If you see your house is starting to catch on fire and you can somehow work out a deal with the flames to come back in, say, a year, well, you’d do that — wouldn’t you?
That feels a little bit like what happened to Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving who, in the midst of the summer from hell vis a vis a talent defection from his Cup-contending team, pulled off a stunner of a blockbuster late Friday night (as first reported by our Frank Seravalli).
With little wiggle room in terms of options, Treliving shipped restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers for star winger Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2025. A conditional fourth-round pick goes to Florida as well.
The Panthers immediately provided Tkachuk with an eight-year extension carrying an annual average cap hit of $9.5 million.
This is the kind of trade that gets done only by GMs who have a strong stomach and a stronger belief in their plan. Could Treliving and his counterpart Bill Zito in Florida have figured out a way to do the deal at a more media-friendly time? Sure. But let’s not quibble.
Treliving has to be commended for keeping his eyes on the prize in the wake of losing Johnny Gaudreau to free agency (in spite of making a more lucrative offer than the one that Gaudreau ultimately took to join the Columbus Blue Jackets).
Then, days later, Treliving had to pivot from trying to sign a long-term deal with Tkachuk, who possesses a unique blend of skill, physicality and annoyance, to having to trade away a cornerstone piece of the Flames roster, lest Tkachuk walk a year from now as an unrestricted free agent.
That he managed to get one of the top wingers in the game in Huberdeau, along with a solid top-four defender in Weegar, plus a prospect and a first-round pick far exceeded what most folks imagined what the return would be for Tkachuk.
One longtime NHL executive praised Treliving for getting the kind of return he did given the fact everyone knew that he had to deal Tkachuk.
“Difficult circumstances to work in,” the executive said. “He got an outstanding offensive winger, a very solid D-man and a first-round pick.”
Although this executive wasn’t familiar with the prospect, “all in all a very good piece of work,” by Treliving, he said.
It doesn’t mean Treliving can prop his feet up on his desk at the Saddledome, though.
Huberdeau is in the final year of a team-friendly deal with a $5.9 million cap hit. Weegar, too, could become a UFA next summer when his current deal at $3.25 million ends. Both will be looking to hit a big payday next summer with Huberdeau looking for Gaudreau/Tkachuk-like money and term.
Could both commit long-term to the Flames? Sure. But if not, the same questions dogging Treliving about how to keep elite talent in Calgary will return with a vengeance. If a long-term stay isn’t in either player’s future, Treliving can turn them into assets at the ’23 deadline or, if the team is as good as it suggests it can be with these additions, he can take a chance on a long playoff run and let the chips fall as they will.
Regardless, at least for the moment, crisis averted.
Did we mention kicking that burning house down the road?
But Treliving didn’t just buy himself some time. He managed to avert the organizational disaster of a full-blown rebuild — at least for now — by bringing in a player in Huberdeau who finished tied with Gaudreau for second in NHL scoring with 115 points. Huberdeau was fifth in Hart Trophy voting as league MVP, one place behind Gaudreau, and should slide nicely into Gaudreau’s spot on the top line with Elias Lindholm.
Weegar represents the full package on both sides of the puck and adds another element to one of the deepest, most capable defensive units in the NHL. It also gives Treliving some flexibility if he needs to move a piece or two down the road.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Flames have just north of $9 million in cap space, which should be about right to bring back restricted free agents Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington.
If Treliving turned an untenable situation — Tkachuk having to be dealt and to a team that had a shot at extending him like the Panthers — into at least a temporary win, the true pressure point from this deal actually lies in South Florida and with Zito.
Since taking over as GM in September 2020, Zito has consistently swung for the fences in an effort to push the Panthers out of literally decades of organizational malaise and into legitimate contender status.
The team has made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1996 and 1997 (we’re not counting the qualifying-round loss in 2020), and Zito has swung deals to add high-end talent like Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe and, at the ’22 trade deadline, Ben Chiarot and Claude Giroux.
The Panthers piled up offense during the regular season at a level not seen since the mid-1990s. But in the playoffs, they struggled at times against Washington before winning their opening-round series in six games and then were swept by Tampa, the second year in a row their cross-state rivals had bested them in the postseason.
Worse, the Panthers were held to just three goals in four games and seemed ill-equipped to play a team with the dedication to checking and heavy hockey the Lightning showed.
Tkachuk has that rare blend of size, skill and mindset, and his presence in a lineup that already boasts one of the best two-way centers in the game in Aleksander Barkov makes the Panthers even more imposing.
But the wheeling and dealing has come at a cost.
Over the 2023, 2024 and 2025 drafts, the Panthers own just four picks in the first three rounds: two second-round picks, two third-round picks and none in the first round.
In short, the Panthers are an all-in team and believe adding Tkachuk represents one of the final, critical pieces to a long playoff run and perhaps the team’s first-ever Stanley Cup.
It’s also further evidence that these aren’t your grandparents’ Panthers.
There will be a day of reckoning in Sunrise, Florida — in fact, the Panthers woke up Saturday morning about $3 million over the salary cap — but that day, too, has been kicked down the road with this deal.