Tkachuk Unlikely to Live Up to Expectations with Panthers

Very shortly after losing Johnny Gaudreau to free agency, the Calgary Flames were once again put in a difficult situation after Matthew Tkachuk revealed he wasn’t interested in signing a long-term deal. This forced general manager Brad Treliving to seek out trading partners for the 24-year-old, and he was quickly able to find one in the Florida Panthers.

Related: Treliving’s 7-Year Flames Overhaul Finally Showing Results

The Panthers were more than willing to oblige on a deal, as they felt it was time to shake things up after another disappointing playoff showing. The two sides were able to put together the biggest blockbuster move the NHL has seen in some time, as the Flames sent Tkachuk to Florida in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 first-round pick.

The general consensus amongst fans was that the Flames were the winners of this deal, in particular, due to the fact that they had little leverage given the situation they were in. That said, many believed the Panthers were setting themselves up better for the future, as Tkachuk is a young player who appears to most as having sky-high potential after coming off of a 104-point season. However, those who expect similar production moving forward may come to find themselves disappointed with him and his new $9.5 million cap hit.

Tkachuk Coming off of a Career Year

Before his outstanding 2021-22 campaign, Tkachuk had logged 349 career NHL games over the span of five seasons, registering 110 goals and 278 points. That translates to roughly a .80 points per game (P/G) pace, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, it is significantly lower than the 1.27 P/G pace he is coming off this past season.

Matthew Tkachuk with the Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It isn’t as though those stats are cherry-picking a potentially slow start to his career, either. Just a season prior to his massive breakout, he recorded 43 points in 56 outings for a P/G pace of .77. So, which player is the real Tkachuk, you ask? The answer is likely somewhere in the middle.

Before the 2021-22 season, Tkachuk was still viewed as a great player, one who had a high skill level but was also both a physical and agitating force to play against. His on-ice play had many Flames fans believing he would be the franchise’s next captain, though there were also some rumors of potential rifts between him and his former teammates.

While no one ever denied the fact he was a very good player, few imagined him as a 100-point man in the NHL. To most, he felt like someone who would hover around the point per game mark throughout his career, which, while still extremely impressive, is not the same as the 104-point performer he was this past season.

Production Boosted from Gaudreau’s Incredible Season

You would be very hard-pressed to name a better line in all of hockey last season than the one formed between Elias Lindholm, Gaudreau and Tkachuk. The three had outstanding chemistry all season long, combining for 301 points. Leading the way in that regard was Gaudreau, whose 115 points ironically tied Huberdeau for second in league scoring.

That last point is key here. While Tkachuk was fantastic in 2021-22, it was quite apparent to everyone that Gaudreau was the Flames’ unanimous MVP throughout the entirety of the season. His 90 even-strength points led the NHL, and perhaps even more impressive is that just 23 of his 115 points were secondary assists. His outstanding play really helped elevate Tkachuk, which will no longer be the case moving forward.

Calgary Flames Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau Matthew Tkachuk
Calgary Flames Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

As mentioned previously, Tkachuk was far less productive in 2020-21, with 43 points in 56 games. And, wouldn’t you know it, Gaudreau also had an off year with 49 points over that same span. That was similar in 2019-20, where both players failed to play at a P/G pace. However, during the 2018-19 season, the second best of Tkachuk’s career in which he put up 77 points, Gaudreau was simply fantastic, establishing a then-career-high in points with 99.

Detractors will be quick to say that Gaudreau’s production is also somewhat reliant on Tkachuk, and that isn’t necessarily false. However, there is no denying that the former is more offensively gifted than the latter, and his career totals back that up. While they certainly worked great together as a duo, Tkachuk needed Gaudreau far more to boost his totals than the other way around.

Tkachuk Has Struggled in Postseason

Likely due to the brash style approach he brings to the game, Tkachuk is often called a playoff-type player by both fans and media. Unfortunately for any Panthers fans who were excited about that in particular, it isn’t a very accurate portrayal, at least not yet to this point in his career.

While his 10 points in 12 playoff games this past year look fine, just four of those came in the second round of a high-pressured series versus the Edmonton Oilers. Even worse is that three of those four points came in a Game 1 win, as he registered just a single assist in a Game 2 loss before getting shut out for the remaining three games of the series. While he certainly wasn’t the only player to blame for the Flames’ collapse, he did his team no favors.

Even with his 10 points over his past 12 playoff outings, he has just 15 postseason points in a combined 27 games. That translates to a P/G pace of just .56, far below the output someone at his salary should have. In fact, his $9.5 million cap hit has him tied as the third highest paid left winger in the entire NHL, which many would argue is too high for a player who has only had one elite season thus far in his career.

Tkachuk Not Likely to Repeat 100-Point Season

Now, to be clear, Tkachuk is a very good hockey player. There are few in the NHL who can produce like he can while also getting under opponents’ skin with ease. That said, the Panthers paid an extreme price to acquire him, and they paid a very high price to sign him long-term as well. It is clear they believe last season’s production will be the norm going forward rather than an outlier. Time will tell, but as of now, I find myself rather skeptical.