Florida Panthers 2020-21 NHL season preview

Panthers preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Florida Panthers.

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 35-26-8 (78 points); fourth place in Atlantic Division; 10th place in Eastern Conference

Leading scorers: Jonathan Huberdeau (78 points) ;Mike Hoffman (29 goals)

Expectations were high for the Panthers entering the 2019-20 season thanks to the hiring of Joel Quenneville and another busy offseason that was highlighted by the signing of free agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. While the offense was very good, the defensive shortcomings and an awful season from Bobrovsky would have left the Panthers in a familiar spot in a normal season — on the outside of the playoffs. They did end up playing in the league’s Return To Play, but lost the play-in round to the New York Islanders in four games.


Patric Hornqvist (trade), Alexander Wennberg (free agency), Anthony Duclair (free agency), Vinnie Hinostroza (free agency), Radko Gudas (free agency), Carter Verhaeghe (free agency), Markus Nutivaara (trade)


Mike Matheson (trade), Colton Sceviour (trade), Mike Hoffman (free agency), Evgenii Dadonov (free agency)

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3 Most Interesting Florida Panthers

• Sergei Bobrovsky: So much of the Panthers’ short-term and long-term outlook is riding on him. He is entering year two of a seven-year, $70 million contract, and if the Panthers are going to do anything of consequence they are going to need him to be significantly better than he was a year ago.

In a vacuum the decision to pursue him in free agency made complete sense. The Panthers had a glaring hole in net, and Bobrovsky was not only the best option available, he was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner with a track record of being one of the league’s best goalies. But there are so many other factors that go into a free agent acquisition and whether or not it will work out. Bobrovsky’s age, as well as the $10 million per year cap hit for the next seven years was always going to be a significant risk.

[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]

Even with that there had to be an assumption that he had at least a few productive years ahead of him and could do enough to solidify the position to help get the Panthers in the playoffs. In year one, that did not happen. Bobrovsky finished with one of the worst individual seasons of his career and the Panthers finished in fourth place in their own division and 10th place in the conference.

He is entering this season under the microscope. If he is better, the Panthers have a chance. If he is not, the Panthers will suddenly find themselves with a contract that nobody is going to want.

Aleksander BarkovThere is a strong argument to be made that Barkov is one of the most valuable players in the NHL. He is an outstanding two-way player that can score at an elite-level and play a complete, all-around game. He is also still only 25 years old and very much in the prime of his career. Then you combine those two things with the fact that his salary cap hit is only $5.9 million for the next seasons (far below his market value) and he is the type of player that should be the foundation of a championship contending roster. An elite player that does not take up elite player salary cap space, creating just a little bit of flexibility.

When you add Jonathan Huberdeau’s $5.9 million salary cap to that, the Panthers have two front-line players accounting for less than $12 million per year against the cap. That should be an enormous advantage. So far they have not taken advantage of it. They are also running out of time.

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

• Anthony Duclair: With Hoffman and Dadonov moving on in free agency the Panthers lost a lot of offense from their lineup. Duclair could help replace it. They managed to get him late in the free agency game for just $1.7 million, and it could end up being a strong pickup. Duclair has his shortcomings defensively, but there is a lot of talent here and some finishing ability. In a full 82-game season you can pencil him in for 20 goals, and he was on track for close to 30 this past season. If he can give the Panthers that sort of goal scoring for $1.7 million that is going to be a great move.

Best-Case Scenario

It revolves almost entirely around Bobrovsky playing better. If they can get Columbus-era Bobrovsky that is a game-changer for this team. The temporary division realignment also puts them into a situation where Boston and Toronto (two of the teams that have consistently finished ahead of them) are not in their division to finish ahead of them. That is not to say it is going to be an easy path to the playoffs, but their offensive potential combined with an improved Bobrovsky could get them in a top-four spot in the division and back in the playoffs.

Worst-Case Scenario

The team defensive structure does not improve and Bobrovsky either repeats his performance from a year ago, or even worse, regresses even more. It is hard to see a scenario in which the Panthers can compete if that happens, and then it leaves the Panthers with a $10 million per year goalie that they can not count on.

Pointsbet – Florida Panthers Stanley Cup odds

Pointsbet Stanley Cup odds: Panthers +4000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

“Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

“Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

“Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Robertson will finally be there now.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.


Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.


The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”


Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”


Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”


The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.