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.
With Claude Giroux acquired by the Florida Panthers, the team has to figure out how best to fit him into the lineup.
Claude Giroux is headed to South Florida. The Florida Panthers acquired the 34 year old centreman from Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Owen Tippett, a first round pick in 2024, and a third round pick in 2023. Florida also received a 2024 fifth round pick, Connor Bunnaman, and German Rubtsov in the deal.
In 57 games this year, Giroux has tallied 18 goals and 24 assists. The Claude Giroux trade opens up a world of possibilities for the Cats. The versatile forward can slide in almost anywhere in the top 6. Since Sam Reinhart has found a home on that third line, Giroux’s top 6 spot is secure. With that being said, however, head coach Andrew Brunette has options. Here are a few of the line combinations to look out for in the coming weeks.
First Line Right Wing
This choice appears to be the most obvious. Andrew Brunette’s words after Monday’s practice seem to indicate this will be the option he chooses to start with. In this scenario, Giroux replaces Maxim Mamin on the first line, and Carter Verhaeghe moves over to the left wing. This creates a top line of Verhaeghe-Barkov-Giroux while keeping the Huberdeau-Bennett-Duclair line intact.
The benefits to this are obvious. It adds a new dimension to that first line and gives Aleksander Barkov another scoring threat to set up. It also keeps the rest of the forward group together, which has found so much success thus far. It may not cover up many team weaknesses, but it enhances a formula which has worked wonderfully this season. An extremely low risk move.
Second Line Center
One underappreciated benefit of the Claude Giroux trade for the Panthers is the added center depth. Claude Giroux has been an extremely effective two-way center for over a decade in the NHL. This scenario allows the Panthers to use his rare talents to their advantage.
Here, Giroux will take over as the second line center and push Sam Bennett out to the right wing. Anthony Duclair will slide up to the first line, a combination which worked well last season. Thus, the top six will consist of a Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair first line and a Huberdeau-Giroux-Bennett second line.
This option may be slightly more risky, but it also potentially solves more problems. Claude Giroux’s responsible defensive game can cover for Sam Bennett’s lapses on that side of the ice. It also keeps Johnathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett together, as the two have found great chemistry over the past year.
The Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair line has proven to be extremely effective in the past, and should have no problem reclaiming that magic. Of course, this option may put too much pressure on Giroux out of the gate, and it is unclear if Bennett will be as effective on the wing, but it may be worth trying if the offense hits a skid.
The Scorched Earth Option
The Panthers have the firepower, and its time to show it.
This season Andrew Brunette has not been afraid to pair Barkov and Huberdeau together on the top line when things go stagnant. This scenario takes that concept to the extreme. Claude Giroux takes the right wing, Barkov takes center, and Huberdeau gets deployed on the left wing. That leaves Verhaeghe-Bennett-Duclair is as the second line here.
That combination creates quite possibly the best line in hockey today. Opposing teams would have nightmares trying to stop that line offensively, or finding a weakness defensively. No team would have any answers — if it works as well as advertised.
Of course, this does not distribute the talent equally throughout the lineup, so I would not expect for it to be the standard line. In certain situations, however, this option could give the offense a jolt and leaves opponents’ heads spinning. I would expect to see this line at least a few times this season.
The Panthers are all in on this season without a doubt. Winning the cup will take versatility and resilience. The Claude Giroux trade gives them much more of both. The line options at Andre Brunette’s disposal gives him few excuses to not put a championship-caliber team on the ice. The Panthers are a juggernaut, and hopefully the rest of their season reflects that.
The Florida Panthers will be without Barkov for the next bit of hockey. Let’s see how they can replicate tonight’s win in the future.
The Florida Panthers began an arduous journey Thursday night without their captain and on ice leader Aleksander Barkov for the next few weeks. Barkov injured his knee on Tuesday night after a collision with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield.
Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette described Barkov’s status as “week-to-week.” In hockey coach speak, that translates to a reasonable timetable of about 4-6 weeks. Certainly not season ending, but the team will feel his absence. Over the course of the next month or so, the Panthers will need to prove they can still be a dominant team without Barkov.
Thursday night proved they can do just that. Playing a Devils team that gave them fits earlier this year, the Panthers played one of their best games of the season. The cats got off to a slow start defensively, but took complete control of the game after the first period. In the end, the Panthers cruised to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Let’s dive into how the Panthers managed to make up for losing Barkov, and how they can repeat this going forward.
Sam Bennett as 1C
Without Barkov, Andrew Brunette opted to reunite the “9-1-1” line as the teams top forward group. For the uninitiated, the so called line consists of Sam Bennett centering Johnathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair. Last season, that line proved to be one of the most dominant in the NHL. The trio spoke on their chemistry after the game.
“We were pumped when we got back together.” Duclair said, “We found a little chemistry when Benny got traded here, and saw a bit of that tonight. We want to build off that.”
Tonight, the they recorded two goals together, one from Huberdeau and one from Duclair. The line will need to be the hub of the offense for as long as Barkov sits if the team wants to maintain their first place position.
Spencer Knight bounces back
The last we saw of Spencer Knight was against these very Devils. In what can be considered the low point of his career thus far, Knight let in seven goals in a rout on November 9th. Tonight, Knight flipped the script. He saved 45 of 46 shots, a performance any goalie would be proud of.
In his postgame interview, Knight reflected on his poor performance and against the Devils, saying “If things go well all the time, you’re not going to learn much.” Knight certainly seemed to learn a ton from his last poor performance. Without Barkov, Knight will need even more performances like these, as goals will likely be harder to come by. Both him and Bobrovsky will have less leeway over the next few weeks.
Fourth line flourishing
Most NHL fourth lines are considered “energy lines.” Mostly, these lines play good defense and light a fire under the rest of the team to generate some chances. Very rarely in the NHL do fourth lines consistently provide offense themselves. So far, the Panthers have been the exception. The fourth line of Eetu Luostarinen, Ryan Lomberg, and Patric Hornqvist have scored in three straight games.
For a group with such little ice time to be so productive has been a blessing for the team. Together, they have found a chemistry several top lines would envy. Head Coach Andrew Brunette said after the game, “”I think they’re doing the right things, they’ve got a nice combination.” Making up for Barkov’s lost production will be a group effort, and thus far the fourth line has done their part.
The Panthers next play at home against the Minnesota wild on Saturday at 6 PM. This will be a great test for the club, as the Wild are currently first in the central division. It will surely be must see TV.
The preseason is over, the final cuts have been made, and the regular season awaits us. The Florida Panthers finally kick off their most anticipated season in franchise history. Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the FLA Live Arena.
On paper, this is the deepest Panthers team I’ve ever seen. Guys who were regulars in the lineup last season will see their ice time reduced. Via off-season acquisitions and the rise of several of the Young Cats.
Patric Hornqvist, started last season on the second line and was a lock for PP1 minutes. He is now looking at a bottom six role and a role on the PP2 unit. Anthony Duclair floated between the top two lines last season, earned a contract extension in the offseason. He is projected to be a third line winger just because that’s how good this team is.
So much credit has to be given to the front office for getting the team to this point. Bill Zito and Co turned this team around from pretenders to contenders in a little over a calendar year.
But at the end of the day, roster moves do not determine who wins the Stanley Cup. The games have to be played. I know the boys are up for the challenge, and while minor I think the team’s new social media hashtag describes the energy in the locker room, it’s #TimeToHunt
This is a team that’s hungry. A team that knew they were good enough to win last year. They were just a bit unlucky with injuries and having to face the Lightning in the first round. This isn’t a group of individuals who are going to make excuses though.
It’s a team who would rather go out on the ice and show just how good they are. It’s a team filled with highly motivated players who all want to win and win together HERE. Aleksander Barkov’s comments at his extension press conference highlight this belief.
Opening Night Roster
As I mentioned before, this is the deepest Florida Panthers team we’ve ever had. The team has changed a bit since we recorded our season preview episode a few weeks ago though.
Noel Acciari received shoulder surgery and is expected to be out for a few months, while 7th Defenseman Kevin Connauton is currently on the IR with the expectation that he joins the team sooner rather than later.
On top of that, the team made a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for Olli Juolevi. Juolevi was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and has had an underwhelming start to his NHL career. The Panthers acquired him for Juho Lammiko and Noah Juulsen and the team hopes a change of scenery can help revive his career. We saw this work out for the Panthers last season with the acquisition of Sam Bennett, and it will be interesting to see how Juolevi plays with an opportunity to impress Joel Quenneville early.
The initial list is not surprising at all. Prospects Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi were cut early in camp, showing that they still have a ways to go in their development. This is a good thing for the Panthers, as they can get a full season of AHL hockey under their belts before being expected to become significant contributors for the team in the 2022-2023 season.
Of all the names on the list, all eyes will be on Anton Lundell. Lundell has been described as “Barkov Jr.” by fans and beat reporters since he was drafted, and we’ll get to see him start in the big leagues. How he plays will be a major area of focus when it comes to the personnel moves made by the team, as they may be forced to move lines around or acquire another center if he isn’t ready.
RIP the Matt Kiersted 7D hype train. Like the forwards list, the defensemen come with zero surprises as well. The team made clear who their six defenders were by their offseason moves, and Juolevi is a shot in the dark until Kevin Connauton returns.
If the Panthers are to make a big move in season, I think it’ll be to shore up their bottom four defensemen. We already know Mackenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad, and Gustav Forsling are locked in on defense. Radko Gudas plays the enforcer role, leaving Brandon Montour and Markus Nutivaara. Their play early in the season will tell Zito and Quenneville whether or not a personnel change is needed, and the front office has shown they’re willing to make moves.
With Chris Gibson heading to Charlotte, the Panthers begin the season with Sergei Bobrovsky as their starter. Rookie phenom Spencer Knight as his backup. The word all offseason has been a goalie by committee approach, similar to last season, with Bob getting the bulk of the starts. However, I believe Bob will have a shorter leash than he used to. Knight’s development and play last season has accelerated the timetable for him to become the #1. As he went from winning the World Juniors with Team USA, playing at Boston College, to starting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs within a calendar year.
If Bob can figure it out in Year 3 here, that’s a good thing for the Panthers. The goalie by committee approach worked last season and if the former Vezina winner can get back to that level. The Panthers can ease Spencer Knight into becoming a full-time starter. This will be his first full season in the league.
Opening Night Line Predictions
Take these with a grain of salt, as Q loves to throw his lines in a blender throughout games and change things up.
*Original predictions from a few weeks ago have been scratched out and replaced with those now occupying their spots*
(also shoutout the voice of the Florida Panthers Steve Goldstein for taking the guessing work out of it)
Anthony Duclair Patric Hornqvist
Noel Acciari Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton Eetu Luostarinen
Patric Hornqvist Anthony Duclair
Defensive Pairing 1
Defensive Pairing 2
Defensive Pairing 3
When the team is fully healthy, I expect the guys with their names crossed out to return to their spots.
Line 1- Verhaeghe, Barkov, Reinhart
By the end of the season, this might be the best top line in the league. I wrote earlier this offseason that the team needed another Top 6 forward, and Reinhart is exactly that. Not only that, but Reinhart offers roster flexibility with experience playing at Center. He can help the team should Lundell or Bennett miss any significant time. If that were to happen, Anthony Duclair can be elevated to the top line and we’ve seen what 23-16-10 can do together. Reinhart’s skills should mesh with Verhaeghe and Barkov nicely, and I’m excited to see what they can do throughout the year.
Line 2- Huberdeau, Bennett, Tippett
Huberdeau and Bennett are locked into this line, but it’s the RW position where the debate begins. After finding his footing last year and having a strong preseason camp, I believe 74 has earned the right to start on the 2nd line. The chemistry they showed together in the postseason brought out the best in Owen Tippett, and the franchise needs to find out whether it was a fluke or the real deal. If it doesn’t work, Anthony Duclair is still there for the return of the 9-1-1 line (although it’ll need a new name with Duclair now wearing 10)
Line 3- Vatrano, Lundell, Hornqvist // Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair
I’ll break this into two parts, one to talk about early in the season and the other about the playoff push. Vatrano, Lundell, and Hornqvist isn’t a sexy line but I think it can work. You have a proven goal scorer in Vatrano with a guy who has made a career out of parking himself in front of the net in Hornqvist. Those pieces can complement Lundell’s style of play and help him settle into the NHL. I think the Duclair/Hornqvist swap was made to add some speed to the fourth line, and should swap once Acciari comes back.
If we get to see Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair later in the season watch out. We saw how well Duke played with Barkov last season, so we can expect similar results playing alongside Barkov Jr. With Vatrano playing for a contract (and most likely his last as a Panther) he’ll be even more inclined to produce and potentially be an attractive trade chip for the team as the deadline nears.
Line 4- Thornton, Luostarinen, Duclair // Acciari, Thornton, Hornqvist
With the team shipping away Lammiko, we found out Luostarinen is the team’s preferred 4th line center. I’m interested to see how much Thornton plays this season, as Ryan Lomberg and Mason Marchment are younger and can handle the wear and tear of an 82 game season. I’d expect Hornqvist to get similar treatment too, as he and Thornton are going to be more beneficial to the team once the playoffs roll around.
Once Acciari gets back, we’ll have a true grit line. Especially if guys like Lomberg and Marchment get regular playing time. Acciari, Thornton, and Hornqvist are capable of setting the tone and will be a tough line for opposing teams to play against. They’re capable of making teams frustrated and have enough offensive power to make a play when the game is on the line. Thornton came to South Florida to chase a cup, so we know he’ll be hungry and give his all.
Power Play Units
The first Power Play unit is already out there, and it’s lethal. Barkov, Huberdeau, Reinhart, Bennett, and the return of Aaron Ekblad. Like the top line, the power play has a chance to finish on top of the league. Tampa’s power play gave them the edge in the playoffs last season, and the Panthers upgrades should level the playing field.
The second Power Play isn’t set yet, but it’s going to include players like Verhaeghe, Tippett, Duclair, Hornqvist, Montour, or Weegar. That’s an upgrade from last season and should create some good scoring chances if the first unit isn’t able to get it done (which I suspect will not be often)
Penalty Kill Units
Off all units affected by the roster changes, the Penalty Kill took the biggest hit. Alex Wennberg is no longer here and Acciari is out for a portion of the season. I’m not saying that there will be a significant decline in the PK %, just simply stating that the personnel is going to change and we don’t know how effective it will be. Will be interesting to watch how Q and his coaching staff handle the personnel decisions here as the season goes on.
Barkov leading goalscorer
Huberdeau points leader
Owen Tippett breakout season
Knight takes over as the 1 before the Olympic Break
Everyone in the Top 6 finishes with 20+ goals
Panthers win the Atlantic
As I sit here today writing this, I can see this Florida Panthers team winning it all, which has never been a thought I’ve had as a Panthers fan going into a season. The teams bond is so strong, and that’s accredited to the culture change that’s taken place inside the building since Q arrived. They’re highly motivated to win together, and they’ll play harder than most teams across the league.
While this is just year one of the team’s newly formed Cup Window, I think this may be their best shot. The Cats kept their core together, had the best offseason of any team in the NHL, and have the prospect pool and roster flexibility to be buyers at the deadline. On top of that, this is probably Joe Thornton’s last year in the league, and he chose to chase a cup here.
Personally, I’d just love to see us win one playoff series, but the expectations are higher than that. This is a team that can make and win the conference finals, and this is a team that can win the Stanley Cup.
We’ll have to see how the team navigates through the season and the moves they make at the deadline, but it’s going to be a special few years in Sunrise.
Aleksander Barkov, the star centreman, is staying in South Florida for another eight years
Panthers fans, you can exhale now. The team announced this afternoon the signing of the franchise cornerstone through the 2030 NHL season. For the next decade, Aleksander Barkov will be a Florida Panther.
The deal comes in at an even 10 million dollars annually. That makes Barkov tied for the 11th highest paid player in the NHL, pricing him in a similar range to players such as Jack Eichel, Anze Kopitar, and Tyler Seguin.
Undeniably, this number pays him like the franchise player he is, but Barkov almost certainly would have earned more on the open market. Barkov made his intentions to stay in South Florida clear, and reiterated those statements as a press conference today.
“I really love every second here, my whole career.” Barkov said, “Never thought about anything else but being here and playing here and trying to win a Stanley Cup here.” He continued to say, “I feel like I have two homes now, South Florida and Finland,”
General Manager Bill Zito expressed similar enthusiasm about signing Barkov, calling today “an exciting day for the Panthers”
Indeed, Barkov is the type of talent to singlehandedly grow a sport. For many years, hockey and South Florida were thought to be incompatible. Barkov is a huge reason that has changed. “The whole hockey community in South Florida is growing. I see it every day.”
Barkov may not admit it, but he is the catalyst for that growth. The talent he possesses brought the Panthers out of the dregs of the league and has made them into a true cup contender. He means as much to this franchise as anybody.
Keeping Aleksander Barkov in a Panthers uniform had to have been priority number one for Zito and his team. As the season rapidly approaches, both sides must feel a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. Overall, this extension is a true win-win: the Panthers keep their superstar, and Barkov gets paid like one.