a sudden, this team looks drastically different from last year’s, which nobody would have predicted (nor wanted) when the season ended.
None of that is to say the Panthers will be a bad team next season. In fact, they will likely still be very good. However, in a league where success is remarkably elusive, why take such a huge risk?
It was inevitable that some players would leave for bigger roles and bigger checks, but to send out a franchise cornerstone changes the entire dynamic of the team. The team will have to answer far more questions this upcoming season than any Presidents Trophy winner in recent memory.
Pro: The fit is seamless
One overlooked facet of this trade is how much younger it made the core of the Panthers roster. At only 24 years old, Tkachuk still has lots of room to grow with this group. Sergei Bobrovsky is the only significant roster player over 26 years old. The timelines of all the major players now line up in the same way most Stanley Cup contenders do.
On the ice, Tkachuk brings a front-of-the-net presence the Panthers were missing. His physicality and strength near the crease will complement the more shot-happy players on the roster such as Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe. His willingness to shoot will bolster any line with the unselfish players like Sam Reinhart or Barkov
As to who won the trade, only time will tell. Everyone will have their opinions and discussions will be had for years afterwards. Until the season starts in October, all this will be is speculation. Either way this ends up going, however, it will be incredible to watch unfold.
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