Matthew Tkachuk is going from one bitter rivalry to another as the newest member of the Florida Panthers.
In Friday’s swap between the Panthers and the Calgary Flames, the 24-year-old top-tier winger left the Battle of Alberta for a Floridian firefight between his new team and the Tampa Bay Lightning. As someone who championed the physical and violent intraprovincial battle, Tkachuk is looking forward to participating in a new geographical rivalry.
“I hate Edmonton, but I hate Tampa more now,” Tkachuk said in his introductory press conference Monday.
“I’m excited for those games. They’re the team to beat right now, they’ve had the most success. For us, we’re going to have to go through them at some point. So, I’m really excited for that challenge.”
While the Oilers and Flames both have Stanley Cup rings and individual Hall of Famers to drive their hatred for one another, Florida's rivalry has been completely one-sided. The Lightning have enjoyed all the glory while the Panthers have just eight postseason appearances in their 28-year existence and have just one series victory since making the Cup Final in 1996.
Now the playing field is slightly evening out as Tampa is needing to shed its supplementary talent to keep its roster cap-compliant, and the Panthers are building up around a solid core of some of the best players in the league.
Beyond the new feud, Tkachuk will also embrace the opportunity to build the Panthers' brand. He’s familiar enough with places that were not considered hockey hotbeds in the past, and have grown from there.
“I was born in Arizona. I grew up in St. Louis. Both, at the time, weren’t the Minnesota, Michigan, Boston – the huge hockey markets, and from what I’ve seen, even since I came to play Florida in 2016, my rookie year, it’s grown a lot,” Tkachuk said.
“I think one of the things I can help with on-ice – I have a different personality. The way I play, I bring a certain swagger I think will really help this team. Off-ice, I have the same personality. So, I’m excited to get the chance to get to grow the game down here and I hope that in a few years, no one on the team can walk outside without saying something [to the fans], like it is in other places around the league.”
Tkachuk wants the entire Panthers team to be celebrities in a region some of the biggest names in sport have called home. Who can blame him? His confidence is certainly sky-high heading into this opportunity with a new eight-year, $76-million contract in-hand.
Through his first six years in the NHL, Tkachuk has scored 152 goals and 382 points, most recently coming off a 104-point campaign with the Flames in 2021-22.
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