With the trade deadline fast approaching, we continue our look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we continue with the Atlantic Division, here is a look at the Florida Panthers.
For all the talk of the Florida Panthers trading for Artemi Panarin and/or Sergei Bobrovsky, it doesn’t really make much sense. The Panthers are 11 points back of a playoff spot and don’t seem to have the makings of late-season run like the one they made in 2017-18. Florida doesn’t need Panarin and Bobrovsky this season, the Panthers want them for the future. Luckily, both are slated to be unrestricted free agents this summer. The rumors of Florida’s interest may very well be true, but they will take their shot in the offseason.
No, the truth this season is that the Panthers are pure sellers and that’s it. The Panthers entered the campaign with high expectations and have failed to perform up to the level many assumed they would. Florida has the talent in place but simply couldn’t put it together this season. The Panthers will sell off what they can, tweak the roster this summer, and likely enter next season with high expectations again.
24-24-8, sixth in the Atlantic Division
$11.67 million in full-season cap hit, 1/3 used salary cap retention slots, 43/50 contracts per CapFriendly
2019: FLA 1st, PIT 2nd, EDM 3rd, FLA 4th, MIN 4th, PIT 4th, FLA 5th, FLA 6th, FLA 7th
2020: FLA 1st, FLA 2nd, FLA 3rd, FLA 4th, FLA 5th, TOR 5th, FLA 6th, FLA 7th
The Panthers already made a major trade this season, sending Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and a package of picks. While a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders is a nice get for Florida, this deal is still only half done. Barring an unexpected extension of either player, both Brassard and Sheahan are pending unrestricted free agents brought in as pieces for Florida to flip before the deadline. Expect the Panthers to shop both aggressively.
Yet, even before that trade, the Panthers had UFA pieces ready to move. Veteran bottom-six forwards Troy Brouwer, Micheal Haley and the recently waived Jamie McGinn are all up for grabs. Defensemen Bogdan Kiselevich, Julian Melchiori and Chris Wideman, another player acquired earlier this season, are depth options on the block as well. None of these players will return much to Florida, but if the Panthers are able to trade all or most of them, it will result in a nice bundle of mid- to late-round picks or project prospects, which never hurts.
Florida has already refuted reports that Jonathan Huberdeau is available, but the same might not be true for several other Florida players with term or team control. Mike Hoffman has been a great fit for the Panthers and is on pace for a career year offensively. However, he has just one year left on his contract and would be more highly valued on the market now as opposed to this off season or next season. The same can be said for Evgenii Dadonov, who has quietly been a dominant presence in Florida but will be due a significant raise after next season. There isn’t a great chance that either player is moved, but it’s certainly possible. More likely, albeit for a significantly lesser return, is that the Panthers move on from an aging RFA defender such as MacKenzie Weegar or Ian McCoshen, if there’s a market. Neither has developed the way the Panthers had hoped they would, and it seems unlikely that they’re both back on the roster next year.
If the Panthers can figure out some way (read: retained salary) to move James Reimer, they will. The Reimer-Roberto Luongo tandem experiment has not worked out, as evidenced by the Florida's purported interest in Bobrovsky. Florida does not want to buy out or bury Reimer if it can trade him. Some team in need of a backup may be willing to make a deal if the Panthers eat a chunk of his $3.4 million cap hit over two more seasons. Sadly, Reimer has been the better of the two goalies this season, and Luongo’s contract is basically immovable.
1) Prospect Defensemen: The Panthers’ biggest needs are a starting goaltender and top-four defensemen; they won’t be getting those at the deadline. However, those needs are reflective of a team defense that is simply horrid. Not a single player on Florida’s roster has a positive plus/minus following the trade of Bjugstad. No other team in the NHL can claim that unfortunate mark. This has to change if the Panthers ever want to improve. Looking ahead, Florida is missing that top defensive prospect who could come in and make an impact without being yet another defensive liability. While Florida has some promising forwards in the pipeline, it should target a high-upside blue liner if possible.
2) Draft Picks: Do the Panthers really need draft picks? No. This team wants to retool in the offseason and try to compete again next season, rather than rebuild. However, when most of your deadline pieces are depth players on expiring contracts, the best you can do is maximize your draft pick return. Those picks could then be used on prospects, but also traded away for immediate help as well. If the Panthers can’t pry a top prospect – preferably a defenseman, but a forward is fine – for Brassard, look for the Panthers to target another second-round selection this year to replace their own and pair with Pittsburgh’s.