Reflecting on Roberto Luongo’s Hockey Hall of Fame Induction

TORONTO – On Monday night, Roberto Luongo was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF), forever acknowledging him as one of the greatest hockey players to ever live. 

 

His career was an extremely successful one, with six all-star appearances, two Olympic gold medals, 489 career wins – which ranks fourth all-time, and becoming the first goalie to captain an NHL team in 60 years.

 

Besides a 24 game spell with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000, Luongo spent the entirety of his 19-season Hall of Fame career with the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks. Luongo became the first player who spent the majority of their career with the Panthers (572 of 1,044 games) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

 

Over the weekend, Luongo reminisced on his long professional hockey career. The Canadian media was very keen on hearing about the triumphs of the 2010 Olympics, which Lu was more than happy to discuss. The story of how Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal came to be because Lu moved the puck to Scott Niedermayer behind the net rather than freezing it was the tale that he told. 

 

When asked about which team he’d prefer to represent as he went into the Hall, Lu went with the safe answer, “Team Canada.” 

 

As big of a star Lu was during his playing days with the Canadian national team, he was just as much of an icon in Vancouver and Florida. “Luuuu” chants echoed through Scotiabank Arena when he was presented his Hall of Fame blazer by Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald. The same chants were heard on the red carpet of Meridian Hall as Luongo stepped out of the limo and inside the venue as he took the stage on induction night.

 

The HHOF induction ceremonies were a fun experience for all involved. The inductees spent the weekend with their families and former teammates.

 

Former Florida Panthers captain and now Luongo’s colleague in the Florida front office, Bryan McCabe, was in Toronto for the induction, he spoke about his time with Lu. 

 

“It’s been awesome (working with him), he’s a really intelligent guy, brings a lot to the table and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him off the ice over the last few years,” McCabe said.

 

Going into the Hall alongside Luongo were his former Canucks teammates, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Both players mentioned Lu in their induction speeches. 

 

“Being inducted into the hall of fame is truly an honor but doing it alongside Roberto makes it so much more special,” Daniel said. “You raised the standards on our team and made everyone believe that average was never an option. I’m proud to call you a friend.” 

 

Henrik spoke about the culture the Canucks core had during their best years and said Lu was at the forefront of that. 

 

“Roberto, you were the face of that culture, I’ve never been around anyone with the same determination and willingness to do anything to get better, it’s an honor to be here tonight with you,” Henrik said.  

 

As a Montreal native, Luongo joined an elite cast of Quebec goalies to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The likes of Jacques Plante, Georges Vezina, Martin Brodeur, Rogie Vachon and Patrick Roy were all legends in their own right, hailing from the Canadian province. 

 

“It was a big part of our upbringing to know that all of these great Quebec goalies are some of the best goalies in the world,” Luongo said. “I wanted to be like them… just to be able to say that I’m going into the same Hall of Fame as they are, it’s a tremendous honor.” 

 

The humble nature of Lu, as it always is, was on full display this weekend. He took the time to recognize some key figures that got him where he was today. 

 

Lu told me that one goaltender he wanted to style his game after as a teenager was former Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, Patrick Roy. In his early years, he was able to learn under Roy’s former goalie coach, Francois Allaire.

 

“The one (coach) that really made me who I was is Francois Allaire,” Luongo said. “He’s the one that really installed the technical part of the game in me… he really kicked off my career and gave me a solid foundation to build off of.” 

 

Lu came to South Florida as a young man in 2000. He was in his early twenties, with just 24 NHL games under his belt. Five years later in 2006 when he was traded to Vancouver, he left South Florida as a bonafide star in the league, playing in 317 games with the Panthers. During his first stint in Florida, Lu would also meet his wife Gina – with the help of a former teammate. 

 

“I remember after one practice Scott Mellanby came up to me and said, I want to take you to an Italian place… the owner wants to meet you,” Luongo said.

 

“After a little bit of time he started inviting me over to the house, I was having dinner there, it was like another family,” Luongo said during his induction speech. “Wouldn’t you know they had a daughter, and that happens to be the love of my life, Gina.”

 

While Mellanby will forever live in the memory of Panthers fans for being the player who killed the rat in the locker room during their run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, Luongo remembered his former teammate over the weekend for changing his life, literally.   

 

The best years of Luongo’s career were undoubtedly when he was in Vancouver. In his eight year run with the Canucks, they made the playoffs six times, won six division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and went to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.

 

When the NHL went on break for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Luongo led Canada to the top of the hockey world as they defeated the Americans in overtime to claim the gold medal, with over 16 million people watching across the country. To this day people in Canada still talk about Luongo’s play in that tournament.  

 

While the Vancouver Luongo teams had consistent playoff appearances and a roster which would see multiple players become Hall of Famers, it was the complete opposite for Lu’s Panthers teams. 

 

Florida never made the playoffs in the first five years they had Luongo between the pipes. When he returned to the Panthers in March of 2014 for his second go, Lu had one goal: take the Panthers to the playoffs. 

 

“With the Panthers, when I came back on my second stint I was dead set on it, I wanted to make the playoffs with them,” Luongo said. “When I got traded back… a lot of people thought I was going to run into the sunset as they said, but for me I really wanted to witness a playoff series with that team.”

 

In 2016, that Panthers playoff dream would happen. This time around, Lu had a series of future NHL stars around him, with the likes of a young Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad. Florida faced off against the team that drafted him, the New York Islanders in the first-round. Unfortunately, the Panthers didn’t win the series and Lu never got to play with that Panthers core in their prime. That would be the only time Luongo reached the postseason with the team before retiring in 2019.

 

Today, Lu is still with the Panthers organization in a front office role. He currently serves as the Special Advisor to General Manager Bill Zito.

 

His ties to the South Florida community will always be there.  He is the first Panther player to have his jersey retired, while also being inducted into the Hall with most of his career being spent in a Panthers uniform. His wife was born and raised in the area and they have brought up their family there.

 

“I think It’s a great place to bring up your family, that’s why we made it our home… it’ll always be home for me, I enjoy living there and it’s a great place to raise a family,” Luongo said.

 

With his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Roberto Luongo will forever be remembered by hockey fans for his stellar on ice play, his off the ice personality (especially his Twitter account) and all that he’s accomplished with Team Canada, Vancouver and Florida. He now rightfully has his place amongst hockey’s greatest legends and will so for the rest of time.

Five Takeaways from Panthers win over Capitals

For the first time since last season’s playoffs, the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals faced off at FLA Live Arena.

 

Florida won the game 5-2, backstopped by a stellar performance from Sergei Bobrovsky and two-goal night from Carter Verhaeghe.

 

Here’s tonight’s takeaways.

 

The Sam’s are buzzing

It was no secret that both Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett had slower starts to the season than they would have liked. Both players respectively had the best season of their careers in 2021-2022, so there was some cause for concern as the two had only one goal between them when Florida hit the road a few weeks ago.

 

The Sam’s seemed to have gotten over the snake bite ever since they both got on the board in the game against Anaheim on Nov. 6. 

 

Tonight, Reinhart scored a baseball style goal on the powerplay as he batted the puck from midair past Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper. 

 

Unlike Saturday where he scored twice against Edmonton, Bennett didn’t find the back of the net tonight, however he was very noticeable on the ice against Washington, specifically when the Panthers were skating in transition and when he was around the front of goal.

 

When the Sam’s are going, good things happen for the Panthers. 

 

Florida winning the special teams battle won them the game

You never want to give the Washington Capitals a power play… why? There’s this guy on their team that is 13 goals away from having the second most of all-time in NHL history. Yes, it’s Alex Ovechkin.

 

Ovi has a permanent residence on the left faceoff circle in every hockey arena across the world. He has the most powerplay goals all-time with 290 and counting. So you don’t want to give him a chance to get 291. 

 

Florida went to the box five times tonight, which isn’t ideal after what was mentioned about Ovechkin. Yet, Florida came up huge on the penalty kill, going 5-for-5 on the PK, due in large part to the great game played by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

 

The power play was perfect, literally

The Panthers penalty kill was 100 percent tonight. As for the power play, which has been a struggle for most of this season, that department also had a perfect night, scoring on their one and only attempt of the game. 

 

Florida usually gets more than one crack at the man-advantage on most nights as their fast transition game and offensive zone play gets teams to bite. Tonight, that wasn’t the case with Washington going to the box only once, but that one penalty cost them a goal against as Sam Reinhart scored to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead in the second period. 

 

Florida’s missed opportunities on special teams has hurt them in close games this season, but tonight it was the opposite. 

 

Sergei Bobrovsky was more than solid – 40 saves and the win

For the last three games prior to tonight, the crease was Spencer Knight’s. Because of that, Bob hasn’t played in 10 days, with his last start coming on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles.

 

Tonight, Bobrovsky was back in the net and his performance propelled Florida to the win tonight. 

 

Bob ended the night with 40 saves and was the brick wall that kept Washington scoreless on the power play. 

 

During the third period, Washington was all over Florida for most of the frame, putting 21 shots on Bob and scoring a goal to make it a one-goal game.

 

With the Panthers looking like they could lose the lead at any minute, Bob kept the team in check with his play, before the late game goal support came in from Carter Verhaeghe.

 

Swaggy gets two-goals… again

It seems like when Carter Verhaeghe scores, he does it in bunches – which isn’t wrong as he’s scored two goals in a game four times this year while scoring one goal only twice. 

 

The Capitals are no stranger to Verhaeghe’s offensive abilities as he dominated them in the playoffs last season with 12 points in six games. 

 

Verhaeghe missed a few shifts in the game tonight as he went to the Panthers dressing room after taking a hit up high from Capitals forward Lars Eller. It was a good sign to see him come back to the bench, and it was even better to see him score the two insurance goals late in the third.   

 

The entire top line got on the scoresheet tonight, with Sasha Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk both picking up three points in the win. 

Five takeaways from Panthers loss to Flyers

Florida made their way to the City of Brotherly love for their second meeting of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers. 

 

The Panthers won the first meeting 4-3 in Sunrise a week ago, but the Flyers got their revenge in Philadelphia with a 4-3 win of their own.

 

Here’s the takeaways.

 

A power play goal has been scored 

Every time the Panthers play, the big problem staring them in the face is their lack of success on the power play. 

 

Entering tonight Florida was 2/33 on the power play. The first two periods in Philadelphia looked much the same, with Florida going 0/2 on the man-advantage. 

 

However, all things come to an end and the Panthers power play drought, which had not seen a goal since Oct. 15 was one of those things tonight. 

 

Brandon Montour, who scored the last Panthers power play goal two weeks ago once again found the back of the net, giving the Florida power play a much, much needed tally. 

 

Florida only got one power play goal on their four attempts tonight, but it’s a start in the right direction. 

 

The defense was the offense?

Florida’s roster is made up of quite a few guys that are more than capable of burying 30 goals over the course of an 82 game season. 

 

So who scored the Florida goals tonight? Yes, the defenseman. 

 

All three goals by the Cats tonight were scored by the d-corps; Forsling, Mahura and Montour. 

 

The blue liners were finding open lanes and jumping up in the play all game. Florida’s defenseman had 17 shots on goal in the game. 

 

With the forwards not finding the back of the net, it’s good to have your backend hold it down offensively. 

 

Carter Hart slammed the door

Philadelphia’s 24-year-old goalie Carter Hart was the main reason why the Flyers got out of this one with two points. 

 

Hart was lights out, finishing the game with 47 saves. In the final minutes of the third period, Florida was sending everything they had towards goal, but Hart wasn’t having any part of that. 

 

Florida outshot Philadelphia 50 to 22. 

 

Hart improves his season record to 5-0-0 after tonight’s game. 

 

Reinhart and Barkov are still goalless 

For the first seven games of the season, Sam Reinhart was next to Aleksander Barkov on the Panthers top line. Tonight, the pair was split up as their offensive production hasn’t been there, with the duo not having a single goal to their name this season. 

 

The two combined last season for 72 goals during the regular season. 

 

Following tonight’s game, the number still stays at zero, though they both picked up assists in tonight’s one goal loss. 

 

Reinhart and Barkov are two of the best goal scorers on the team, as they showed frequently last year. But the lack of goal production has hurt the team, specifically in close games like this. They need to find the back of the net soon.

 

Colin White quietly contributes again 

The third line has been the most consistent one for Florida all season.

 

With Anton Lundell being the staple down the middle and Eetu Luostarinen getting the bump to a top-9 winger role, the Finns have been clicking. 

 

The other member of this highly-effective line is first-year Panther Colin White. 

 

White doesn’t see the ice as much as Lundell and Luostarinen as he’s not in the special teams rotation, but when he’s out there 5-on-5, he seems to get the job done. 

 

White picked up an assist tonight on Mahura’s goal, making it his seventh point in eight games. 

 

During his last few years in Ottawa, White was setback by injuries and ended up getting bought out this summer. He seems to have found a new spark in South Florida, becoming a much needed player on the wing. 

Five Takeaways from Panthers 4-3 win over Flyers

SUNRISE – After being the best team at home last season, the Florida Panthers returned to FLA Live Arena for their 2022-2023 home opener. 

 

The Cats didn’t disappoint the home fans as they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3, moving to 3-1-0 on the year.

 

Here are the takeaways:

 

Verhaeghe gets into the scoring flow 

 

Carter Verhaeghe performs well at home, look back at Game 5 of last year’s first-round against Washington. It was no different tonight,

 

Entering the game, number 23 was pointless through his first three games of the season, all of which were on the road. Verhaeghe didn’t let this early season slump affect him at the home opener. Six minutes into the first period, Verhaeghe sniped a shot past Flyers goalie Felix Sandstrom, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead and Swaggy his first goal of the season.

 

Verhaeghe wasn’t done there. Just a few minutes after his first goal, he bursted through the neutral zone, catching a stretch pass from Gustav Forsling. Verheaghe, who is extremely effective off the rush, didn’t waste the breakaway chance, tucking the puck right under Sandstrom’s glove for his second of the game. 

 

Captain Barkov plays his 600th game

 

It was 2013 when the Florida Panthers drafted a soft spoken teenager from Tampere, Finland second-overall. Tonight, that 27-year-old played his 600th career NHL game, all with the Florida Panthers. 

 

Aleksander Barkov, who didn’t even realize at morning skate that tonight would be his 600th game, showed one again why he is the franchise player, he played his game. 

 

Defensively, the former Selke winner continued the little things which have made him a household name across the National Hockey League. The little things being his positioning on the blue line when the Flyers were trying to get zone entries on the power play, his aggressiveness in corner battles and his overall presence across the ice.

 

Offensively he was no different. Barkov picked up two assists in the first period and could have easily had two more throughout the game. He was sprinign his teammates open with subtle but extremely effective passes. 

 

We’ve seen this game for nearly a decade from Barkov and once again we witnessed his worth to the team tonight after seeing it 599 times before.

The defense had a new look

 

With the news today that No. 1 defenseman Aaron Ekblad is on LTIR, which would see him miss at the minimum 10 games and 24 days, the Panthers blueline was looking depleted. The problems didn’t get any better with Brandon Montour missing tonight’s game. The Panthers had to call up Matt Kiersted and Lucas Carlsson for their season debuts. 

 

Gustav Forsling, who already jumped into a top-two role this season with the departure of MacKenzie Weegar once again saw him get a bump with Ekblad out. 

 

The blue-line was a unique one tonight. Forsling and Kiersted started as the top unit, both of whom are left-handed shots. Carlsson was paired with Marc Staal while Radko Gudas was alongside Josh Mahura.

 

The scoresheet saw some points on the scoresheet, with Mahura getting a goal, while Forsling and Gudas picked up some helpers.

 

The blue-line being in a blender didn’t seem to be a problem, with the Cats coming out on top tonight. 

 

Paul Maurice said Brandon Monotur is expected to be a full participant in the next Panthers practice, he was also on the ice for morning skate. Getting him back in the lineup is huge for the Panthers.

 

Welcome to Florida 

 

It can take time for players to get adjusted to a new team and this year’s Panthers squad has a lot of new bodies. 

 

With the 2022-2023 Panthers home opener, some of the new Cats showed out to the contingent at FLA Live Arena. 

 

With his linemates already on the goal sheet this season, Rudolfs Balcers was ready to get in on the action. After a great pass from Sam Bennett, Rudy was free on goal. The Latvian national stayed composed, sold the shot and went bardown on the back-hand to make his first goal as a Panther one for the highlight reel.

 

Balcers wouldn’t be the last new acquisition to get the South Florida crowd on their feet. Josh Mahura was a waiver pickup right before opening night and slotted himself directly into the lineup. Tonight he showed his offensive skill to the home crowd.

 

Mahura walked into the zone and fired the puck across his body, beating Sandstrom right below the glove. Both Mahura and Balcers completed the goals with picture perfect cellys.

 

And not to forget, Matthew Tkachuk picked up two assists tonight in his home debut.

 

It’s good to be home

 

South Florida sports fans had a few decisions to make today as both the Heat and Panthers played their first home games of the season. 

 

Panthers fans made it known, as they did many times last season, they love their team. FLA Live Arena was loud tonight. Whether it was the infamous “ref you suck” chant or the Ric Flair “WOO”, Sunrise was the place to be tonight. 

 

Every big Bobrovsky save, which he had a lot in the third, was accompanied by large rounds of applause. The final goals of the game had the building on its feet. This place was bumping.

 

The players were feeding off the energy,

 

“They’re excited to go play in front of their fans and it’s a good live building,” Paul Maurice said post-game. “I think there’s a good synergy there because I think the fans are having fun, the players on the bench, like they’re working hard but they’re having fun.” 

 

Panthers hockey is back in South Florida.

Panthers' forward Matthew Tkachuk speaking in front of microphone

Matthew Tkachuk is enjoying life under the sun

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – It’s been two months since the Florida Panthers pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent 24-year-old Matthew Tkachuk to Sunrise.

 

This past week, Tkachuk finally hit the ice for formal skates, alongside 55 other players at Panthers training camp.

 

While only being in South Florida for a short time, the new star in Broward County is already loving life under the sun.

 

“(It’s) 10 times better than what I expected, 100, it’s been unbelievable down here. The guys have been awesome, living here is incredible,” said Tkachuk. “I couldn’t have imagined being here on the first day of camp and feeling like I’ve lived here for 20 years, but I have and it’s been awesome.”

 

Tkachuk has been in South Florida putting in the work over the last few weeks, alongside many other Panthers players, for informal skates without the coaching staff.

 

When he hit the ice on Thursday for day 1 of camp, it seemed like the first-year Panther had been with the squad for years.

 

Whether it was his enthusiastic on-ice reactions or taking an extra friendly swing after a drill, he isn’t afraid to let his character show when the uniform is on.

 

“We’re all very intense, but everybody’s having a blast so far. The past few weeks have been awesome, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said Tkachuk. “When you’re having fun and also bringing that intensity, I think that’s the recipe for success.”

 

Off the ice, Tkachuk is the same way, he’s himself. The Panthers’ forward expressed his excitement about being in Florida with this group of guys.

 

“I knew how great of a team they were, which is the main reason why I came down here,” Tkachuk said Wednesday. “Everybody is better than I expected them to be, it’s a very talented team. We’ve had lots of fun so far getting to know each other.”

 

As Tkachuk spoke highly of the team, likewise, his new teammates weren’t shy to talk about his character.

 

The usually soft spoken captain of the Panthers, Aleksander Barkov, recalled his first text message exchange with Tkachuk.

 

“We welcomed him here and right away the first message was F–– right,” said Barkov during media day. “He wants to win, he wants to bring that character he has to this organization and I think he’s done some damage already.”

 

Around the league, Tkachuk has received a reputation for being a pain in the backside for oppositions to play against.

 

“I think he pisses you off because he’s good, he backs it up,” said Panthers forward Sam Reinhart. 

 

While Tkachuk moving to Florida was the big story of the off-season, he isn’t the only Panther in unfamiliar territory.

 

During the summer, Florida brought in long-time NHL head coach Paul Maurice to assume the position behind the bench. 

 

With a new coaching staff, all the players had to learn new systems on day 1.

 

With the whole team entering training camp under a new regime, Tkachuk didn’t find his first skate with Maurice too nerve-racking. 

 

“There’s a lot of new pieces here,” said Tkachuk. “Coming in as a new guy, I actually feel more comfortable with the new coaching staff because everybody’s in the same boat and we’re trying to get caught up to speed on what they want and what the expectations are.”

 

Tkachuk applauded the professionalism put forth by Maurice and his staff on the first day of camp.

 

“I think they’re pretty clear that they were going to be very intense practices, it’s just a very professional attitude around here, it’s very scheduled,” said Tkachuk.  “(It’s) something that I’m very excited about.”

 

There is still a few weeks before Panthers fans will be able to see Tkachuk live in Sunrise for a regular season game, but the new fan favorite is ready for the 2022-2023 campaign to get underway. 

 

“Let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working out, I want to start playing some games,” Tkachuk said on Wednesday.

 

The Panthers put a lot of chips on the table for the opportunity to get Matthew Tkachuk and so far he is enjoying every moment with the cat on his chest.

 

One thing is clear after seeing him around the team this week, he wanted to be a Florida Panther.

What Matthew Tkachuk brings to the Florida Panthers

The hockey world was taken aback Friday night as the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames swapped 100-point superstars in a blockbuster trade.

Florida sent all-time franchise points leader Jonathan Huberdeau to Calgary alongside MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 conditional first-round pick, in exchange for 24-year-old Matthew Tkachuk, and a 2025 conditional fourth-round pick.

Earlier in the week, reports said that Tkachuk told Calgary he wasn’t going to re-sign as an RFA; Florida was one of the few desired teams on his trade list, he told ESPN’s Linda Cohn

Tkachuk’s contract extension in Florida is eight-years, $76-million, with a base salary of $1-million per-season, $68-million in signing bonuses.

Obviously this trade has the fan base at odds. Many are disappointed that Huberdeau, one of the most beloved players in Panthers’ history is on his way out after 10 seasons in Florida, along with MacKenzie Weegar. The other side of the fan base is excited to see what a young star in Tkachuk can bring to a team that has had limited playoff success over the last 25 years.

In this article I am going to focus on the type of player Tkachuk is and how he can help the Panthers this season and beyond. 

Who is Matthew Tkachuk?

 

Tkachuk plays a unique brand of hockey that isn’t seen often in today’s NHL. He’s a 6-foot-2, 200-pound, power forward that can go toe-to-toe physically with anyone in the league, while still scoring at above a point-per-game rate. If I could describe him in non-hockey terms, I’d say he’s like a Swiss Army Knife. He can score, hit, fight, pass, dangle – he can do whatever you need him to do and that’s why the Panthers gave up so much for him.

In 431 career games, he has 152 goals, and 230 assists for 382 points. He is coming off the best year of his career which saw him score 42 goals, tallying 104 points in 82 games with the Flames.

When you watch Tkachuk play, immediately you’ll notice his presence in the offensive zone. 

Without the puck, he continuously works his way into areas where his teammates can feed him.

He aggressively fights for loose pucks in the corners and will use his big frame to his advantage in 50-50 puck battles. In front of the net, he finds ways to get the puck on goal, even if it is from the most absurd angles. Tkachuk is extremely composed and may flash his silky hands with a behind the legs goal or a mid-air deflection, as he did multiple times in Calgary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTnt4Hi87HY

As you watch more of his game, you’ll see how frequently he carries the puck in transition. With his long stride, quick release and playmaking ability, he can score off the rush or find an open teammate in a prime scoring area. 

Obviously one of the biggest parts of Tkachuk’s game as a power forward is his physical play. There’s not a ton of players in the league who can lay the body as well as he does; getting under the skin of the opposition while still being top-10 in points (he ranked eighth in 2021-2022). A comparable player would be Brad Marchand. While Marchand isn’t as big as Tkachuk, listing at just 5-foot-9, both players can hit, score and irritate opponents. 

We know what Tkachuk is capable of on the ice, but how will this help a Panthers team that is one of the top contenders in the league?

First off, he is only 24. When we look at the age of the Panthers’ core, every player except for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is 26-years-old or younger, and the Panthers’ have a stud 21-year-old backup goalie in Spencer Knight. Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar both would have been 29 by the time the playoffs started this upcoming season, and would have been 30-years-old the first-year after their current contracts expire. Florida got younger with this move and it extends their cup contention window.

Why make this trade?

 

Getting Tkachuk who is in the prime of his career extends the competitive window the Panthers will have with their core for multiple years. As the second highest paid skater on the roster, just behind captain Aleksander Barkov, Tkachuk will be playing at his highest level alongside most of the current Panthers’ players for multiple seasons. 

Obviously Jonathan Huberdeau is coming off the best single-season by a left-winger in NHL history with his 115 point 2021-2022 campaign, but how long can Huberdeau continuously play at this elite-level? That was definitely one of the questions the Panthers pondered as they made the decision to not offer him an extension and package the star to Calgary for a much younger player.

With one-year remaining on his current contract with an average annual value of $5.9 million, the 29-year-old is due for a massive payday, most likely getting a similar dollar amount to that of which Tkachuk signed for on his extension. Florida decided that a long-term extension with Huberdeau wasn’t part of their future plans, and it makes sense as a hypothetical eight-year extension upwards of $9-million per season would have made Huberdeau one of the three highest paid players on the team throughout his 30’s (barring any higher contracts in the future). 

So let’s say Huberdeau signed the eight-year, $76-million extension in Florida instead of Tkachuk, that’s still the same term and cap hit no matter the ages of the two players. What about the other pending unrestricted free agent that was involved in the trade, MacKenzie Weegar?

Weegar, who is just a few months younger than Huberdeau was also due for a new contract and his next deal would have demanded way more than his current $3.25 million AAV. If we look at active defenseman contracts in today’s NHL, the 25 highest-paid defenseman all have a AAV of at least $7 million. It is safe to say after Weegar’s 2020-2021 season which saw him finish top-8 in Norris Trophy voting, he could see potential offers of around $6 million plus on his next contract. With these scenarios, Florida would have tied up around (at least) $16 million on those two while still having three more years on Sergei Bobrovksy’s $10 million AAV deal. That would have seen three players in their 30’s making upwards of $26 million for multiple years, not including another $10 million for Barkov’s contract. 

With this trade, Florida will have some flexibility for next offseason’s free agency, a luxury they didn’t have this year for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the $6.575 million of dead cap from buyout penalties. In 2023-2024, Florida would only have $1.24 million of dead cap and have $7.8 million come off the books from Patric Horqnvist and Radko Gudas’ contracts. The Panther’s will have a substantial amount of money to spend next offseason compared to the budget they had this year.

So Florida gets a young player who slots in the timeline of their current core and they’ll have more space to bring in players over the next few seasons.

What about this year?

Thinking of the future is always smart, no matter how good your team is, but the Panther’s just won the President’s Trophy the previous season before getting swept in the second-round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team can contend now, the question is does Tkachuk take them to the next level?

Offense wise, Tkachuk’s even strength points per 60 last season was 3.7, while Huberdeau was at 3.9. Tkachuk had a better overall on-ice goals for and corsi for per 60 than Huberdeau last season while also having a better on-ice goals against per 60 metric. Tkachuk’s 5-on-5 and even strength advanced stats in most major categories are also statistically better than Huberdeau’s during the 2021-2022 season. These advanced stats show Florida is getting a statistically better all-around player in Tkachuk. 

If you watched Panthers games last year, most of the season saw Barkov and Huberdeau playing on separate lines to balance out the top-six, creating two top lines. With Tkachuk replacing Huberdeau on the wing, does he play with his former Flames teammate Sam Bennett? Maybe he gets paired alongside last year’s rookie phenom Anton Lundell, or you put him with the captain Aleksander Barkov. 

Florida’s newest head coach Paul Maurice will have to see which line combinations work best for the team. It would make a lot of sense to see how Tkachuk and Barkov fare together on the top line. With Tkachuk’s tenacity in front of the net and his aggressive style of play, he’s going to open up the ice for the playmaking machine that Barkov is. Tkachuk and Barkov would be a matchup nightmare as the duo are both talented goal scorers and playmakers. Pair that with Barkov’s defensive abilities and Tkachuk’s hard-hitting play, this could be a scary top line.

Last postseason for the Panthers was an extremely disappointing one to say the least. GM Bill Zito went all in at the trade deadline, depleting major assets to acquire Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. After winning their first playoff series since 1996, Florida was dominated by Tampa in their four game series which saw the Panthers get swept. Over the 10 playoff games, Florida’s two star forwards Barkov and Huberdeau combined for 3 goals and 12 points.

On the other end of the continent, Tkachuk and the Flames also found themselves on the wrong end of a second-round matchup with their in-province rivals, losing in five games to the Edmonton Oilers. In 12 playoff games last season, Tkachuk had 4 goals and 10 points. In 27 career playoff games, he has 15 points. 

With only one playoff-series win to show for over the last 25 years in Florida, the front office wanted a new look, hoping Tkachuk will produce in the playoffs, taking Florida to the next level.

MacKenzie Weegar, left, and Jonathan Huberdeau were two of the Florida Panthers' most popular players. (Florida Panthers)

Pressure Point: Panthers’ blockbuster deal makes sense, but Huberdeau will be missed

It always hurts when a favorite player on a team you’re emotionally invested in is traded away.

So it was a gut punch for Florida Panthers fans when news broke late Friday night that Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar had been traded to the Calgary Flames.

Especially Huberdeau, the franchise scoring leader and a complete class act since Florida drafted him with the third overall pick in 2011.
But the outrage evident in knee-jerk social media is misplaced in light of the return — a 24-year-old coming off a 42-goal season (104 points) and newly signed to a long-term deal.

And, who is built for playoff hockey, and has shown it.

If unfamiliar with Matthew Tkachuk’s work, check out any number of highlight videos on YouTube. He’s a dynamic forward who will energize FLA Live Arena playing alongside Aleksander Barkov and another skilled wing such as Carter Verhaeghe or Sam Reinhart.

He’ll do so for the next eight years after agreeing to a $76 million contract. Notably, Barkov is also embarking on an eight-year deal this season.

Blockbuster deal shakes up NHL

A trade involving two players coming off 100-point seasons is a stunner. All the experts and many fans are quick to call this a win for Calgary. Yes, Panthers GM Bill Zito gave up a hell of a lot: Huberdeau and Weegar and a prospect with some potential (Cole Schwindt) and a future first-round pick.

But Huberdeau and Weegar will be playing on expiring contracts and can walk away after the upcoming season.

What strikes me is this was a Pat Riley sort of trade. Zito has shown since he got to South Florida in 2020 that he is not at all hesitant to make a bold move. He didn’t let being tight against the salary cap prevent him from swinging one of the biggest NHL trades in years.

Zito stuck his neck out on this one and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

Peel away the emotion and local sentiment about star players who have meant a lot to Panthers fans and this deal makes sense.

Notably, Tkachuk is just entering his prime while Huberdeau is 29 and will be playing though his next contract well into his 30s.

Various factors involved in trade

Trying to work out a long-term deal for Huberdeau, who can be an unrestricted free agent next summer, was supposed to be priority one for this Panthers offseason. Safe to assume that finding out what that would take to accomplish factored into the decision to trade him.

Weegar, a talented two-way defenseman, can also be a UFA after the upcoming season. It would have been unlikely to keep both players long term.

Zito has made it clear he is chasing the Stanley Cup in the short term. Getting to the second round for the first time since 1996 wasn’t enough to justify the status quo.

Being swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning likely was a consideration in making this trade. The Panthers’ high-scoring offense managed only three goals in four games, and also sputtered in the series win against the Washington Capitals.

Coming off a 115-point regular season, Huberdeau was mostly ineffective throughout the playoffs, registering one goal and four assists in 10 games.

Weegar’s untimely giveaway cost the Panthers Game 2 against the Lightning, and he also had a game-changing turnover in the Game 1 loss in the series against the Capitals.

Tkachuk better suited for playoffs

Huberdeau is one of the top playmakers in the NHL, his anticipation uncanny, his passing often dazzling. He’s been a joy to watch for 10 seasons in Sunrise.

In Tkachuk, the Panthers gain a creative scorer whose more physical style is better suited to playoff hockey. In 12 playoff games with Calgary this past season he had 10 points (four goals).

Can’t wait to see how his offensive skills mesh with Barkov.

Also looking forward to what else Zito has up his sleeve this offseason. Now he has a big hole to fill on the blue line, which already needed improvement.

Zito spent a lot of draft capital on making a run in the recent playoffs and couldn’t prevent Claude Giroux, Mason Marchment and Ben Chiarot from departing in free agency.

Now he has made his riskiest gamble in dealing away one of the biggest stars in Panthers history. Emotionally it’s a blow to the fan base.

But when a franchise has been flailing in mediocrity for decades, it’s tough to make a case for staying the same course.

Ten years of hope under previous GM Dale Tallon didn’t produce a single playoff series win. They never advanced past the first round with Huberdeau in the lineup until this year.

That is not to detract from Huberdeau’s contributions and accomplishments. I covered him for a number of years and always admired him as a player and a person. I recall how he and Barkov immediately thrived when Jaromir Jagr arrived and joined them on the top line, and how entertaining it was to watch the trio circulate the puck around the offensive zone — Huberdeau had 12 points in his first 13 games with Jagr.

Make no mistake, we’ll miss ya, Hubie.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Panthers,  for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

5 takeaways from Panthers Game 1 loss to Lightning

SUNRISE – The Battle of Florida got revived for its 2022 edition on Tuesday night. 

 

The Panthers played host to the Lightning in Game 1 of round 2. Florida had the upper edge 5-on-5 but the ever deadly Lightning power play made Florida pay, again, tonight in Sunrsie. 

 

The Lightning took Game 1 by a score of 4-1.

 

Here’s the takeaways. 

Florida gave Tampa too many chances on the power play

Looking back at Game 1 of last year’s battle of Florida, the Lightning won a close game 5-4. Three of Tampa’s goals in that game came on the power play, with a 75% success rate.

 

Tonight, the Panthers once again gave the Lightning too many chances on the man advantage, with six opportunities. With so many chances, it was only a matter of time for Tampa to find the back of the net. 

 

On Tampa’s third power play of the night, Nikita Kucherov walked through the Panthers zone, made Aaron Ekblad bite on a fake to the outside, and froze Sergei Bobrovsky before feeding the puck to a wide open Corey Perry. Perry couldn’t have had an easier chance to score with the empty goal staring him in the face.

 

Tampa tied the game off the Perry goal.​​ The Lightning would finish the game with three power play goals while only scoring once 5-on-5.

 

In two straight Game 1’s against Florida, Tampa scored three times on the power play. They are too good up a man to have six chances in a game, they’ll make you pay.

Anthony Duclair gets his first career playoff goal

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have not been an easy place for Panthers forward Anthony Duclair. Entering tonight, he was goalless in 11 career playoff games. 

 

In Game 6 of the first round against the Capitals, Duclair was a healthy scratch. The Panthers went on to win that game and the series in overtime.

 

Duclair was back in the lineup for Game 1 against the Lightning, but the night didn’t get off to a good start for Duke. He took a high sticking penalty early in the first period with the game scoreless. Luckily for Duclair, Florida was able to kill off the penalty.

 

Duclair didn’t let the penalty affect him too much. With 5:59 left in the first, Jonathan Huberdeau sauced a pass from the boards to a streaking Duclair in front of the Lightning goal. Duclair fired the puck past Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

 

This was Duclair’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and it was a great time for him to get that burden off his back.   

Vasilevskiy slams the door, this could be a goaltending series

Before the series started, some would have said that this matchup called for plenty of goals. 

 

While the two sides have enough offensive firepower to scare pretty much every opponent in the NHL, the two Russian netminders had something to say about that.


Bobrovsky and Vasilveskiy kept this game close through two periods of play, with the score being 1-1 after 40.

 

 As the game reached the third period, both goalies had to stand on top of their crease as the shots continued to pile on. 

 

For Bobrovsky, he was getting peppered with shots when Florida was shorthanded. Eventually enough was enough and the pucks started going in.

 

On the other side of the ice, Andrei Vasilevskiy continuously prevented Florida’s onslaught of high quality chances go to waste as he turned into a brick wall, stopping everything in his way.

 

Tonight both goaltenders finished with over 30 saves in the game, and with out them, the score line could have been very different.  Vasilevskiy only gave up one goal on 34 shots, while Bobrovsky saved 32, only conceding one 5-on-5 goal.

 

Tampa’s goalie showed why he has two Stanley Cups tonight. He’s one of the best in the world and the Panthers are going to have to keep testing him if they want to try and crack the code.

No power play, no fun

It’s like reading the same book twenty times, the power play is not getting any better.

 

Florida was 0/18 in round one on the power play, tonight Florida was 0/3 on the man advantage, making their postseason record 0/21. 

 

When the game was tied at 1-1 and when the Panthers were down 2-1, the chances they had on the power play could have changed the game. However, once again, the Panthers could not find twine on the man advantage.

 

Tampa scored three times tonight on their six chances; Florida will lose the series if they don’t figure out their power play. 

Florida loses another Game 1 

Even with home ice, Florida can’t win their opening playoff games.

 

Last year they lost Game 1 to Tampa. This year they dropped Game 1 to Washington, also on home ice. 


Tonight was  no different, as the Panthers once again went down 0-1 in a series, at home. The last time Florida won a Game 1 was in 1997, when they beat the New York Rangers. Florida didn’t win a game after that in the series.  

 

Florida will have to advance to the next round if they want to test their luck again in a Game 1, but until then, they need to be ready for Game 2 on Thursday night. 

5 Keys to Panthers-Lightning series

One year after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs, the Florida Panthers are back, looking for revenge in the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

 

The Battle of Florida part 2 is here, can the Panthers come out on top?


Here are my five keys to the Panthers-Lightning series.

Florida needs to score on the power play 

I’m not sure what was a more impressive feat in the first round, the fact that the Panthers went 0/18 on the power play, or how they were able to win the series in six games without scoring a single power play goal.

 

Florida was the only team in the first round to not score a goal, with the other 15 teams scoring at least two goals on the man advantage. 

 

As the Panthers progress through the playoffs, if they continue to strike out on the man advantage, their opponents aren’t going to let them hang around in games like the Capitals did.

 

Tampa had the 11th ranked penalty kill in the regular season, finishing the year at 80.56%. This is just slightly better than Florida’s first round opponent, the Washington Capitals, who were 12th in the league with an  80.44% pk. 

 

This matchup against Tampa should be a tight one, so finishing your power play chances will be huge in a best-of-seven series. 

Don’t give the Lightning too many chances on the man advantage 

Looking back at the 2021 first round series between these two sides, it was a power play goal fest.

 

In Game 1, Tampa won a tight one 5-4. They went 3/4 on the power play in that game.

 

In the series, the Lightning went 8/20 on the power play, scoring two or more PP goals in fifty percent of the games. 

 

Between Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov, there are plenty of Lightning players who can put the puck in the net on the power play.

 

The Lightning know how to use the power play to their advantage. Florida needs to play clean hockey to try and limit the amount of times Tampa gets looks on the power play.  

Florida needs another huge series from Sergei Bobrovsky

The two standout Panthers from round 1 were Carter Verhaeghe and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. In six games against Washignton, Bobrovsky had a .906 save percentage with a 2.79 GAA. He held the net the entire series and kept Florida in games with his great play.

 

Looking at last year’s postseason matchup against the Lightning, Florida’s goalie situation was anything but sure. The Panthers started three different goalies in their six games against Tampa; Bobrovsky, Chris Dreidger and Spencer Knight. Bobrovsky had a rough go against the Lightning, finishing the series with a .841 save percentage and 5.33 GAA in three games.

 

So far in this playoff run, Bobrovsky has looked like his former two-time Vezina winner self, not the guy who lost his job multiple times in the playoffs.

 

It’s not going to be an easy time trying to shut the door on guys like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Co. but if Bobrovsky can play like he did in round 1, he’s going to help his team a lot this series. 

Tampa is going to have to get by without Brayden Point

When I was watching Tampa take the ice last May, the one player who I thought looked the most lethal on the Lightning offense was Brayden Point. Between his quick skating, and elusive slot shot on the power play, Point is a player who demands respect every time he touches the ice.

 

As of now, Point is listed as “highly doubtful” for Game 1, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper. Point has not been ruled out of the series, however he is supposed to be day-to-day following Game 1. 

 

Point was injured in Saturday night’s Game 7 against Toronto with an apparent right leg injury. 

 

With the uncertainty revolving around their superstar forward’s availability for the series, the Lightning forwards are going to have some big skates to fill as the 26-year-old Point is above a PPG in the playoffs, with 77 points in 74 games over his career.

 

The Lightning are not a single superstar team, if anything they have four to five superstars on their roster, but anytime without Brayden Point is a huge loss for Tampa. 

Aaron Ekblad finally gets a crack at Tampa, can he be the difference?

Looking at the 2021 edition of the Battle of Florida and comparing it to the 2022 edition is like night and day.

 

Florida is a lot stronger than their 2021 team, with guys like Sam Reinhart, Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot and Anton Lundell all getting their first taste of Panthers-Lightning playoff hockey. 

 

One guy who was on the team last season but was unable to play in the postseason was Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was out with an injury. 

 

This time, Ekblad is ready to go, and he will be a much needed weapon on Florida’s blueline this series. 

 

The Panthers missed Ekblad’s PK skill, his offensive abilities and his sound defensive play last year against Tampa. When Ekblad is on the backend he eats up most of the minutes and the rest of the defensive unit follows his lead. A healthy Ekblad may have helped Florida prolong last year’s series. Now, can he help them win it?

What’s Wrong with the Panthers’ Special Teams?

The Florida Panthers are in a dogfight of a first round. Currently up 3-2 in the series, the games have been far more competitive than many expected. The strange thing, however, is that the Panthers are dominating Washington at even strength. So far in the series, the Panthers are outscoring the capitals 15-8 at even strength. The only thing keeping the series close thus far has been the struggles of the Panthers’ special teams.

Through the first five games of the series, the Panthers are 0-16 (not a typo) on the power play. Yes, the leagues number five power play on the year has yet to score a goal on SIXTEEN tries. Doing some quick math, that equates to a conversion rate of roughly 0 percent.

By Contrast, the Washington Capitals have scored on six of their 20 chances for a success rate of 30 percent. That number is significantly higher than their regular season average of 18.8 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the Panthers performance on special teams has made winning these games significantly harder. The Panthers need to flip their special teams play around if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Power Play Woes

As a hockey fan, I think a disproportionate amount of hockey discourse centers around teams or players being cursed. It acts as a scapegoat for inexplicable playoff performances or uncanny strings of bad luck. Most of the time, its just popular pundits ignoring the obvious or fans living in denial as to why their team lost.

With that being said, I don’t think I’ve seen evidence of a curse as compelling as this one.

I’m only half joking, of course, but this is getting absurd. The Panthers power play struggled early on in the year, but finished as the fifth best in the league. The team was so red hot towards the end of the year they sustained a league best power play percentage of 30.9 percent since February.

And all of a sudden, it vanished.

There are a few moving parts that could explain this. The biggest adjustment for the team has been trying to reincorporate Aaron Ekblad back on the first power play unit. The team found a groove with the five forward power play, and it looks to be a struggle trying to reinstall Ekblad as the quarterback.

Whether it has more to do with Ekblad shaking off some rust coming off the injury or the lack of chemistry with a group that has never played together before, there is simply not enough time to figure it out now. When deployed the five forward power play has generated the most pressure for the Panthers this postseason. The plan should be to stick with that for now and figure out the Ekblad piece over the summer.

Besides that, better results will just come down to getting some more puck luck and playing with less fear. The Panthers are clearly the more talented team. Because of that, high event hockey plays to their advantage. Even if they give up more shorthanded chances, the talent on the roster affords them that luxury. If they play more aggressively and with more movement, more goals will follow.

Penalty kill struggles

To their credit, the Panthers have done an excellent job limiting Alexander Ovechkin’s impact on the power play. They have overcommitted to his one timer and forced him to pass out of his usual spots. He has only scored one power play goal all series, and it came on a broken play.

Obviously, overcommitting to one player opens up plenty of other options for the opponent, and the capitals are taking advantage of that. The main benefactor of this strategy has been T.J. Oshie. Oshie has scored four power play goals this series. The connection between Oshie and quarterback John Carlson has been superb. Oshie tipping and redirecting Carlson’s soft shots has made the Panthers penalty kill look silly all series.

As seen below, the Panthers pressure Ovechkin out of the zone, but some quick puck movement leads to a Capitals goal.

Fixing this one will be tricky. Washington is fortunate enough to have the greatest shooter of our lifetimes on their team and three guys (Carlson, Backstrom, Kuznetsov) who excel at getting him the puck. Overcommitting to him is the right call, but the defense relaxes too much when the puck isn’t in the vicinity of the great 8.

Washington does have a fatal flaw, however, and that is predictability. Their M.O. has John Carlson setting the table for everything and everybody else at the top of the zone. Florida can counter this by putting pressure on the slow footed Carlson and make him move the puck before he is ready.

Look how much space the Panthers give Carlson to take the shot in the clip below. The Capitals want to feed him at the point, and the Panthers let it happen, which leads to a goal.

It may seem counter intuitive to play aggressively that high in the zone when shorthanded, but Carlson has destroyed the conservative approach. Carlson may still be an excellent power play QB, is not the player he used to be physically. The Panthers have excellent speed and need to use that to their advantage here. The key is to be proactive rather than reactive. The Capitals are too experienced for the Panthers to be playing catch up with.

Overall, the Panthers have shown some good and some bad in this first round matchup. They’ve been the better team 5v5, but they’ve also made this series much harder than it needed to be. Hopefully it will serve as a learning experience for them and they can make the adjustments to win this round and more rounds going forward. Only time will tell.

 

***This article was originally published on the ATB Network by Samuel Schettrit***

 

Hussam Patel is a Miami Dolphins contributor and Lead NFL Draft analyst at Five Reasons Sports Network, Director of Scouting at PhinManiacs and Editor at Dolphins ATB. Follow him on Twitter at @HussamPatel

 

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