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The Times They Are A-Changin’ (For The Better)

July 28, 2022, 11:33 PM ET [62 Comments]
Matt Ross
Florida Panthers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
It wasn’t too long ago that Florida was considered a hockey purgatory. Even a hockey hell. It became a destination where guys went before hanging them up for good. Or worse, a place where guys wanted out *cough* Jay Bouwmeester *cough*…

Those were years of poor management, poor product on the ice and poor attendance. Add to all that the fact that Florida is the poster boy for non-traditional hockey market and it’s no wonder it was considered a hockey oddity for as long as it was.

But things are different now. There’s a new management group that wants to win and they have authorized their GM to make it happen.

A place once feared by players as a dead end, has now become a destination guys tell their agents they want to be because they feel they can win a cup.

And it’s not unknown players. It’s guys in their prime with unique skill sets and talent.

Case in point: Matthew Tkachuk

It’s been almost a week since Tkahuck was traded to Florida for Huberdeau, Weegar, Schwindt and a conditional 1st.

A trade that shocked the hockey world, divided Cats fans, and started the endless debate of “who won the trade?”

There’s no doubt that this is probably the biggest trade in franchise history (at least that I can think of off the top of my head). Moving a fan favorite - and guy that most people thought would be a Cat for life - in Huberdeau, caused a lot of Florida faithfuls to respond negatively and with their emotions. Add in the fact that another well-liked player in Weegar, and a guy representing the future in Schwindt and a 1st, were part of the deal, and you had people losing their minds.

I have had a number of days to think about this trade. In that time I read and listened to a lot of things. Everything from hockey experts weighing in, to average Joes on both sides of the aisle arguing it out in hockey board comment sections.

While I love doing the deep dive on this kind of thing, none of it has been successful in changing my mind from my initial reaction to the news of the trade.

I loved the move when I first heard it and I love it even more now!

To me, this trade goes beyond a simple, “we’re giving you this guy and you’re giving us that guy” sentiment. This move symbolizes a mindset - specifically a winning mindset. For years we have seen players go through the motions with little-to-no accountability. Now, I’m not saying that’s the case with Huby and Weegar, but there were certainly times over his career that I questioned Huby’s want/desire. Obviously his age and contract status (likewise for Weegar) were big factors in this decision, but I believe an even bigger factor was that Zito and co. took a good, hard look and determined that these are two guys that don’t help the Panthers ascend to that next level. Let’s face it, if they thought differently, they would have figured out a way to make things work so they were still both in Cat sweaters.

And so in making that tough decision it sends a message throughout the locker room that you have to be better or you could be the one moved next. If a guy no one thought would ever get traded, gets traded, then whats stopping them from doing the same with you? Even Barky (with his postseason woes) might be looking a over his shoulder a bit now…

Some people saw the move as cruel and lashed out emotionally. I saw it more as a logical move for the team and organization. Tomato, tomahto.

I think the shock and realization a trade of this magnitude does is put guys into a more alert and self-aware mindset. This can only help this team’s overall growth from a mental standpoint. Unless they let it destroy themselves - which would be ridiculous.

The reality is that these guys have been living in the comfort of the big three (Barky, Huby and Ekblad) for a long time. Three talented guys who haven’t been able to get the job done. Now that just got shaken up.

Bringing in Tkachuk at the cost of two fan favorites shows that complacency (to a certain degree) and zero results will no longer be tolerated. You don’t get an extension just because. The results need to be there. Yes, there were individual results, but the team results have been plateaued for some time.

I believe the second round exit via a sweep by the in-state rival was the last straw that drove this organization to start making serious moves to improve because it was so painfully obvious they weren’t built for the playoffs.

For far too long there have been key ingredients missing in this team’s DNA. Tkachuk - as an individual - represents those missing ingredients. Physicality, snarl, desire, a knack for pestering opponents, and on helluva motor. Not to mention high-end skill, a big personality and the fact that he is hitting his prime now…

“Yeah…but what about the first round picks they’ve given up in these trades? They don’t have a first until 2026, they’re screwed!”

I personally don’t care. That’s just me though. I know it’s crazy, and I know that I should care, but I don’t right now. Looking at this roster hovering around an average age of something between 24-26, a cool mix of talent that seems to be shaping up to a new defensive-minded approach, and the window still being open, it’s hard for me to care about picks. While I know it doesn’t comfort those concerned about them (and you have a good right to be), I think a number of those firsts were late-round picks that were bordering on the second round. It’s not like every one of them was top 10 or something.

Add to that the fact that Hornqvist and Yandle’s contracts come off the books next year and they will have something in the ballpark of $10-15M to spend on what they need…my mind just isn’t in picks mode at this present time. I’m also sure they will be able to restock picks through some moves, too. Who knows what will play out, so fear not!

“But what about losing Weegar? That creates a big hole in a position that’s already a point of concern.”

Totally. I agree.

However, the more I look at the moves this off-season, the more comforted I am. I actually really like the Staal signing. I think his experience and playing style back there is going to help out tremendously. Add to that rotating in guys like Del Zotto, Carlsson, Kierstad, etc., and I think there’s potential there to have some nice pieces.

I liked Weegar but he was becoming a bit too much of a gamble for me. It often felt like we didn’t know which version of him we would be getting each night. Interesting to hear him regarded as a great defenseman since being traded. Sure, he’s underrated and had some significant time where he played really well, but it started to feel like he was taking a step back a lot recently (at least to me).

That being said, he always struck me as a good guy, so best of luck to him in Calgary. I’m looking forward to seeing what these current guys can do.

Season Predictions

- Tkachuk will help give them an identity, his enthusiasm to be here (combined with his big personality) help this team become his slowly over time
- Less run-and-gun and a more defensive-minded approach
- Positive production from the off-season signings and young guns rotating in (both F and D)
- Nowhere near the amount of personal/franchise records being broke, no 122 points, no President’s Trophy, but will make the playoffs and go for a deeper run
- New Reverse Retro or third jerseys (fingers crossed for the latter)

I can’t wait for this thing to get going already… Go Panthers!
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