Jonathan Huberdeau was a cornerstone piece of the Florida Panthers for the better part of the past decade, a player who always said he wanted to end his career in the place where it all started.
But late Friday night, the Panthers made a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames — sending Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and more — for Matthew Tkachuk.
Putting aside the details of the trade, and the reasons for them, this trade sent shockwaves throughout the Florida fanbase.
Although the Panthers are getting back a rising superstar in the NHL, there is a lot of pain this morning at the thought of losing a player who grew up a Panther.
Last season, not long after Sasha Barkov signed an eight-year contract extension with the Panthers, Huberdeau spoke of wanting a similar fate with the Panthers.
Huberdeau and the Panthers were in contract talks this summer with the expectation that he would get similar money (between $9-10 million per season) at around seven years.
“We have been fortunate to be here for a lot of years and obviously we love playing here, love playing in Florida,’’ Huberdeau said.
“Barky just signed a large contract and that’s nice to see he’ll stay here. We both want to stay here for the rest of our careers. Hopefully me and him can stay here for the rest of our careers.”
Instead, Tkachuk got Huberdeau’s contract — eight years at $9.5 million annually — and one of the most beloved players in franchise history is off to Calgary.
It will be strange seeing Huberdeau in anything but a Florida jersey.
Huberdeau was first introduced to the Panthers as a kid as he and his family would travel south during the holidays in their RV and sometimes park at the Walmart across the street from the Sunrise arena.
The Huberdeau clan were not only escaping the Montreal winter, but were coming down to check out their Canadiens play the Panthers.
In 2011, Huberdeau was in Minnesota for the NHL draft and Dale Tallon told him he was Florida’s guy.
Huberdeau, who was coming off a phenomenal run with the Saint John Sea Dogs, knew Tallon was probably saying that to other players but sat up in his seat at the Xcel Center when Tallon came to the podium.
“When I heard my name, that was one of the best moments in my life,” Huberdeau said a few years ago.
“I kind of knew I would go third, but I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait too long because my parents were so nervous. I was really happy. I had a good feeling I was going to end up with the Panthers. It was probably 70-30. I was a little nervous because you never know. They could have gone with another guy.
”When Dale said my name, I turned and saw the emotion in the eyes of my family. We were so happy. It was a special moment to share with everyone. It wasn’t just a great moment for me, but for them as well. They were as excited as I was. Maybe even more so.”
It would turn out to be one of the best moves the Panthers have made.
Huberdeau did not make the Panthers out of training camp in 2011 as Tallon wisely decided his youngster was still too lean to be able to compete in the NHL.
He did make the team after the 2012-13 lockout and became Florida’s first-ever winner of the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Huberdeau continued to rise as the years went on, becoming one of the top forwards in the entire NHL.
He leaves the Panthers holding the franchise record for games played (671), points (613) and assists (415) among other things.
Barkov, now, will hold all of those records in the near future.
That does not diminish what Huberdeau meant to the Panthers — nor what he accomplished while here.
Last season, he put together the single greatest year any player in a Florida jersey had ever produced — scoring 115 points off 30 goals as he set the NHL record for most assists by a left wing.
Huberdeau made second team All-NHL and got MVP votes with some saying he was the heart of the Panthers.
Florida, upon hearing that Tkachuk was available, made the decision to go with a younger player with perhaps a different style.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) July 23, 2022
No one can pass the puck like Huberdeau can, but Tkachuk is a little more physical and can score from anywhere on the ice.
This was a hockey decision — not an emotional one.
If it was, Huberdeau would not have gone anywhere. But you could not have had both, not at the contracts both want.
Tkachuk got the deal and Huberdeau will either get his new contract in Calgary or somewhere else.
But he will never be forgotten in South Florida.
Those No. 11 jerseys will be spotted in the crowd for years to come and, when Huberdeau decides to call it a career, that No. 11 Huberdeau first wore on the draft stage in St. Paul will be hanging from the rafters in Florida.
But first, Huberdeau will return to Sunrise on Nov. 19 when the Flames come to town.
He should also be part of the All-Star weekend in South Florida later this season.
Jonathan Huberdeau will be welcomed back with open arms — as he should be.