Blockbuster Tkachuk trade catapults Panthers into Stanley Cup Final
The Florida Panthers paid what appeared to be a king's ransom for Matthew Tkachuk, and it may pay off in a crown.
The Panthers sent Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a first-round pick to the Calgary Flames to acquire Tkachuk last July, signing the forward to an eight-year contract in process.
Coming off a Presidents' Trophy and second-round exit, Panthers general manager Bill Zito elected for change in the off-season, replacing head coach Andrew Brunette with Paul Maurice and pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames for Tkachuk.
The changes, however, did not pay immediate dividends in Sunrise.
After losing just 18 games in regulation the previous season, the Panthers sat sixth in the Atlantic Division on Dec. 31, owning a 16-17-3 record. The Panthers turned their season around in the New Year, posting a 26-15-4 record down the stretch and clinching a playoff spot with just one game remaining in their season.
The team's year-over-year drop-off, though, could hardly be blamed on Tkachuk.
The 25-year-old forward scored 40 goals in his first season with the team and finished with 109 points in 79 games – 31 more points than any other player on the team. He has been named a Hart Trophy finalist for his regular-season performance.
It's been in the playoffs, however, that Tkachuk's value to the Panthers has truly shown.
He came alive as the eighth-seeded Panthers stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the record-setting Boston Bruins in the first round, posting three goals and six points over the final three games.
Tkachuk was largely held in check in the second round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a three-assist performance in Game 1, he was held to two assists over the next four games while the rest of the Panthers picked up the slack to eliminate Toronto in Game 5.
In the Eastern Conference Final, Tkachuk stole the show.
The winger scored in the dying seconds of the fourth overtime to end a marathon Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes and played the hero again in Game 2, scoring the game-winner less than two minutes into overtime. In a tightly contested 1-0 win in Game 3, Tkachuk picked up the primary assist on Sam Reinhart's second-period goal.
Tkachuk put an exclamation mark on his dominant series in Game 4 on Wednesday night, posting two goals, including a series-clincher, with just 4.9 seconds remaining to send the Panthers to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1996.
"Who else, right?" teammate Aaron Ekblad said of Tkachuk playing the hero once again, per NHL.com. "Who else?"
The former Flame is pacing his new team with nine goals and 16 points in 21 games this postseason. His contributions have helped Florida win three playoff rounds this spring after winning a total of one – last season – since their 1996 run to the final.
"It's unexplainable what he's brought to this team," Ekblad added.
Tkachuk and the Panthers are celebrating their accomplishments as they go, which included raising the Prince of Wales Trophy after sweeping the Hurricanes.
"The last thing that we're going to do is be is superstitious about not touching it," Tkachuk said. "Like, nobody said we were even going to make the playoffs. I think it's pretty cool to touch it, carry it around and take pictures with it. We earned that thing.
"[We] definitely didn't do it the easy way. We earned it. I feel like if you're blocking shots, taking hits, doing whatever it takes to win a trophy like that, you might as well enjoy it."
The son of former NHL winger Keith Tkachuk and the older brother of Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, Matthew is four games away from becoming the first member of family to hoist the Stanley Cup.