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Montreal Canadiens Stand To Benefit If Major Changes In Florida Backfire

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Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens are paying close attention to the wave of changes in the Florida Panthers organization, as they currently own their 2023 1st round pick.

The Florida Panthers made a blockbuster move trading away franchise winger Jonathan Huberdeau, defenceman Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 1st round pick to the Calgary Flames for star power forward Matthew Tkachuk and a 4th round pick. The trade makes sense from a contract perspective for Florida, as it likely means they were having difficulty negotiating extensions with Huberdeau and Weegar, who are both up for substantial raises, and chose to go for the sure thing in Tkachuk. However, does this move make them truly that much better?

Assuming Tkachuk takes Huberdeau’s spot on the top-6, both are 100-point wingers that impact the game in multiple facets, but Tkachuk is now signed to an 8-year contract with an AAV of  $9.5M, and that security is valuable. In fact, it was so valuable that the Panthers don’t have a 1st round pick until 2026 and have left themselves rather exposed on defence, as the left side of their defence, a weakness they paid a premium to fill at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, is now even weaker.

NHL sources have indicated to Montreal Hockey Now that the Panthers are not done dealing either, and with due cause. The Panthers currently find themselves more than $3M over the salary cap and will likely have to spend additional assets to move that kind of money; which is easier said than done at this point in the season. Even if the injured Anthony Duclair, who is out long-term with a torn Achilles tendon injury, doesn’t return until much later in the season and afford the Panthers $3M in LTIR space to start the season, the team would still have to move salary around; and that’s not even factoring in the loss of Duclair himself to that lineup.

With the Florida Panthers also moving on from Jack Adams-nominee, Andrew Brunette, general manager Bill Zito has rushed to make major changes to his club. The Panthers also signed former Winnipeg Jet’s bench boss, Paul Maurice, for the role of head coach for the upcoming season, thereby completing the near-total revamping of Florida’s coaching staff. The Panthers had previously fired assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson and Derek MacKenzie a few weeks ago, with only Tuomo Ruutu remaining on the Panthers coaching staff.

Even if the Panthers will start the season cap compliant due to a trade and some LTIR relief, their roster isn’t better than it was a year ago to this day; and that’s just on paper. All this chaos has to be music to the ears of the Montreal Canadiens and general manager Kent Hughes, who is following the ongoings in Florida with a particular interest.

Montreal Canadiens Stand To Benefit If Major Changes In Florida Backfire

How can this impact the Montreal Canadiens?

Five days before the March 21 NHL Trade Deadline, the Montreal Canadiens traded defenceman Ben Chiarot to the Panthers in exchange for forward Tyler Smilanic, a first-round pick in 2023 and a fourth-round pick in 2022 previously acquired from the New York Rangers. Not only did the Canadiens acquire a first round pick in what NHL draft experts have predicted to be a very deep draft, but that 2023 pick is unprotected. The risk of the Panthers regressing at this junction due to all the changes being made to the roster has to be recognized.

Sure, the Panthers could perhaps have an outcome akin to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who, after getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the NHL Playoffs in 2019, made some tweaks and went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. However, Tampa Bay made only minor tweaks to their roster, while keeping their core and their coaching staff. With a revamped coaching staff and major overhauls to their core, the Florida Panthers repeating as President’s Trophy and Atlantic Division winners is not as much a shoo-in as it was perceived to be a few months ago; and that is music to the ears of Montreal Canadiens fans.

With the 2023 NHL Draft set to be one of the deepest in recent memory, any step back taken by the Florida Panthers will be a welcomed sight for the Canadiens, as they continue to try and infuse elite young players into their lineup.

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