SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers welcomed Matthew Tkachuk to South Florida on Monday afternoon with a press conference at FLA Live Arena.
Tkachuk, 24, had told the Calgary Flames he would not sign a long-term contract with them last weekend leading the team to start looking for a trade partner.
They found an energetic one in the Panthers.
“There was a very short window and the timeframe was very quick,” general manager Bill Zito said. “When you have an opportunity like this, you need to pursue it. The cost was very high and we decided it was something we needed to pursue. We are thrilled to be where we are right now.”
Florida sent shockwaves throughout the NHL with a late-night trade Friday, sending Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar as part of a package to the Flames for Tkachuk.
The Panthers negotiated a new eight-year contract with Tkachuk, one he signed with the Flames prior to the deal.
It is the first sign-and-trade deal in NHL history.
Getting the maximum term in his new contract with the Panthers was not the only reason Tkachuk wanted to join the Panthers.
He says he came here to win — and win big.
”It is very surreal and something that I do not think has sunk in yet,” said Tkachuk, who was accompanied to South Florida by his mother and girlfriend.
“It has been a lot of running around the past few days but this is exciting. … This seems to be a very tight group here, a solid group real close to winning. That was the most attractive part to me and that is what has me the most excited to be here.”
Trading Huberdeau and Weegar — most especially a franchise stalwart such as Huberdeau — was a tough decision for Zito.
Ultimately, it was one he had to make.
Not only is Tkachuk a well-rounded player with a 100-point season under his belt, but he is 24 and the eight-year contract he signed should age extremely well.
The Panthers are getting a player in his absolute prime for $9.5 million per season.
“It is not something you take lightly at all on several different levels,” Zito said. “Those ar every hard decisions but that is why you get paid to make them. When you have a player who has been decribed as a unicorn — a player in his prime who is only going to get better — and add him to this group with a lot of exciting players, it was something we had to pursue.”