The Florida Panthers just cleaned their hands of the expensive, risky Roberto Luongo – James Reimer in net … only to get even riskier with Sergei Bobrovsky.
With Bobrovsky set to turn 31 on Sept. 20, the Panthers are throwing caution to the wind. They handed Bobrovsky a whopping seven year contract, and that term didn’t really buy them much savings – particularly with Florida’s tax perks in mind – as it’s roundly reported that the cap hit will be $10 million per year. The Panthers didn’t confirm the AAV in their release, but did include that seven-year term; The Athletic’s George Richards ranks among those reporting it at $10M per year.
Richards also notes that this is the richest contract in Panthers’ history, surpassing the $50M Pavel Bure received way back in 1999.
Unfortunately, goalies simply aren’t as easy to forecast as Hall of Fame, speedy snipers. While Bobrovsky is the most prominent goalie to hit UFA status in ages, it doesn’t guarantee the Panthers much.
[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]
The most obvious comparable who comes to mind is Carey Price at $10.5M, and while Price enjoyed a relative bounce-back season in 2018-19, his contract remains terrifying for the Montreal Canadiens. The Panthers are rolling the dice in a big way that Bobrovsky will turn out better than Price, but it’s a big gamble. Really, it might be even bigger, as at least Montreal knew more about what they were getting. The Panthers, meanwhile, invest this $70M before Bobrovsky’s stopped a single puck behind their hit-or-miss defense.
None of this is to say that Bobrovsky isn’t good.
He was probably the best goalie in the NHL if you combine his efforts between 2016-17 (fantastic .931 save percentage) and 2017-18 (still strong .921 save percentage). Really, Bob has arguably been the league’s top netminder since the Flyers recklessly traded him to Columbus, if you look at the big picture. Even if that’s off the mark, Bob easily ranks in the top five.
Past accomplishments don’t stop pucks, however, and the aging cure is a concern. It’s also a little worrisome that Bob had an up-and-down 2018-19. While he salvaged his season with a strong finish, Bobrovsky still ended up with a middling .913 save percentage.
The bottom line is that the Panthers are taking a leap of faith. There’s talent there, but it’s dangerous to assume that Bobrovsky will be able to deliver, and it’s important to realize that even the most reliable goalies are … well, not all that reliable. With Florida’s state tax edge, the Panthers have to feel some regret in not dialing down the AAV, especially since they rolled the dice with the seven-year term, the largest they could offer.
Heading into the offseason, it was easier to square away the idea that the Panthers were rolling the dice with Bobrovsky if he was a package deal with fellow blockbuster free agent Artemi Panarin. It turned out that the pals were not a package deal, however, as Panarin is bound for Broadway with the New York Rangers.
Such a thought had to be enticing for Joel Quenneville, not to mention Panthers fans as a whole.
Instead, this is a less certain step forward, although it’s certainly another bold (and expensive) statement that the Panthers aren’t satisfied after suffering through decades of irrelevance. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2015-16, haven’t won a series since that unlikely run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, and have only appeared in the postseason on four occasions since 1996-97.
Betting on Bob to be the difference is extremely risky, but it shows that they’re trying. Goaltending was the biggest hurdle for the Panthers as they failed to take an expected next step in 2018-19, so on paper, they squared that up in a big way.
It just remains to be seen if Bobrovsky is worth anywhere near that much paper.