What Tkachuk-Huberdeau blockbuster trade means for Flames, Panthers

After a few days of relative inactivity, the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers engineered the blockbuster trade of the summer. Calgary sent Matthew Tkachuk and a conditional fourth-round pick to Florida in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a 2025 conditional first-round pick.

Upon being traded, Tkachuk, who failed to reach a long-term pact with the Flames, signed an eight-year contract extension with the Panthers worth $76 million.

Prior to this seismic trade, the Flames were amid a near-catastrophic offseason that saw Johnny Gaudreau walk for nothing, electing to sign a seven-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 13. This deal changes everything.

Tkachuk for Huberdeau straight-up would be considered a tie in my opinion — perhaps a slight advantage in Florida's favour, as Tkachuk is four years younger than his counterpart. But the Flames also received a genuine top-caliber defenceman in Weegar, who has somehow operated as the league’s most underrated player for the past two seasons.

Huberdeau and Weegar allow the Flames to recoup two players who can contribute to their win-now direction, but the long-term view of this trade may be contingent upon whether the Flames can sign their new stars to long-term deals, as they’re both slated to become unrestricted free agents in 2023. Both players are coming off the best seasons of their careers — Huberdeau finished second in league scoring with 115 points, while Weegar recorded eight goals and 44 points, playing over 23 minutes per game.

Playing on a contract that pays him just a shade under $6 million for the 2022-23 campaign, Huberdeau’s deal as currently constructed — much like Weegar's — is one of the best values in the league. That will change soon and the Flames will be expected to pay north of the $10 million mark, especially if Huberdeau replicates his career season. He’s an elite playmaker in the prime of his career and it squares up perfectly for his contract year.

Weegar is currently playing on a contract worth $3.25 million for the upcoming season, and he’s in line for a massive new deal next summer. He’s outstanding in transition, he’s an excellent shot blocker, and he can provide a secondary scoring touch even though it’s not part of his job description. Chris Tanev and Oliver Kylington developed real camaraderie as a partnership last season, logging the fifth-most minutes league-wide at 5-on-5, so I’d expect Weegar to be slotted into the top four with him and Tanev sharing 1A status among the defensemen.

For the time being, the Flames should be firmly in contention in the West, despite a summer that has been defined by radical personnel turnover. A refurbished core of Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, Tanev, Weegar and Jacob Markstrom — along with a host of defensive specialists throughout the forwards corps — is still a dangerous, well-balanced outfit that will be a pain in the ass to play against.

The Flames and Panthers came together for a true blockbuster trade on Friday in a deal that sent Matthew Tkachuk (left) to Florida. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
The Flames and Panthers came together for a true blockbuster trade on Friday in a deal that sent Matthew Tkachuk (left) to Florida. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

As for the Panthers, the value in this deal lies in Tkachuk’s extension. Locking up a marquee player entering his age-25 season for eight more years is a win in and of itself, and it allows the Panthers to navigate their short-term and long-term timelines with a bit more fluidity. The 2021-22 Panthers became the first team this century to average more than four goals per game and Tkachuk should be immediately expected to provide a reasonable facsimile of Huberdeau’s elite offensive production, coming off a 42-goal, 104-point campaign of his own.

Florida won the Presidents' Trophy and went all-in at the deadline, but when its offence completely dried up in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, it figured that it had to tweak its lineup. I’m not convinced as much as my peers that the Panthers improved in this trade, especially after losing Weegar, but they should figure to be among the NHL’s elite offensive teams again, and Tkachuk will almost certainly be graded with heavy consideration to his postseason output.

Both teams will have to address continuity issues. How much that matters is up for debate, but if you look at the past Cup winners, there’s an element of stability and growing together as a group. I’m most concerned about the dissolution of the Weegar-Aaron Ekblad defensive partnership, which, in my opinion, was the league’s second-best pairing behind Colorado’s Cale Makar-Devon Toews tandem.

Weegar-Ekblad logged the 13th-most minutes at 5-on-5 together — a figure that would be higher if Ekblad didn’t miss 21 games — and the Panthers controlled 57.2 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5 when this duo shared the ice, per Natural Stat Trick. I’m curious as to how the Panthers attempt to replace this volume and quality, even though Ekblad is a bonafide star in his own right and can likely carry a unit with an inferior partner.

This is the type of deal hockey fans salivate over, but there are a few real conclusions in the immediate aftermath: the Flames somehow improved their roster from a weak negotiating standpoint, the Panthers locked up a bonafide star in the middle of his prime, and both teams will have to work out continuity issues that may be overlooked while aiming to contend once again.

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