The Florida Panthers acquiring star forward Matthew Tkachuk in a blockbuster deal with the Calgary Flames was the ultimate Friday night news dump.
At just after 11 p.m. in South Florida, the first tweet popped up that the Panthers were indeed the winners of the Tkachuk Sweepstakes — a competition that had been in the works the past week or so but just became public on Wednesday.
Tkachuk, 24, is one of the most dynamic forwards in the entire league and gives the Panthers a new look on its top forward lines and potentially a new partner for Sasha Barkov for the next eight years.
Yeah, eight years.
As Barkov’s new eight-year, $80 million deal kicks in this season so does the eight-year, $76 million contract Tkachuk agreed to with the Panthers when the deal was finalized.
Although a good number of Florida fans are bummed about losing Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in the trade, as general manager Bill Zito has said hundreds of times since landing here in 2020, he is willing to improve the Panthers anyway he can.
The Panthers were likely going to lose either Huberdeau or Weegar to free agency following this season anyway.
The money both are going to make on their next contract simply would not fit with the salary cap constraints facing the Panthers.
So, the Panthers decided to give the money Huberdeau was about to make to Tkachuk — a powerful skater who can score from all over the ice and, it should be noted, is about five years younger than Huberdeau.
That is not a big deal now, not with Huberdeau coming off the single-greatest scoring season in Florida Panthers history, but it will as that large contract ages.
If, for instance, the Panthers gave Huberdeau a seven-year deal worth $9.5 million, it would not kick in until he was 30. By the fourth year, Huberdeau would be 34.
In Tkachuk’s case, Florida has locked him down during his prime NHL years.
At 24, he scored 42 goals for the Flames and joined Huberdeau on the All-NHL second team.
Tkachuk is just hitting his best seasons.
The Panthers hope to benefit from what he brings to the table.
Zito did give up a lot in the trade.
Not only is Huberdeau and Weegar — a rising defensive star in his own right — going to Calgary, but prospect Cole Schwindt and Florida’s first-round pick in 2025 is as well.
While some may moan about the Panthers not having a first-round pick for the next three drafts, the biggest thing is the hole Weegar’s absence will leave defensively.
Florida, still up against the salary cap, may have something else coming. We’ll see.
One thing no one is complaining about Tkachuk’s contract.
It’s a lot of money, yes, but it should age just fine as the salary cap starts to really rise in the next couple of years as the NHL escapes from the Covid shadow.
Simply put, Tkachuk is one of the best young players in the game, one who should continue to thrive playing alongside talented forwards in Sunrise.
Tkachuk can play either on the left or right side giving new coach Paul Maurice plenty of options on his top lines.
Want Barkov in the middle of Carter Verhaeghe and Tkachuk? Cool.
How about Tkachuk with Barkov and Sam Reinhart? Do it.
Florida, believe it or not, is now a destination franchise for NHL players — and it’s not just for the surf and the golf. Players want to come here to win and Zito is working to try and make it all fit.
While it may hurt to say goodbye to beloved players such as Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, it should feel pretty nice to welcome a player such as Matthew Tkachuk.
He’s the real deal, folks.