What we know about Flames trading Matthew Tkachuk to Panthers

The Florida Panthers acquired forward Matthew Tkachuk in a blockbuster deal with the Calgary Flames on Friday night, then promptly signed him to an eight-year extension. The deal is worth $76 million, a source told The Athletic.

The Flames also sent a conditional fourth-round pick to the Panthers. In return, Calgary acquired left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, center Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 first-round pick.

Calgary filed for arbitration with Tkachuk in mid-July. But he informed the team that he would not be re-signing on a long-term deal, The Athletic reported Wednesday. Last season, Tkachuk set career highs with 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points. He also averaged 17:54 of ice time and was a plus-57.

One source close to the situation had previously said that Tkachuk’s list of preferred destinations at one point had the St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars on it for months, though that may not be the official list he gave Calgary. The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers were also among the other teams that expressed interest in the past.

Read our trade grades on the deal here.

Here’s everything you need to know about the situation:

Why did Tkachuk want out of Calgary?

It is probably a combination of things, but it would unquestionably start with Johnny Gaudreau’s departure as a free agent last week. Tkachuk spent most of the early part of his career playing left wing on the second line, mostly alongside Mikael Backlund, because Gaudreau played left wing on the first line, mostly alongside Sean Monahan.

Last season, almost from start to finish, Calgary coach Darryl Sutter shifted Tkachuk to right wing on the top line, employing the theory of putting all the scoring eggs in one basket. It worked. Largely because Gaudreau created so many openings with his speed and vision, Tkachuk had a career year, and many analysts deemed that top line, centered by Elias Lindholm, as the best line in the NHL. Without Gaudreau there, the appetite to play in Calgary long term was greatly diminished.

Then there is the Canadian quandary: More and more, it seems teams such as Calgary end up on a players’ no-trade list, which is concerning. Partly, that might be a function of playing in an older building. Partly, that may be the scrutiny of playing in a Canadian market. And partly, that might be the fear of playing for a demanding, old-school coach such as Sutter. But once a player adds up all the pros and cons of playing in Calgary, they may just decide that they’d rather be somewhere else.

Did the Flames get a good return for Tkachuk?

Calgary was in a tough position here, not only because they were trading an All-Star winger in Tkachuk, but because they lacked leverage. Teams knew the Flames needed to move Tkachuk, who told Calgary he wouldn’t stay long-term. Teams also knew that if they got Tkachuk, it would be because he wanted to be there.

Despite all that, Calgary did very well here. Sure, both Huberdeau and Weegar have one year left before UFA — but bringing them in will help the Flames minimize the damage done by losing Tkachuk (and Gaudreau) and give the club a chance to build off their excellent 2021-22 season and give them at least one more year to try to contend. It’s a tidy piece of work for general manager Brad Treliving, to say the least.

Why didn’t the St. Louis Blues get Tkachuk?

The Blues weren’t a lock to land Tkachuk, but it seemed promising. Ultimately, Florida put together a better package than Blues general manager Doug Armstrong could probably assemble. St. Louis’ Jordan Kyrou is talented, but his 75 points last season don’t match up to Huberdeau’s 115, and the Blues weren’t offering up a defenseman like Weegar, who finished eighth in the Norris Trophy voting two years ago.

Those are a couple of reasons why Tkachuk isn’t a Blue, along with the fact that they likely had a tough time clearing salary-cap space. The club has 10 players with some form of a no-trade clause, and that probably presented a challenge in who could be dealt. It would have been a nice fit and a wonderful story having Tkachuk follow in his father’s footsteps in St. Louis, but in the end, Florida won the sweepstakes with a massive package.

Why Florida traded for Tkachuk

The immediate justification? “Matthew Tkachuk is the best player involved in the deal.” And there’s certainly something to be said for that; Tkachuk is a rare combo of skill, size and skating, and he wanted to be in a spot like Florida. There’s nothing not to like about him as a hockey player. That doesn’t quite justify the price tag, though — Huberdeau was just a Hart finalist and Weegar is a top-paid defenseman.

The rub for Florida, though, is that they were likely going to have trouble signing both next summer. Might as well, the logic seems to have gone, package them together for eight years of Tkachuk. I’m not sure I agree with it, but I understand it.

What the extension means for Florida’s future

Short term, it means Florida is going to have to send out some salary and/or place Anthony Duclair on long-term injured reserve to start the season, then sort things out when he returns from his Achilles injury. Longer term, it locks them into a core of elite center Aleksander Barkov ($10 million AAV through 2030), elite defenseman Aaron Ekblad ($7.5 million through 2026), Tkachuk and, uh, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million through 2026). Pretty good.

It’s also worth saying that, if the Panthers lost the trade, it had nothing to do with Tkachuk’s extension. Having him at that number for that long is a steal.

Why did the Flames elect to take Tkachuk to arbitration?

The team said, via tweet, that going to arbitration gives Calgary “the opportunity to continue to work with (Tkachuk’s) representatives towards a contractual resolution while removing the possibility of an offer sheet.” It essentially would have given the Flames more time to negotiate a long-term deal with him, or possibly find a trade partner for him before the arbitration period if it got to that point. We provided an in-depth explainer about why the Flames would elect to go to arbitration with the 24-year-old.

How big of an impact did Tkachuk have on the Flames?

Losing Gaudreau already stung for the Flames. Losing Tkachuk in the same summer might have been seen as a nail in the coffin for the team’s aspirations for Cup contention, but the Flames may still be in the mix in the playoffs thanks to the return in the trade, along with their depth.

Tkachuk is a unicorn in this league, an extremely rare mix of skill and snarl, finesse and grit, scoring and passing, offense and defense. He really can do it all and is currently in the prime of his career as one of the league’s most valuable players. This is a guy who scored 42 goals and 104 points last year while driving play to an elite degree at both ends of the ice. Tkachuk is a superstar.

By the numbers, he’s projected to be worth 4.4 wins, which is behind only a few players in the league: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Brad Marchand, Mitch Marner, Cale Makar, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. This is an elite winger who is a force at five-on-five between his play-driving, skilled hands, and positive defensive impact.

Tkachuk projects to stay at such a high level for quite some time. Over the next seven seasons, he’s expected to be worth 26 wins. The only question about his impact moving forward is how he’ll manage without his elite linemate, Gaudreau. Calgary’s already reeling from that, so losing both of their game-changing wingers would be absolutely devastating — especially because they don’t have any other wingers who measure anywhere near this pair.

(Photo of Matthew Tkachuk: Candice Ward / USA Today)