It was only about a month ago that things were really starting to look up for the Florida Panthers.
They were in the middle of a six-game winning streak, had the highest scoring offense in the league, and at least looked like a solid bet to make the playoffs for just the sixth time in franchise history. Given the moves they made over the summer the playoffs should have been a very realistic goal, if not an expectation.
They can still get there, but they are probably only a 50-50 shot (at best) entering the stretch run as they compete with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
On Monday they made one of the most curious decisions at the NHL trade deadline when they dealt forward Vincent Trocheck to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, and two prospects.
It is a strange trade for the Panthers on pretty much every level.
For one, Trocheck is the best player changing teams here and is still signed for a couple of more years at a reasonable salary cap hit.
There’s nothing wrong with Haula and Wallmark as players. They’re legit NHLers and have a place on a good team. But neither one is an upgrade over Trocheck or has the upside that he does when he’s at his best. Haula is also an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he doesn’t re-sign, the trade comes down to Wallmark and the development of two solid-but-not-great prospects.
Even more curious was general manager Dale Tallon’s explanation for the trade. Basically, he just wanted to shake something up for a team that has struggled since the All-Star break.
“Since the All-Star break, our team has really struggled and we wanted to find a way to shake things up and see what would work,” Tallon said on Monday afternoon, an hour after the NHL’s trade deadline for the 2019-20 season had passed.
“The more we got into discussions over the past 10 days or so, teams starting making offers. Some of them were pretty fair, some better than others. We just decided this was the right path to add more depth throughout the organization, for the big club and the minor-league team, and it was conscious from all of us that this was a fair deal and something we should do not only for the present but for the future.”
Something about this just seems flawed. Do you really weigh a couple of weeks so highly that you trade a player that, as recently as the beginning of this season, was considered one of your core players to “add more depth throughout the organization?” Especially when that player’s trade value is probably at a low-point, and without even addressing the team’s biggest current need? And in the middle of a push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a year where you’ve invested millions of dollars and a ton of assets?
If anything the justification at the time could have been that it created enough salary cap space to add a defenseman in another move before the trade deadline, but that did not even happen.
It just seems like less than ideal asset management, something that has been a reoccurring — and significant — problem for the Tallon-led Panthers.
The expansion draft fiasco that saw them give away Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights three years ago has been well documented. Last year they dealt Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann for a collection of spare parts and mid-round draft picks to help clear salary for a free agency splurge. They ultimately landed their prized free agent — goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky — on a massive contract, and then followed that up by putting him behind a porous defensive team that can not stop anyone. Now this trade happens.
In the end it is probably not a trade that is going to ruin the season, and they very well could still end up making the playoffs even after sending Trocheck away. But it is not necessarily the result that is concerning here. It is the process that seemingly went into the decision that is most concerning (panic move when things are going bad, selling key player at low value, questionable asset management). It is the sort of process that has repeatedly burned the Panthers in recent years.