Thu. Dec 8th, 2022
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Top-Shelf Takes: Panthers early winners of blockbuster Matthew Tkachuk trade, for now

Welcome to Top-Shelf Takes, a weekly series from staff writer Mary Clarke all about the NHL. Lace up your skates as we dive deep into the epic highs and lows of this little sport called hockey.

At the time of the Matthew Tkachuk trade over the summer, I knocked the Florida Panthers for paying the steep price of three players and a conditional first-round pick to get the best upcoming free agent last summer. And so far, Tkachuk has proved me quite wrong!

We’re now well into the second month of the 2022-23 NHL season, which is a pretty fair time to look at some early returns from the offseason’s biggest trade. Back in late July, the Calgary Flames traded Tkachuk to the Panthers in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt, and a conditional 2025 first-round pick. The move came after Johnny Gaudreau left Calgary at the start of free agency, breaking up a Flames core that had been together since 2016-17.

When the trade went down late on a Friday night, many first reactions — mine included! — handed the Flames the unconditional victory at first blush. After all, the Panthers gave up a king’s ransom for Tkachuk. Last season, Huberdeau outpaced Tkachuk in points (115 to 104) and Weegar netted a career-high 44 points as a defenseman in his age 28 season. That was a lot to give up for Tkachuk, who bypassed his previous career high by 27 points last season with no real promise he’d hit those same peaks on a new team without Gaudreau by his side.

So far, however, Tkachuk’s been everything promised and more for the Panthers. After 14 games played, Tkachuk has five goals and 20 total points and is playing at a 113-point pace, which would exceed his career high set last season. While Carter Verhaeghe currently leads the Panthers in goals (10), Tkachuk is Florida’s best points producer in the early goings of the year.

There’s no doubt that Tkachuk is a phenominal hockey player, but there were questions as to his effectiveness in a new lineup after how much success the Flames top line had last season. After the first month of the season, though, it’s fair to say Tkachuk has settled in quite nicely on the Panthers top line alongside Verhaeghe and Aleksander Barkov.

As for the Flames, things haven’t worked out as well for their two newcomers in Huberdeau and Weegar. Huberdeau only just recently returned from an upper-body injury that sidelined him for three games. The forward also only has two goals and seven points in his first 12 games of the season. Weegar’s been one of Calgary’s best defenders this season, but his offense has suffered with only four assists in 15 games.

Both Calgary and Florida are fighting for wild card spots as of mid-November, with both teams looking a bit lackluster at times as American Thanksgiving looms large next week. Of course, one month into a season is too early to make definitive statements, but at the moment Tkachuk is providing far more value to the Panthers than Huberdeau and Weegar are for the Flames.

If Tkachuk can continue to be the Panthers most lethal offensive threat all season long, there should be no more doubters to Florida’s offseason plan.

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