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Panthers were wise not to blow things up at trade deadline

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Let’s face it. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has earned the criticisms he’s absorbed over the years.

The blunders surrounding moves like shedding both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith are well-documented, and the critiques are very much justified.

With the Panthers primed to miss the playoffs for the third straight year (and continue their drought of playoff series wins that stretches back to 1995-96), there was some concern that the Panthers might get antsy and blow things up a bit. Rumors circulated that the Panthers might have had some interest in trading Mike Hoffman, or even more troublingly, Jonathan Huberdeau.

Instead, the Panthers did very little, beyond the seemingly inevitable Derick Brassard trade.

Well, sometimes the best move you can make is no move at all.

Many people were excited about the Panthers’ chances this season after their strong finish to 2017-18, particularly when you consider Florida’s best forwards. Florida could win many best-versus-best battles with a stockpile of Aleksander Barkov, (a healthy) Vincent Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov, Huberdeau, and Hoffman.

Those forwards (plus some useful defensemen in Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, and Michael Matheson) couldn’t outchance and outscore Florida’s problems, particularly in net, but what if you added, say, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to an already-impressive mix?

After the trade deadline, Tallon made it clear that the Panthers want to go big in free agency.

“We’ll be very aggressive after the season,” Tallon said on Feb. 25, via the Panthers’ website. “We have lots of room now. We have lots of picks. We’ll turn this into a positive thing. We had some bunt singles, to scratch and claw to improve our organization on a daily basis, and then we’ll eventually hit the home run.”

Affording those sluggers

Indeed, the Panthers moving contracts to clear up space (such as Bjugstad’s $4.1M cap hit) opens up room for Florida to work with. Cap Friendly places their cap spending at a bit more than $61M for 14 players heading into 2019-20, and it’s conceivable that the Panthers could fill roster spots with potentially useful players on entry-level deals, including Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett.

So, there could be quite a bit of room for Panarin and Bobrovsky, but if Florida wanted them both and the combined price tag fell around $20M, it might require some tweaking — even if rookie contracts for Borgstrom and Tippett keep spending down a bit.

The Panthers’ buckets of draft picks might be just as useful for moving problems out, as those picks might actually be for drafting prospects. They’ve really piled them up lately, as Jameson Olive of the Panthers’ site notes:

Looking ahead to the draft, Florida now owns a total of nine picks in 2019 and eight in 2020, including two picks in the first round, two in the second, three in the third and four in the fourth.

Would a package of certain picks convince, say, the Senators to take on James Reimer ($3.4M cap hit through 2020-21) and get to the cap floor? Perhaps Tallon’s old buddies in Chicago would involve picks in a deal for Corey Crawford if a Bobrovsky contract didn’t happen?

There are a number of ways the Panthers can open up space for Panarin in a home-run swing, including the admittedly grim idea of Roberto Luongo‘s quite legitimate injury concerns ultimately landing him on LTIR.

But credit the Panthers with giving themselves a chance at a grand slam, rather than just a solo homer …

Calling their shot

Because, frankly, the Panthers have been through enough rebuilds and quasi-rebuilds at this point. The stage is set for 2019-20 potentially being the old Babe Ruth/Owen Nolan “calling their shot” moment.

With a congested market for forwards at the trade deadline, getting the maximum return for Mike Hoffman didn’t seem realistic. And, honestly? The Panthers wouldn’t be likely to top Hoffman’s considerable sniping skills at his $5.188M cap hit, which expires after 2019-20.

(Huberdeau’s incredibly valuable, too, and his bargain $5.9M is cost-controlled through 2022-23.)

Adding Panarin, or even a consolation prize like Matt Duchene, to an already robust group of forwards could make the Panthers downright scary.

The goaltending situation is trickier, but considering how injury-plagued and generally disappointing this season has been for the Luongo – Reimer tandem, it’s also easy to imagine the Panthers upgrading in that regard.

Going big after Bobrovsky would be awfully risky — although maybe Panarin + Bobrovsky would accept a mild discount as a package deal? Maybe they’d even be willing to go that much lower for the Panthers, who allow for certain tax breaks as a Florida team?

***

There are big stakes here, and the Panthers could really suffer if they swing and whiff.

Instead of this being an off season because of contract distractions or just plain-old goalie struggles, 2018-19 Bobrovsky could be, more or less, the Bobrovsky we might expect going forward.

It’s plausible that Panarin, Duchene, and other, more valuable forwards will decide to re-sign with Columbus after all, or want to join a more established team than Florida.

There are nightmare scenarios where Plans A-Y fall through, and the Panthers waste a ton of money on an ill-advised Plan Z.

Still, for a franchise that’s often felt aimless, the Panarin target seems like something to shoot for. There’s already considerable talent on hand in Florida, and there’s room to work with to really bring things to the next level. It was wiser not to take a few steps backward, even if it remains to be seen if they can land the big leap that awaits.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 NHL All-Star Game on NBC

The 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game at SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday night on NBC, with four teams vying to share a $1 million prize.

Coverage gets underway at 8 p.m ET, with puck drop between the Central Division all-stars and the Pacific Division all-stars set for 8:15 p.m. ET. That game will be followed by the Metropolitan Division all-stars battling the Atlantic Division all-stars.

The winners of both games will square off for a deciding third game, with a cool $1 million on the line.

[WATCH LIVE – NHL ALL-STAR GAME 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

Atlantic Division

F Jack Eichel, BUF
F Nikita Kucherov, TBL
F Auston Matthews, TOR
F Jeff Skinner, BUF
F David Pastrnak, BOS
F Steven Stamkos, TBL
F John Tavares, TOR
D Thomas Chabot, OTT
D Keith Yandle, FLA
G Jimmy Howard, DET
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL
Coach: Jon Cooper, TBL

Metropolitan Division

F Sebastian Aho, CAR
F Cam Atkinson, CBJ
F Mathew Barzal, NYI
F Sidney Crosby, PIT
F Claude Giroux, PHI
F Kyle Palmieri, NJD
D John Carlson, WSH
D Seth Jones, CBJ
D Kris Letang, PIT
G Braden Holtby, WSH
G Henrik Lundqvist, NYR
Coach: Todd Reirden, WSH

Central Division

F Patrick Kane, CHI
F Nathan MacKinnon, COL
F Ryan O'Reilly, STL
F Mikko Rantanen, COL
F Mark Scheifele, WPG
F Blake Wheeler, WPG
F Gabriel Landeskog, COL
D Miro Heiskanen, DAL
D Roman Josi, NSH
G Devan Dubnyk, MIN
G Pekka Rinne, NSH
Coach: Paul Maurice, WPG

Pacific Division

F Johnny Gaudreau, CGY
F Clayton Keller, ARI
F Connor McDavid, EDM
F Joe Pavelski, SJS
F Elias Pettersson, VAN
F Leon Draisaitl, EDM
D Brent Burns, SJS
D Drew Doughty, LAK
D Erik Karlsson, SJS
G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK
G John Gibson, ANA
Coach: Bill Peters, CGY

The NHL All-Star Skills event took place on Friday.

McDavid was one against crowned the winner of the fastest skater, clocking a time of 13.378 seconds for his third consecutive triumph in the event.

Gaudreau retained his title in the puck control contest, finishing with a time of 27.045 seconds to edge out Kane.

Lundqvist is the oldest all-star among this year’s cast, but the “King” would take his throne, recording 12 straight saves in the Save Streak contest.

Draisaitl showed his peers how it was done in the Premier Passer event with a time of 1:09:088.

Carlson took home the hardest shot, blasting a puck 102.8 MPH.

Pastrnak was first up in the Accuracy Shooting event and his time of 11.309 seconds went unmatched.

[RELATED: 2019 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, funny moments, Gritty]

If you haven’t yet, take some time today to watch P.K. Subban’s excellent All-Star Special that air after Friday’s All-Star Skills. Subban had several guests appear on his show, including 13-year-old Ty Cornett, who reached out to Subban earlier this month after experiencing racism while playing youth hockey.

And if you’re looking for more ASG coverage, don’t forget to read these stories from PHT’s Sean Leahy, who is on the ground in San Jose and has been providing top-notch coverage from the event.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL announces 2019 All-Star Skills participants

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The NHL’s All-Star Skills event takes place on Friday night (coverage begins 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and we now know who exactly will be taking place in what events.

Below is the official lineup from the NHL for each skills challenge.

It was announced earlier on Friday Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby will not participate in the event due to illness but is still expected to play in the game on Saturday night.

On to the events…

FASTEST SKATER

Key rules: Each skater will do one full lap around the rink in the direction of their choice, and can position themselves as far as three-feet behind the starting line. The clock will begin when the skater crosses the start line.

Key note: Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche was supposed to participate in this event but is being replaced by Kendall Coyne of the U.S. Women’s National team.

1. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Kendall Coyne, U.S. Women’s National Team
4. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
5. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
6. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
7. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
8. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

PUCK CONTROL

Key rules: A timed single-round event that will highlight three skills: Puckhandling, cone control where they must skate through eight cones in a zig-zag formation, and gates where a skater approaches each gate and is required to shoot or otherwise guide the puck through the lit rung of the gate.

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
5. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
6. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
7. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres
8. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

SAVE STREAK

Key rules: Let’s just let the NHL explain it…

A minimum of four goalies and all 36 skaters will participate in the Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak™, a shootout grouped by division where goalies compete to make the most consecutive saves. Each goalie will face one opposing division and a minimum of nine scoring attempts. Each scoring attempt is officiated in accordance with NHL shootout rules and begins on the referee’s whistle. Players from each division will shoot in numerical order, lowest to highest, with the divisional captain shooting ninth. A goalie’s round at the Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak™ cannot end with a save – if the divisional captain’s shot is saved, the goalie will continue to face shooters until a goal is scored. If the goalie makes a save on the divisional captain’s shot, the order of shooters to follow is the same as the original order. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak during his time in net is the winner of the Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak ™

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

PREMIER PASSER

Key rules: Players will have to do three passes, including a breakout pass, a pass into the mini-nets, and a target pass where they must complete passes to targets that will light up every three seconds. The player that completes the three skills in the fastest time is the winner.

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
2. Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
4. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
5. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
6. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues
7. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
8. Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers

HARDEST SHOT

Key rules: Shoot the puck as hard as you can.

1. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
2. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
3. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

ACCURACY SHOOTING

Key rules: Let’s again go right to the NHL…

Eight players will compete in the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™, a timed event where a shooter is positioned 25 feet from the goal line and shoots pucks at five LED targets located in the net. On the referee’s whistle, one of the five LED targets will randomly light up for three seconds and the player will attempt to hit the lit target. Hit targets will be taken out of the random sequencing and if the target is not hit within three seconds, the next target will light up. The clock stops when the player has successfully hit all five targets, the player that hits all five targets in the fastest time will be crowned the winner of the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™. If there is a tie for the fastest time, the tied players will compete again to determine the winner

1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
5. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
6. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
8. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

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.

The Buzzer: Vatrano’s four-point night; Laviolette earns win No. 600

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Three Stars

1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers: Continuing his career year, Vatrano notched his 16th goal and added three assists as the Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2. The score was knotted at two as the third period began but goals from Keith Yandle and Vincent Trocheck nine seconds apart blew the game open in the Panthers’ favor. Aleksander Barkov chipped in with three helpers of his own. According to the NHL, Vatrano is the third undrafted player in franchise history to record a four-point game, joining Steve Reinprecht and Jesse Belanger.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: The Finnish netminder turned aside 35 of 36 shots he faced as Nashville downed the Colorado Avalanche 4-1. The win snapped Rinne’s three-game losing streak and helped Predators head coach Peter Laviolette earn his 600th NHL victory. Nick Bonino recorded his 100th career goal and now has four goals in his last four games. Nashville has won 12 of its last 13 regular-season games against Colorado.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal scored his 15th of the season and later helped set up Charlie Coyle‘s game-winning goal during a 4-2 Wild victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves and has stopped 64 of his last 67 shots faced. Minnesota is now 4-0-1 against Vegas and are one of two teams (St. Louis) without a regulation loss against the reigning Western Conference champions.

Highlights of the Night

Pretty little goal here from Viktor Arvidsson, who leads all NHL players with 10 goals since the calendar turned to 2019:

Paul LaDue‘s first goal since October was the difference as the Kings topped the Blues:

Congrats to Mackenzie MacEachern for scoring his first NHL goal in the Blues loss:

One heck of an effort by Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise to help set up Mikko Koivu‘s empty-netter:

Justin Braun‘s going to want another shot at this one:

Factoids of the Night

• Via the AP: Laviolette is the 20th coach in NHL history to each 600 career wins and third this season joining John Tortorella and Claude Julien.

• Per the NHL, birthday boy Jonathan Quick recorded his 302nd victory, which is fourth-best among U.S.-born goaltenders. He’s now 67 behind Tom Barrasso.

• Also per the NHL, Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers is the 13th defenseman in the League’s modern era (since 1943-44) to record at least 10 goals in each of his first five seasons.

Scores
Predators 4, Avalanche 1
Kings 4, Blues 3
Wild 4, Golden Knights 2
Panthers 6, Sharks 2

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: History for Lundqvist; Blood from McDavid

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Marchessault

The Golden Knights have been pretty hot lately (now eight wins in their last 10 games), but Marchessault isn’t having the easiest time. Heading into Saturday, he only had a goal and an assist in his last 10 contests.

Marchessault broke out during Vegas’ lopsided win against the Penguins, generated his second career hat trick. He’s the second Golden Knights player to generate a hat trick, with William Karlsson providing the other two.

This gives Marchessault 17 goals and 34 points in 50 games this season.

2. Steven Stamkos

Stamkos extended his point streak to six games with two goals and an assist, giving him three goals and seven assists for 10 points during that span.

This gives Stamkos 26 goals in 2018-19, one short of last season’s total.

3. Tyson Barrie

The Avalanche lit up the Kings on Saturday, and Barrie played into that, collecting three assists. Barrie now has five assists in his last three games.

It’s quite the season so far for the underrated offensive defenseman, as he has 37 points in 44 games. The Avs blueliner was quite impressive last season, too, as his 57 points came in just 68 contests last season.

Barrie’s 37 points ties him for eighth among defensemen with Keith Yandle, even though Barrie’s missed some time with injuries.

Rough, eventful night for the Oilers

Connor McDavid wasn’t just on the losing end of a game against the Flames, he was also left bloodied on Saturday.

Despite the loss, Mikko Koskinen made some impressive saves. This behind-the-back bit was the odder one, while this one was more … traditional?

Consider this a 3b (or maybe 2b?) for the three stars: Mark Giordano generated a goal and two assists for three points in this one. Giordano now has an outstanding 52 points in 48 games this season, leaving him just four points behind his career-high of 56 from 2015-16.

Hey, at least Milan Lucic is heating up for the Oilers, right bummed out fans?

Oh yeah, the Zamboni also broke down, playing into the night of comic relief.

Highlights of the Night

Here’s that behind-the-back Koskinen save, to spare you a click:

Nolan Patrick really did pull a move straight out of “NHL 19,” didn’t he?

This Stamkos to Yanni Gourde goal is a lot of fun to watch.

Factoids

Up next at fifth place is Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, who’s at 454 wins. After that, it’s a steeper climb to fourth place (Roberto Luongo at 480 and counting).

Scores

ANA 3 – NJD 2
COL 7 – LAK 1
STL 3 – OTT 2
DAL 4 – WPG 2
NYR 3 – BOS 2
PHI 5 – MTL 2
TBL 6 – SJS 3
FLA 4 – NSH 2
MIN 2 – CBJ 1
VGK 7 – PIT 3
CGY 5 – EDM 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.