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.

Additions

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)

Subtractions

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.