NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 23, 2022
The Flames trade Matthew Tkachuk to the Panthers in a blockbuster deal, the Blue Jackets re-sign Patrik Laine and trade Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Kraken and Pierre-Luc Dubois signs a one-year deal with the Jets. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
CALGARY SUN/FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: In a blockbuster overnight trade, the Calgary Flames traded winger Matthew Tkachuk and a conditional 2025 fourth-round pick to the Florida Panthers in exchange for winger Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, forward Cole Schwindt and a conditional first-round pick in 2025.
The Panthers also signed Tkachuk to an eight-year contract with an average annual value of $9.5 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I must confess to being surprised by this move. I didn’t expect the Panthers to give up Huberdeau nor did I believe the Flames would acquire two players slated to become unrestricted free agents next summer.
Nevertheless, I admire the willingness of Panthers general manager Bill Zito and Flames GM Brad Treliving for making what’s become a rarity in today’s salary cap world: a major, honest-to-goodness hockey trade.
Zito is getting an impact player in Tkachuk. The 24-year-old winger is a big, elite, agitating forward entering the prime of his career and is five years younger than Huberdeau. He’s coming off a career-best 42-goal, 104-point performance last season.
The Panthers GM also ensured that he got Tkachuk under contract throughout his playing prime. This deal signals the Panthers’ intention to remain among the league’s best teams for a long time.
Tkachuk’s new contract leaves the Panthers sitting $4 million over the $82.5 million salary cap. Florida Hockey Now’s George Richards indicates they’ll free up $3 million by placing winger Anthony Duclair on long-term injury reserve as he continues to recover from an offseason Achilles tendon injury.
Richards also noted that the Panthers are still sitting over the cap by $1 million. They’ll have to shed another salary to become cap compliant when the 2022-23 season opens in October.
Tkachuk recently informed Treliving that he wasn’t going to sign a long-term deal with Calgary. Having lost Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets via free agency last week, he couldn’t repeat that mistake with Tkachuk.
The Flames GM got a terrific return from the Panthers. Huberdeau, 29, is coming off a career-best 115-point campaign, tying Gaudreau for second overall among last season’s leading scorers. He’s a gifted playmaker who’s tallied 61-or-more points in each of the last five seasons.
Weegar, 28, has blossomed over the past two years into a mobile top-four defenseman. He had 36 points in 54 games during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season and 44 points in 80 contests last season.
The 21-year-old Schwindt made his NHL debut last season in three games with the Panthers. A physical, two-way forward who can play center or wing, he had 40 points in 72 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers last season. Treliving also gets himself a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2025. Not a bad haul for Tkachuk.
Treliving isn’t out of the woods yet. He must get Huberdeau and Weegar re-signed or risk suffering the same fate next summer as he did this year with Gaudreau. Still, he’s got enough time and cap space to get something done.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Laine is a skilled scoring forward with an impressive shot. However, his production suffered following a career-best 44-goal performance with the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18.
Laine was limited to second-line duty during his final seasons with the Jets. He struggled to adjust following his trade in 2021 to the Blue Jackets and had to deal with injuries and the death of his father last season.
Nevertheless, Laine was a point-per-game player last season, tallying 56 points in as many games. He could regain his 40-goal form if he meshes well with the recently-acquired Johnny Gaudreau on the Jackets’ top line.
This is an expensive gamble by the Blues Jacket but it could pay off handsomely. Laine and Gaudreau could form a dangerous one-two scoring punch that accelerates the club’s rebuild, putting them squarely among next season’s playoff contenders.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH/THE SEATTLE TIMES: The Blues Jackets traded winger Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick (via the Flames) and a 2023 fourth-rounder (via the Jets).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was a cost-cutting measure by the Blue Jackets. They were above the $82.5 million salary cap by over $6 million after signing Laine.
This move sheds Bjorkstrand’s $5.4 million, leaving the Jackets roughly $900K over the cap. Another move will be necessary before the start of the season to become cap compliant but that could be accomplished by demoting a player to the minors.
This was a savvy move by Kraken GM Ron Francis. He bolstered his club’s scoring punch and all it cost him was a couple of extra mid-level draft picks.
Bjorkstrand should be a fine acquisition for the Kraken. A skillful scoring forward, the 27-year-old winger tallied a career-best 28 goals and 57 points in 80 games with the Blue Jackets last season. He will bring some much-needed depth among their top-six forwards and is under contract through 2025-26.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise here given the 24-year-old center’s intention to test the UFA market in 2024. Dubois will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next summer. He remains a prime trade candidate this summer and has been linked to the Montreal Canadiens.
SPORTSNET: Halifax police are opening an investigation into an alleged group sexual assault said to have taken place in 2003 involving members of Canada’s world junior hockey team.
News of the investigation emerged after Hockey Canada revealed in a statement that it learned of the allegations after being contacted by TSN reporter Rick Westhead. The organization contacted Halifax police and informed Sports Canada.
NHL.COM: The league released a statement saying it is looking into the allegations and will respond accordingly.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Many of the players on that 2003 team went on to NHL careers.
This is the second report of group sexual assault involving members of Canada’s world junior team. The first involved the 2018 squad. The investigation into that has been re-opened after it was revealed Hockey Canada used funding from player registration fees as a slush fund for “uninsured liabilities” such as sexual assault.
The 2018 incident wasn’t a one-off by a bunch of bad apples. This latest report suggests there’s a systemic problem within Hockey Canada that’s gone unchecked for years. Change should and must be made immediately at every level right now to address this cancer within its system.