MacKenzie Weegar sees long run with Florida Panthers end
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Two years ago, MacKenzie Weegar said he did not know what it would be like to leave the Florida Panthers.
”I don’t want to find out,” he said.
On Friday night, he did.
Weegar, 28, was part of a blockbuster trade between the Panthers and Calgary Flames.
The headliners of the deal were Matthew Tkachuk coming to Florida and Jonathan Huberdeau going to the Flames — but Weegar was a big part of the trade.
A rising star among NHL defenseman, Weegar has put himself in position for a major-league contract after the three-year deal he signed with the Panthers in 2020 expires following this coming season.
There has been plenty of conversations as to why that big contract would not come with the only team — to date — he had ever known, but who knows?
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Now, Weegar moves to Calgary where he joins a pretty good defensive team and will be coached up by Darryl Sutter.
Although it may not be the situation he pictured himself in just days ago, this could be a great move for Weegar moving forward.
“MacKenzie Weegar played on the top-pair, is a top-four defenseman,” Calgary general manager Brad Treliving told Flames TV on Saturday afternoon. “We believe he can log big minutes, do a lot of things — play both sides of special teams.”
Weegar’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors before although before Friday night, they were always been unfounded.
In 2020, there was talk that Toronto inquired about Weegar especially after he had elected to take the Panthers to arbitration.
General manager Bill Zito shrugged off those reports then — and signed Weegar to a three-year contract which pays $3.25 million annually.
“I have been with the organization for eight years now so this is home for me,” Weegar told FHN a few weeks before signing that new contract.
“I want to remain a Florida Panther as long as I possibly can and I tell that to everyone.
“I truly do love it here, I love the team and we have a bright future.”
While Weegar was considered an up-and-coming player in 2020, his career trajectory completely took off in the two years to come.
In 2021, Weegar evolved into a top-pair defenseman with Aaron Ekblad and became the Panthers’ top defenseman when Ekblad got hurt late in that season.
Weegar scored a career-high 36 points despite being limited to 54 games in the Covid-shortened season.
Due to his play in place of Ekblad, Weegar finished seventh in voting for the Norris Trophy.
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— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) July 23, 2022
This past season, Weegar continued his ascent as a top defenseman and scored eight goals with 44 points in 80 games.
The Panthers were believed to have spoken to Weegar and his representatives about a contract extension — one that could have been signed earlier this month.
Florida was also believed to be in early talks with Huberdeau on a contract extension as he is entering the final year of his six-year contract.
The belief is Florida could not afford to keep both Huberdeau and Weegar following this coming season.
Both players are expected to get annual raises in the $3-4 million range.
The Panthers already have two players (Sasha Barkov and Sergei Bobrovsky) making $10 million per season with Ekblad at $7.5 million for the next three.
Tkachuk got the money expected to be earmarked for Huberdeau, signing an eight-year deal worth $9.5 million per season with Calgary just before being traded to the Panthers.
As for Weegar, he remains one of the biggest draft success stories in the history of the organization.
In 2013, he almost went undrafted.
The Panthers did not have a seventh-round pick that year, but saw Weegar still on the board with only a few selections left.
Florida made a deal with Montreal to get back into the action in order to take Weegar after selecting Josh Brown in the sixth round. Both eventually made it to the NHL.
Drafting Weegar and getting him into the organization obviously worked out famously for both sides.
Weegar was at the Prudential Center in Newark for that draft with his family and, as it wound down, was ready to move on.
Then the Panthers traded back in.
“We had been there four hours already,” Weegar told FHN in 2020. “It was time to go. There were only five or six picks left. It just wasn’t going to happen.”
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I’m really going to miss Weagar. He is going to get a boatload of money and he deserves it