What is going on down in Florida?

I have let the smoke settle a bit as it has been a wild offseason so far for your Florida Panthers so I did not want to fire off a knee jerk reaction and say something regrettable, which if you know me happens way too often.

Let’s just dive right in to the biggest news so far this offseason, the Huberdeau trade.

Late Friday night, your Cats traded away long-time winger, Jonathan Huberdeau, and a few other pieces for Matthew Tkachuk. Let’s be honest, how many Panthers fans were immediately upset by the trade? I know I had a few arguments with my colleagues at Ferda over the move.

Now that the dust has settled and I have had a few days to digest everything, I think this is a brilliant move by Zito.

Huby is 29 years old and on the last year of his $6.2M contract. With the numbers he put up last year, Huby is most likely expecting a contract in the 6-8 years x $10M AAV range. Which he deserves after last season; however, he would not be able to live up to that contract in roughly 3-4 years.

We would then be sitting around complaining about the Huberdeau contract much like we are currently complaining about Bobrovsky’s.

The way I look at this trade is that it was a 1-for-1 trade with Huberdeau being dealt for Tkachuk. But what about Weegar, Schwindt, and the lottery-protected first-round pick in 2025?

The Panthers needed to move on from Weegar. Did anyone see his performance in the post-season last year? Word is that Weegar was asking for a contract in the $6-8M range. For MacKenzie freaking Weegar?

Weegs should just be happy he isn’t riding the bus in the AHL after he stunk up the joint and cost us numerous playoff games.

So, what does the genius Billy Z do? He gets a younger player who just put up over 100 points and plays a grittier style of hockey for an aging veteran who, while still in his prime, only has a short window where is contract matches the value added.

On top of that, he dumps the NHL’s biggest defensive liability. Was it an overpayment? Maybe, but it got rid of Weegar!

Furthermore, and some of the attributes the media won’t talk about, is Huberdeau’s commitment (or lack thereof) to the team’s overall success.

Does anyone else remember the scandal that broke out after game #3 against Tampa in the playoffs? Certain unnamed players got busted at a Tampa strip club? Rumors are the Huberdeau was not just there, but leading the charge.

Also, I have heard from numerous sources that Huby liked to do a bit of “booger sugar” and was even dabbling in to the Colombian bam bam nights before games. Multiple hockey people have shared stories about Huby being downtown at American Social “powdering his nose” in the bar bathroom during the playoff run.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it was during the dog days of the season, but he was a leader on the President’s Trophy winning team. There is a time and a place to party and going full Pablo Escobar in the AmSo bathroom nights before playoff games is not the time nor is it the place.

Keep in mind, Huby came from the old regime who had not won a playoff series in 26 years. He was not brought in with the winning culture and learned that “losing is ok”.

Zito needed to shake things up and change the culture.

A guy like Tkachuck is built for the playoffs. The kid is 24 years old, 6’2” and weighs in just over 200lbs.

Last season, he had over 100 points and over 65 PIMS. He and his brother both play like their dad, Big Walt aka Keith Tkachuk.

All of the Tkachuck’s play/played the game the right way. Matty T can score goals while throwing an elbow in to your gut and then dropping the mitts to beat you silly. That is the type of hockey that needs to be played if the Cats want to make a deep playoff run.

On top of that he is almost 5 years younger than Huby and entering the prime of his career. His 8 x $9.5M contract will lock him up in Florida throughout what will hopefully be his best years.

So in summary, we are trading away a very talented, yet soft player who comes from a losing, “me first” mentality for a guy with just as much talent, from a true hockey pedigree, that has a sandpaper finish.

On top of that, we got rid of the worst defenseman in the NHL.

If you check the scoreboard, it is Panthers 1 hell of a player to the Flames 1 cokehead and 1 turnover machine.  

Paul Maurice

The second biggest move, in my opinion, was letting Andrew Brunette go and hiring Paul Maurice. This was a puzzling move if I am being honest. Yes, Maurice has a long coaching resume, but what has he really won?

He made a Stanley Cup Finals appearance with the Hurricanes in 2001-02 and a few Conference Finals with the Hurricanes and Jets; however, what has he really accomplished?

Here are his coaching career statistics:

In my opinion, the guy has proven to be a very average, middle of the pack coach who only has 9 playoff appearances in 24 full seasons.

While he may not have been gifted the talent certain coaches, like Bruno or Q, may have been blessed with, he has had some decent teams that simply underperform.

Is it because he still has the old school “defensive minded” style of play that wears thin on the younger generation (kind of like Trotz on Long Island)? Is it because he also refuses to ride a star player? For example, he had Laine early in his career. Why didn’t he treat him like a 2nd round draft pick? Did Maurice’s strict style of defense first grow old? Or was Laine really the video game addict we hear about?

We don’t know, but instead of building everything around his shot like Washington does Ovechkin, Maurice had Laine working his defensive game more and building him into a more well-rounded player.

What will come from this move is yet to be seen, but let’s hope that much like the Huby trade and Weegar dump, that Billy Z knows what he is doing.

Chiarot and Giroux

Last, but not least, the loss of both Chiarot and Giroux.

Fans, let’s be honest with ourselves and call a spade a spade. These guys were 110% rental players as we went all-in to try to win last season.

Zito has balls and made aggressive moves to try to bring the Cup to SoFlo.

His gamble didn’t pay off and now because neither of these guys stayed, fans are getting uppity.

I knew we would not be able to keep both and most likely G was gone. I was hoping to at least keep Chiarot; however, that did not pan out either.

But can we all quit acting surprised that these guys were ever more than rental players? That term exists in hockey for a reason. A veteran wants his shot to win the Cup and he gets traded to the team where he thinks it can get it done. It is a tale as old as time.

In some instances, like Ray Bourque for example, it works out. In others, like Claude Giroux, it does not.

While we gave up quite a bit for 20 games with Chiarot and Giroux, it was a risk worth taking. Zito and the organization felt it was the right moves to give the Panthers the best chance to win.

Did it pan out? No, but that is why it is called gambling. It every bet paid off, Vegas would be broke and casinos would be out of business.

I would rather have a GM that goes down swinging than one who just watches life pass him by.

As always Panthers fans, in Zito we trust!

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