Kevin Fiala excited to represent the LA Kings and Switzerland at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game

The 2023 NHL All-Star game in Sunrise, FL. will see 14 first-time participants take part in the event at FLA Live Arena on Saturday.


One of those first-time picks is St. Gallen, Switzerland native and LA Kings forward Kevin Fiala. 


Fiala, 26, has adapted well in year one with his new team, leading the Kings with  53 points in 53 games. He was traded to LA in the off-season after a career year with the Wild, where he scored 85 points in 82 games.


“It’s been great to come into the Kings,” Fiala said Thursday at NHL All-Star Media Day. “The team, the players have been awesome, so it’s been pretty easy to come in… it’s a big family.” 


When Fiala takes the ice on Saturday, he will become the sixth Swiss player to play in an NHL All-Star game (Roman Josi, Nico Hischier, Timo Meier, Mark Streit, Jonas Hiller).


Fiala is excited to not only represent the Kings this weekend, but also his home country.


“[It’s] not just for the LA Kings but also for Switzerland,” Fiala said. “Just very excited to be here and [a] dream come true.”


When Fiala was drafted 11th-overall by the Nashville Predators in 2014, he became just the seventh Swiss player to be drafted in the first-round. With the continued growth of hockey in Switzerland, there have been 10 Swiss players drafted in round-one, including Nico Hischier who went number one to the New Jersey Devils in 2017.


Fiala has represented Switzerland on the world stage multiple times, including at the World Juniors and the Ice Hockey World Championships. His biggest moment with the national team came at the 2018 World Championships, when the Swiss just narrowly missed out on a gold medal, taking home silver after losing to Sweden in a shootout. 


He says the next objective for Switzerland is to bring home a gold medal.


“It’s a big goal for us to win the gold medal, like you said we’ve been close twice, I’ve been there once,” Fiala said. “It’s a big goal for us to kind of make this the next step.”


Fiala believes that a win at the World Championships could inspire the next generation of Swiss hockey players.


“I think that if we are going to make it, it’s going to help the young guys see that we won the World Championship, so they can do it too and play in the NHL too” he said. “We’re going to grow the game a little more in Switzerland.” 


As a first-time All-Star, Fiala got some advice from some of his Kings and Swiss teammates about what to expect this weekend. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Roman Josi were amongst the guys he spoke to.


“They kind of filled me in, they told me it’s going to be very fun, so I’m looking forward to it.”


While All-Star weekend gives hockey fans an opportunity to see the best players in the league all on the same ice for a few days, the players also get some enjoyment out of the weekend. 


Fiala said he is most excited to be around the other players throughout the week.


“Just being here with the guys, getting to know some of [them],” Fiala said. “I don’t know everybody yet so it’ll be fun.” 


During Friday’s skill competition, Fiala will be participating in the fastest skater challenge. On Saturday, he will be the sole representative for the Kings on the Pacific Division All-Star team.

Five Takeaways from Panthers loss to Kraken

SUNRISE: On the second half of a back-to-back, the Florida Panthers hosted the Seattle Kraken Sunday night in Sunrise.


This is the second time the two sides played this month; Florida won the first meeting 5-1 in Seattle. 


The Kraken got their revenge tonight, putting up five goals of their own in a 5-2 win over the Panthers.


Here’s tonight’s takeaways:

Eric Staal gets his first goal of the season

It hasn’t been the easiest start to his Panthers career for long-time NHL veteran Eric Staal. He was goalless through 21 games this season, with only four points to his name.


The 38-year-old center, who has over 1,000 career points, finally put the puck in the back of the net to get his first goal as a Panther. This was Staal’s first NHL goal since 2021.


You could see how much getting this one meant for him, as he let out an ecstatic celebration following the goal.


A bad start had Florida behind way too early

A team never wants to go down in a game, but when you’re playing catch up from the jump, you lose the momentum swing early. 


Seattle came out and had the perfect start to the game, scoring 64 seconds into the first period. 

After Carter Verhaeghe rifled a one-timer shot off the crossbar, Seattle transitioned the other way, and Matty Beniers delivered. The 20-year-old fired a slapshot from the slot, beating Bobrovsky up high for his 11th goal of the season.


Before some fans could make way to their seats, the Panthers were already behind in the game. 


Ryan Lomberg gets a major penalty and a game misconduct – the league will look at it

Down 3-1 in the third, Florida had no momentum, the crowd was out of it, the entire team looked defeated.


With the Panthers on the penalty kill, Cats forward Ryan Lomberg chipped the puck into the zone past Justin Schultz. With the puck in the corner, Lomberg hit Schultz from behind, which lead to a large scrum of bodies fighting in front of the Kraken net. 


Following the mayhem, Lomberg was assessed a five-minute major for boarding, a roughing minor, and a game misconduct.


Due to the call being a major penalty, the league will review the hit and determine if it is worthy of a suspension. The already shorthanded Panthers forward unit could be without another regular depending on the league’s decision. 


The Panthers power play couldn’t strike, again

The power play had their opportunities tonight. Down 2-1 in the third, Florida had a chance to tie the game on the man-advantage. However, the Kraken not only killed off the penalty, but immediately scored after to extend their lead to two.  


Florida went 0/3 on the power play tonight. This is the third straight game they went scoreless on their pp chances. 


Florida has one goal in their last 14 power play chances.


Sergei Bobrovsky plays both games on the back-to-back

After Sergei Bobrovsky had to come in for Spencer Knight last week in Winnipeg, the Russian goalie has started three games in four days, including a back-to-back.


Knight is still out of the Panthers lineup as he deals with a non-COVID illness, and with no update on the availability of Knight, Bob is going to keep on playing. 


While the stats department hasn’t looked the greatest, Bob looked quite comfortable in the net. Tonight, he had to make more than a few big saves while the game was close. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of support in front of him on both ends of the puck. 


“I felt good, it’s nice to see some rhythm, you know, play hockey, play lots of minutes, I love that so it’s great to be there fo sure,” Bobrovsky said. 


Bobrovsky had 27 saves on 31 shots tonight.

Five Takeaways from Panthers win over Red Wings

SUNRISE – After a long Western Canada/Seattle road trip, the Florida Panthers were back home Thursday night at FLA Live arena.


In their first game at home since Nov. 26, the Panthers faced off against the Detroit Red Wings, a team who sat above them in the standings entering tonight’s game. 


After a 5-2 loss to Winnipeg last time out, the Panthers bounced back tonight with a 5-1 win over the Wings at home.


Here’s tonight’s takeaways:

The captain is back 

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov missed the entire road trip as he was recuperating from a non-COVID illness. 


Tonight he was back on the ice for the first game since Nov. 23 against the Boston Bruins.


The return came at a good time as his fellow countryman and center Anton Lundell is still out of the Cats lineup with a non-COVID illness.


Lundell was running Barkov’s spot on the top power play unit when the captain was out. Barkov jumped back into his center role tonight. 


Tonight wasn’t a dominating game by Barkov and that makes sense after he’s been out so long. And with recent reports that came out saying Barkov had a bout with pneumonia , it was a good sign to see him play upwards of 16 minutes and get an assist on the scoresheet. 


Shorthanded Panthers get contributions from AHL call ups 

The return of Barkov was a huge win for the Panthers team as they were without his services for the last six games. 


Despite their captain making his way back into the lineup, the Cats were still shorthanded with both Anton Lundell and Radko Gudas missing tonight’s games, while Patric Hornqvist is on LTIR. 


Florida had to look towards a few of their minor league guys tonight to fill the void and they were pretty effective. 


Chris Tierney, who was playing in his second NHL game of the season tonight, opened the scoring with his first goal of the year towards the end of the first period.


In the next frame, another AHL call up Matt Kiersted found himself with his first goal of the season after the 24-year-old defenseman jumped up in the play, putting a loose puck past Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.


Last game against Winnipeg, Zac Dalpe scored in his first game of the year after being called up from the AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers

No power play luck tonight, but really no problem

In a game where nearly everything went right for the Cats, the one area that wasn’t prosperous was the powerplay. 


Florida went 0/3 on the man-advantage tonight; losing the special teams battle as Detroit went 1/4.


Other than striking out on the PP, the offense was effective and Mambo No. 5 was played tonight, so the Panthers will be ok with this small area of defeat.


Matthew Tkachuk cannot be stopped

Another game, another Matthew Tkachuk show. 


Tonight against Detroit, Tkachuk had scored a great goal off the rush where he sold the pass, the shot and probably a lottery ticket before roofing it over Nedeljkovic. 


No. 19’s two point performance was his 13th multipoint game of the season. The 24-year-old has 37 points in 25 games this season, this is the most among players on new teams in 2022-2023.


This season when the Panthers were going through rough spells, he was one of the few bright spots on the team. Of course when they put on a dominant outing like tonight, it’s a cherry on top. 


Bob didn’t see much, but he kept the door closed

The last few weeks has seen Spencer Knight command the Panthers net for the majority of the games. 


Knight was out of the lineup tonight with an illness, so Sergei Bobrovsky got the crease.


It hasn’t been the best year for Bob, with him posting a 4-6-1 record, a 3.72 GAA and a save percentage of .880% before tonight’s game.


Florida’s defense had a solid showing tonight, only allowing Detroit to get 20 shots on goal. And for Bob, he only gave up one goal, which would come off a Red Wings power play. 


There’s no telling how long Spencer Knight might miss due to his non-COVID illness, so until he is cleared, it will be Bob’s net. 

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.

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