This post is part of Panthers Day on PHT…
Whether or not the Florida Panthers made the right moves this offseason is certainly up for some level of debate.
They lost Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen and Jonathan Marchessault while bringing in Radim Vrbata, Micheal Haley and Evgeni Dadonov. On paper, that may not be a great trade off. Dadonov is a pretty big question mark, Haley isn’t going to provide any offense, and while Vrbata is still a very productive player he’s probably not a clear improvement over what Jagr or Marchessault provided this past season.
But what should make the Panthers better this season is just getting some better luck on the injury front.
It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to put all of the Panthers’ struggles in 2016-17 on injuries, but it certainly played a major role. Just consider that Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad combined to miss 114 man-games due to injury. That is three top-nine forwards and a top-pairing defenseman all missing close to a quarter of the season (or more). Sometimes at the same time. That is going to put a dent in any team’s potential for success.
Barkov is probably the Panthers’ best all-around player at this point and along with being a strong defensive forward, arguably one of the best in the league, he has scored at a 71-point pace per 82 games over the past two seasons. Losing him for a quarter of the season was a crushing blow.
The same is true for Huberdeau who was limited to just 31 games. When he was healthy and in the lineup he was on pace for what would have been his best offensive season ever while posting dominant possession numbers. Like Barkov, he was also on pace for close to 70 points over 82 games before the injury.
Bjugstad’s season seemed to be a lost season in general, but he has still shown the ability to be a 35-40 point middle-six player.
We don’t know yet if the Panthers’ roster moves make them a better team (an early guess might be no) but just simply getting more games out of the core players that were already in place would go a long way toward getting the team back closer to what it was in 2015-16 when it won the Atlantic Division and seemed to be a team on the rise.