Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk informed the team that he would not be signing a long-term contract with the team, which necessitated a transfer. It had never happened before in NHL history that a team lost two 100-point scorers at once. After losing one player (Johnny Gaudreau) and another (Chris Tkachuk) in free agency, the Flames were left with very little leverage in their negotiations.
Only a few months ago, they appeared to be on the verge of collapse after being a viable contender.
Tkachuk and a conditional fourth-round draft pick were traded by Calgary to the Florida Panthers on Friday in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a first-round draft pick. This was a shocking move by Calgary. Quite simply, this is a one-of-a-kind deal in recent NHL history.
Both Tkachuk and Huberdeau had 100-point seasons in 2021-22, and the agreement was signed by two division winners with over 110 points last season, so it’s not just a big contract featuring two bonafide stars coming off their finest seasons yet. Second time in NHL history that two players with 100 points were traded in the same deal. For starters, there was Wayne Gretzky to contend with.
And what is the rarest of all aspects? At this point, it’s clear to understand how the transaction benefits all parties, despite how stunning and unexpected it was.
There are a number of reasons why this deal benefits both clubs, as well as a number of areas where it could backfire.
Why the Flames are able to use it
Calgary had no choice but to comply. By virtue of Tkachuk being a restricted free agent, the Flames lacked leverage in the matter. They had no choice but to let go of their 24-year-old star, who was about to enter the prime of his career. For most teams in this situation, the only option is to swallow a bitter pill and extract as much as possible out of a deal that is certain to fail.
Not only can you argue that the Flames got a great deal for Tkachuk, but you can also argue that the Flames are a much superior club as a result of the trade. For Tkachuk, they got a player of the same caliber (Huberdeau) and one of the league’s best (Weegar) at a position of need, plus a mid-level prospect and a first-round choice.
Although Calgary was expected to lose its finest players and begin a rebuilding process in the winter, it is currently well-positioned to retain its Pacific Division crown. Both Huberdeau and Weegar are nearing the end of their contracts, allowing the Flames to start up where they left off without being tied to either player for the long term. If things don’t go as planned this season, Calgary has a solid fallback plan in place. Of course, it might be seen as a negative.
When it comes to re-signing Huberdeau and/or Weegar, there is the option of trading them in midseason for a potentially huge payday. They’d be the kind of players that other teams would go crazy for. But for the time being, let’s presume that the Flames are at least interested in keeping Huberdeau around for the long haul. As a matter of course. After a season in which he tallied 30 goals and 85 assists, he finished in the top five for the Hart Trophy.
In other words, there are a couple of excellent outcomes here if Calgary plays its cards well.
The Flames were able to trade Tkachuk for a player of a similar caliber and gain exclusive bargaining rights for the next six months. If Huberdeau agrees to a deal, they’ll get a great deal for a player who was already on the verge of leaving. Even if Huberdeau and/or Weegar aren’t here for the long haul, the organization can still benefit by trading them in exchange for valuable future assets.
The Flames could (conservatively) add another two or three first-round picks to their collection if they decide to part with them before the trade deadline. There could be three or four first-round picks as a result of having to deal Tkachuk. It’s also quite tasty.
Let’s take a look at the only possible conclusion that would result in a major loss for Calgary.
Why the Flames are taking a risk
While it would be great if the Flames were able to secure long-term contracts for Huberdeau and Weegar, if the team is already in a strong position and hasn’t done so by the trade deadline, the risk aspect comes into play.
It’s quite conceivable (even probable) that Calgary will be in the playoffs at the halfway point of the season. Will the Flames be willing to let Huberdeau and Weegar walk as unrestricted free agents if that means sacrificing their playoff hopes? You don’t want to jeopardize your team’s prospects of reaching the Stanley Cup finals, so it would be a difficult situation to handle. Weegar in particular should not be allowed go for nothing in the offseason, but neither should Huberdeau.
In order for Calgary to view the Tkachuk deal as a success, it must produce long-term benefits for the team. However, the return from the transaction becomes somewhat less attractive if it ends up being one year of Huberdeau and Weegar plus a prospect and an undrafted (supposedly) first-rounder should the Flames fail to win the Cup next year.
There is, of course, the possibility that Huberdeau’s contract could be extended. Although their playing styles are vastly different, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention that Huberdeau, 29, is five years older than Tkachuk, the other player I compared them to. If Calgary contracts Huberdeau to an eight-year deal, he’ll cost $9 million to $10 million AAV in salary hits during the seasons he’ll be between 30 and 38.
There is little doubt that if Huberdeau is able to continue averaging over a point per game for the entirety of his next contract, he will be worth the money. That’s OK, but is it reasonable to expect that?
The Flames will have to weigh these options carefully as they move forward. Following a Tkachuk move, they’re in a considerably better position than anyone imagined them to be.
What about the state of Florida, then? How can this deal be a victory for both the Flames and the Panthers if Calgary stands to gain so much from it?
The Panthers’ success is due to this strategy.
Tkachuk is a 24-year-old talent who offers a unicorn-like mix of skill, toughness, and intangibles to the Florida Panthers. Although his offensive game isn’t as polished as Huberdeau’s, there’s a good argument to be made that he’s the superior player on the 200-foot level. And, as the Panthers found out the hard way in the postseason, scoring goals isn’t the only thing that matters.
After Friday’s transaction, the Panthers immediately signed Tkachuk to an eight-year, $9.5 million-per-year contract. With this acquisition, the Panthers have added a high-quality player in his prime years, as well as some cost security for the future. The eight-year contract for Matthew Tkachuk can assuage any fears you had about losing Huberdeau and/or Weegar at the end of the season.
And for the next eight years, Tkachuk will be teamed with Aleksander Barkov? That sounds like a lot of fun, and Tkachuk’s skill set should make Florida a more difficult opponent to play against.
At this stage, it’s easy to praise the Flames’ efforts, but if the Panthers flourish with Tkachuk while Huberdeau and Weegar are on the market, they might look like clear winners a year from now.
Why the Panthers are taking a risk
As a matter of fact, the Presidents’ Trophy winners had just traded away their leading scorer, who was about to turn 30. It’s always risky to make such a dramatic move, regardless of contract situation, especially while the team’s Stanley Cup window is still open Taking away your club’s main source of success is a big mistake. Not only that, you dealt several valuable pieces on top of that leading scorer, including a very good NHL defenseman.
Due to their defensive shortcomings last season, the loss of Weegar leaves the Panthers a substantially weaker club. In this arrangement, they gained additional security, but it came at a price in the short term. Taking a step backward may be difficult for a team that spent years as a laughingstock before eventually winning its first postseason series in 25 years last season.
It’s also risky to buy Tkachuk that high. If you’re going to get rid of Huberdeau, you need to get back the same amount of output he gave you last year. Is Tkachuk’s production going to be sustainable now that he isn’t playing with Gaudreau, who was instrumental in driving play in Calgary?
Tkachuk is expected to play well alongside Barkov, and his stats are expected to be excellent on a Cats squad that dominated the league in scoring in 2021-22. But what if this was Tkachuk’s best season ever? His 16.6 percent shooting and 16.6 percent defensive efficiency in Darryl Sutter’s system bode well for a possible regression on both sides. According to this, it will be interesting to see where Tkachuk ends up in terms of filmmaking.
In any case, Tkachuk and Florida will be under a lot of pressure this season and in the future. There is no guarantee that Tkachuk will be the player the Panthers believe him to be, and he will have to routinely produce excellence in order for the acquisition to pay off.