Last night, Bill Zito struck arguably the biggest trade the NHL has seen since the salary cap was implemented. In one fell swoop, the all-time leading Florida Panthers scorer Jonathan Huberdeau, Defenseman Mackenzie Weegar and prospect forward Cole Schwindt were no longer Panthers. Why would Zito make such a monumental move after a President’s Trophy winning season? Because of Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk is a younger, offensively-skilled winger who brings grit and solid defense, a perfect mold of the Bill Zito Panthers team. Matthew Tkachuk wanted out of Calgary, and inked an 8 year deal worth $9.5 million AAV w/ the Flames, in order for the trade to be consummated. Essentially, he was signing with Florida, but with the way the CBA works, Tkachuk had to sign the deal before the trade occurred.
Emotionally, I hate this trade. I grew up with Jonathan Huberdeau. As I blossomed from a young boy into a young man on his way to college, Huberdeau blossomed from a young undersized but skilled rookie, into a machine. Huberdeau’s departure is very symbolic to me. When Huberdeau debuted, I was 9 years old. I’m now 18 years old. I’m leaving home in a month to go to college, and I see Huberdeau leaving the Panthers as a sign to me. I’m no longer a kid. I’m an adult, leaving home. I’m grown up. Huberdeau was one of my favorite players for years, and his departure is a massive gut punch. It’s a wake up call to reality. I’m heartbroken he’s gone. Mackenzie Weegar’s departure isn’t as bitter to swallow. It hurts the defense greatly, but Weegar made several mistakes in the postseason.
Logically, I love this trade. Huberdeau and Weegar were both due for big contracts, and it was unlikely the Panthers could afford both. Both may have been tempted to test free agency. Loyalty isn’t what it used to be, as guys like Johnny Gaudreau, John Tavares and Alex Pietrangelo have left the teams that drafted and developed them, where they were stars, for what they saw as greener pastures. It was very possible that Huberdeau and Weegar would have done the same, and more probable now that they are on a team that they each have no connections with. Florida has $16 million in cap next offseason (Shh!). Despite great regular season performances, both were abysmal in the postseason. Huberdeau seemed to not really care, infamously stating “Who cares”? after going down 3-0 to Tampa, and Weegar made many costly defensive mistakes. Bill Zito wants a cup, and is willing to crush skulls to do it. This trade also benefits Huberdeau personally, because it allows him the freedom to fulfill his lifelong dream of signing w/ Montreal next offseason, without feeling an obligation to the Panthers to stay. Huberdeau is 29 years old, and last season was likely his prime season. Bill Zito sold high. Matthew Tkachuk had a breakout season last year in Darryl Suter’s defensive system, putting up 42 goals and 104 points. Tkachuk is a mean player, who is gritty and despite his lackluster career postseason numbers, Tkachuk did put up 10 of his 15 postseason points in his 12 game campaign of the 2022 postseason, meaning he only put up 5 in 15 in previous playoff campaigns. Tkachuk is younger, and signed an 8 year deal to keep him in Florida through his prime. He was phenomenal when he played with Sam Bennett in Calgary.
Overall, Florida simply replaces Huberdeau w/ a younger, more gritty and higher ceiling player in Tkachuk. Tkachuk is a heart and soul, highly competitive guy that could prove to be a gamechanger in the Battle of Florida. It also assures Aleksander Barkov some security, with a guy that will beat up anyone who tries to mess with him. Weegar’s loss hurts on the blueline, but Florida will have $16 million to spend next offseason to fix it. Florida made a lot of moves on the blueline this offseason, bringing in Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto, as well as prospect FA Nathan Staios. Matt Kiersted may finally get a full season in the bigs. The Tkachuk contract completely negates the cap benefit of losing Huberdeau and Weegar. Florida traded another first round pick, but Zito doesn’t care about a 15 year old who is probably playing Elder Scrolls right now, as he can’t help the team win the cup right now. If Huberdeau and Weegar really wanted to stay, we may sign them next offseason. Florida needs to look at its defensive core before the season starts. Short-term, we lost. Long-term, we seem to benefit. This offseason isn’t over, and Bill Zito won’t refrain from shaking the NHL again.
Thank you Jonathan and Mackenzie for everything you did for this franchise. I will forever be grateful for what you did here, and I hope you guys enjoy your time in your new home in Calgary and wherever you may end up after. I loved watching you guys. I’ll miss you both terribly. That said, welcome Matthew to Florida, we got some work to do.