When your team’s fans have been waiting 28 seasons (a.k.a. “forever”) to celebrate a first championship, there are two things they don’t want to hear about from the folks running the franchise: Excuses. Or patience.
That is why the Florida Panthers made a coaching change last month despite the best regular season in club history. And why a new star, Matthew Tkachuk, was introduced Monday at the Cats’ hockey arena in Sunrise.
Florida spent big because you get what you pay for, if you’re lucky. And the Panthers just got a guy who scored more goals last season (42), for Calgary, than any player has for the Panthers since Pavel Bure in 2001. Panthers general manager Bill Zito calls him “a generational player,” and, at age 24 and signed long-term, he could be just that in South Florida.
NBA teams are swooning over an available Kevin Durant, who is almost 34. Tkachuk is a rarity: An available, budding superstar who is just coming into the heart of his prime.
Zito ain’t playin’ around here. That we now know. The Panthers’ GM not quite two years, Zito looks like he’d be cast as a retired MMA fighter in a film. Somebody you don’t mess with. And in hockey he’s ready to mix it up, take big swings. You want something? You go get it. You take it.
“It all happened within a day,” Tkachuk had said over the weekend, hours after the blockbuster trade with Calgary was announced. “At the end of the day Florida pushed like hell.”
Zito was doing the pushing.
He’d been called by Tkachuk’s agent on Wednesday. The player had made it known he would not re-sign long-term with the Flames.
“I got a call and raced out to Calgary right away. At first I didn’t think it was true,” Zito said Monday. “When you have a chance to add a player like Matthew to the organization, the price is steep.”
For Tkachuk and a fourth-round future draft pick the Panthers gave up longtime star Jonathan Huberdeau, valued defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, a prospect and 2025 first round pick