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Panthers, Luongo honor those lost year ago at Parkland school shooting

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On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people died in the tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The Florida Panthers play their games less than 15 miles away, so it was no surprise that Roberto Luongo and others were especially shaken by those awful events.

The Panthers took steps to honor those lost and most affected by the Parkland shootings one year later on Thursday, with the team holding a moment of silence and Luongo wearing a special mask in honor of the school.

The team also has a more extended ceremony planned for Sunday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Here’s footage of the moment of silence, via Fox Sports Florida:

Luongo’s mask was a fantastic touch for someone with personal ties to the Parkland community.

The Panthers Foundation is also running a charitable campaign where people can text “Give 5” to the number 74747 during Thursday’s game against the Flames and Sunday (Feb. 17)’s game against the Canadiens. You can read more about that here.

Luongo, Wade Luongo still feel anguish a year after Parkland

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PARKLAND, Fla. — Manuel Oliver has not seen a Miami Heat game in almost a year.

Truth be told, he never was the biggest basketball fan in the first place. He watched a lot of games, was even coaching a team at this time last year, and did all that because of the joy his son got from the sport.

And his son is gone now.

Thursday marks one year since Joaquin “Guac” Oliver and 16 others took their last breaths, all shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a massacre that only heightened the gun-control debate in this country. Manuel Oliver, an artist, only watched and took part in sports because of the bond it allowed him to forge with his son.

“I miss my son every single day,” Manuel Oliver said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m not counting the days. I just miss him. And I decided to defeat that feeling by empowering myself to get out there and make statements through art or speeches. Thursday, to me, is just another day. It will close the loop of the year, one loop of special occasions where we won’t have him. And then a new loop starts, where we won’t have him.”

Joaquin Oliver is the teen who was buried in the jersey of his favorite player, Heat star Dwyane Wade. The boy’s mother Patricia was the one who decided her son should be put to rest in the No. 3 jersey, and when Wade — who lost a cousin to gun violence in 2016 and had been traded back to Miami from Chicago less than a week before the Parkland shooting — learned of the gesture he was moved to act.

He met the Olivers. He learned about their son. He made a surprise appearance at the school on the day it reopened. He made kids laugh and smile and perhaps forget for a brief moment that their school was a crime scene, that their lives were forever changed and certainly not for the better.

“I still don’t have the words to express how much all that meant to me,” Wade said. “I mean, in that moment of grief, in a moment of ultimate sadness and a moment where you know so much was going on the thing that family decided to do was to bury him in my jersey because he was such a fan of mine. It’s still, I don’t know … I’m still very emotional.”

Sports, more often than not, can be a healing influence in times of tragedy.

Such was the case after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, when baseball and football resumed a week or two later and the Olympics five months later in Salt Lake City became a celebration tinged in the U.S. colors of red, white and blue. When 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, the Orlando Magic decided to retire the number 49 months later in tribute. The Florida Panthers have never hoisted the Stanley Cup, but they made sure the Stoneman Douglas hockey team did last year in a private on-ice ceremony. Even Stoneman Douglas’ football team, when it won its first game of the season, prevailed by exactly 17 points — the same number of lives lost, a coincidence not lost on anyone.

“Sports bring people together,” Wade said. “Sports bring races together. Sports bring communities together. What this game we play, and the games other people play, can do is special. Not many things or people can bring a community, different races, people of different shapes, sizes, ages together the way sports does. And after Parkland, we saw that. We needed that.”

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo lives in Parkland, not far from the school. He still feels the anguish of his adopted hometown.

The Panthers’ first home game after the shooting was eight days later, and Luongo took the unusual stance of speaking to the crowd for about three minutes before the opening face-off. The jammed arena hung on his every word. The Panthers rallied in the final minutes for a 3-2 win over eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington.

The Panthers will be paying tribute again in the coming days to those who were lost, with moments of silence and other gestures at games this week.

“Whatever little we can do to help, you know, whether that’s just playing a game or taking the time to say ‘hi’ or whatever it is, I think those are the key little things that you want to try to do as much as possible,” Luongo said. “If we can be doing something that helps with their grieving, we should be doing it. It’ll never be enough, but we should still be doing whatever we can.”

Wade, for obvious reasons, has had Joaquin Oliver in mind often for the last year — especially in recent days, as the anniversary nears.

The Oliver family started a foundation called Change The Ref, with a mission of raising awareness about gun-control laws they want changed and the effect of mass shootings. Even the name has ties to the boy’s love of basketball: As the story goes, he got ejected from a game last year by a referee whose call he didn’t like, and Manuel Oliver — the coach — also got ejected for complaining.

On the way home, Joaquin told his father that their only way of winning that game would have been to change the ref.

“And when I remembered that, I knew what we had to do,” Manuel Oliver said.

With that, the foundation was born.

In a year of anguish, little moments of joy mean more than ever. Manuel Oliver couldn’t watch the Super Bowl this year, because it’s something he and his son usually did together. He doesn’t watch sports on television anymore, for the same reasons. But when he needs a smile, he can look at the trophy in his house from Joaquin’s last basketball season.

In the days after the shooting, Joaquin’s team finished its season without him. The team won its league championship. The Heat were there to help them celebrate.

“I always thought Joaquin was overreacting when he talked about Dwyane Wade,” Manuel Oliver said. “But he wasn’t. I’m not even a basketball fan, but he’s a great dude. Not just him: his mother, his sister, his dad, they’re all great. This took our son, but we’re still here. Joaquin’s parents are still here, fighting for him.”

Trading Huberdeau could go very, very wrong for Panthers

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History is already repeating itself in an unpleasant way for the Florida Panthers, as they look all but certain to miss the playoffs for the 16th time in 18 seasons. You almost have to try to fail enough not to win a playoff series since 1995-96.

The good news is that the Panthers have amassed a tantalizingly talented group, and they can supplement that core with the right mix of luck and skill. You know, as long as they don’t keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

GM Dale Tallon probably cringes at any mention of sending Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith out of town, but Panthers management sorely needs to think of those blunders if there’s any validity to rumors about Jonathan Huberdeau being shopped around.

TSN’s Frank Seravalli added Huberdeau to his trade bait list on Monday, citing the Panthers’ pursuit of pending Columbus free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. While Elliotte Friedman reported in 31 Thoughts on Wednesday that there are mixed messages about whether Florida would actually consider moving Huberdeau, the Panthers winger addressed said rumors to The Athletic’s George Richards on Tuesday (sub required), so they’ve at least registered to the forward.

“It’s a rumor, we don’t know if it’s true,” Huberdeau said on Tuesday. “I’m just going to play here for now. We’re trying to make a push for the playoffs and I am going to do everything I can. We’ll see what happens.”

Let’s dig into Huberdeau’s underrated value, the many questions Florida faces during a pivotal crossroads moment for the franchise, and the other, wiser routes they should take.

Huberdeau is a crucial building block

If the Maple Leafs have shown us anything with William Nylander and Auston Matthews (and soon Mitch Marner), it’s that young, high-end players aren’t going to be cheap on second contracts much longer. With that in mind, teams that do have high-end players locked up on bargain contracts should guard them as jealously as a child with ice cream.

Huberdeau is just 25, and his bargain cap hit is $5.9 million. That’s the same as Aleksander Barkov‘s deal, but Huberdeau’s contract runs one extra year (through 2022-23) than Barkov’s does (2021-22). Considering Vincent Trocheck‘s deal ($4.75M cap hit through 2021-22), the Panthers boast one of the most enviable cores in hockey because they could very well afford more pieces.

Not only that, but Huberdeau’s having a fantastic season while suffering from fairly bad luck.

His shooting percentage of 9.4 percent is his lowest since 2014-15, and his on-ice shooting percentage is 6.9 percent, the second-worst mark of his career. Despite not getting bounces, Huberdeau’s had a great season, generating 13 goals and 52 points in 55 games.

Honestly, if every GM made rules like “don’t trade a player when they’re experiencing some of their worst shooting percentages of their careers,” then a boatload of the NHL’s dumbest trades would never happen.

Yes, Panarin is better than Huberdeau, but the gap isn’t as big as you might expect, and who knows how many million more Panarin will cost than Huberdeau’s $5.9M? Will it be $10M per year, or $11M? Maybe more?

Huberdeau compares fairly well to Panarin, a full-fledged star. The Panthers shouldn’t move Huberdeau to get Panarin; instead, they should explore every avenue to get both on their team.

Check out this comparison of the two over multiple easons via Bill Comeau’s eye-catching SKATR charts, which use data from Corsica:

via Bill Comeau/Corsica

Looking at Panarin from a wide variety of angles, it’s resounding just how clearly he’s worth the hype. To an extent, it makes sense that some might see moving Huberdeau as a the price of doing business.

It’s just that the Panthers would be far wiser to pay a different price, as Huberdeau’s a gem.

This situation is especially dangerous if, say, Tallon is looking far too much at (gulp) plus/minus … which might have been a problem with Marchessault and Smith, too. Yikes.

What about Bob?

If the thinking is that the Panthers need to trade away Huberdeau to secure Panarin and Bob, the Panthers should do some soul-searching about Bobrovsky.

Don’t get me wrong. Goaltending has been the Panthers’ achilles heel, and while Bobrovsky’s .903 save percentage this season is troubling, Bob has a credible argument that he’s been the best goalie in the NHL since he joined the Blue Jackets.

Still, Bobrovsky is 30 and will turn 31 in September, and the Panthers already have almost $8M in cap space tied up in Roberto Luongo (39, $4.53M cap hit through 2021-22) and James Reimer (30, $3.4M through 2022-23). Yes, there are ways to alleviate some of the pressures; Luongo’s health might credibly land him on LTIR at some point in the semi-near future, and Reimer could be a buyout target.

This Panthers team might have a budget, though, and what if Bobrovsky trends closer to the backup-level goalie he’s been this season than the two-time Vezina-winner from the past?

Florida might be better off trying to find the next Robin Lehner, rather than risking Bobrovsky having a contract as scary as that of Carey Price or … well, their other two goalies.

Don’t force it

Moving Huberdeau to try to proactively lock down Panarin and Bobrovsky has some logic to it, but it would be a massive overpay.

Most obviously, the Panthers could just wait and see if Panarin and Bobrovsky would come to them via free agency, without costing them a single asset. If they’d sign extensions with Florida, wouldn’t they sign with them in July?

But the concerns about Bob bring up another possibility: maybe a Plan B would work better, overall?

The free agent market is reasonably robust with forwards. Maybe Mark Stone or Matt Duchene would want to soak up the sun and give Florida a boost? Overextending for Panarin and especially Bobrovsky could be a rough value proposition.

Move someone else

The Panthers also have plenty of other pieces to work with.

They could still get at least something for Derick Brassard and/or Riley Sheahan. Jamie McGinn‘s $3.33M is about to come off the books, so that can help even if it just makes a splashy free agent more affordable.

(According to Cap Friendly, the Panthers currently have about $58.5M devoted to 13 players; if the cap goes to $83M, that would give them about $24.5M.)

Thanks to the Nick Bjugstad and Alex Petrovic trades, the Panthers have picks in every round again, including three fourth-rounders. Those picks might not be appealing to the Blue Jackets in a potential Panarin trade, but if the Senators decide to move Stone and/or Duchene, suddenly Florida could be in that mix.

If trading Huberdeau is as much about clearing money as anything else, then there are much better ways to ease financial tensions. Perhaps the Panthers could bribe someone to absorb the full cost of Reimer’s contract, even if costs a pick or two?

Status quo isn’t so bad

Trying to add a big player makes a lot of sense for Florida, but blowing up what they have by recklessly giving up Huberdeau in a sell-low situation isn’t the best way to get better.

And don’t forget, Florida could be on the verge of adding some other nice pieces.

Henrik Borgstrom isn’t setting the NHL on fire, but he’s just 21, and many believe the big forward has serious potential. Many scouts are also excited about Owen Tippett, who’s about to turn 20 on Feb. 16.

The prospect of those prospects making bigger jumps might prompt some to say “OK, then, trade Huberdeau; they can replace him.” Instead, it should inspire the Panthers to take a more zen-like approach.

If you’re going to move any fully formed forward, you’d be better off moving Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, as both are only under contract through 2020-21. Yet, even in those cases, they’re both cost-effective, quality players.

Tallon should instead envision Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Hoffman, Dadonov, Borgstrom, Tippett, and a free agent giving the Panthers a mix of high-end skill and unusual-for-2019 depth.

Really, the Panthers’ biggest question might be: is Bob Boughner the right guy as head coach? Publicly speaking, Tallon at least seems to think so.

In summary: Don’t move Hubey

Overall, it makes sense that the Panthers want to add Panarin and Bobrovsky, or other big pieces. This team is getting impatient, and maybe doesn’t believe that it’s an option to sit idly by.

People make mistakes when they’re desperate, though, and the concept of a Huberdeau trade carries that stink. This doesn’t mean that there’s no scenario where it can work out for Florida … the odds are just higher that things would pay off if they did something else.

Decades of history argue that the Panthers won’t get this right, but they could very well build something special if they do. Good luck, Dale Tallon.

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.

The Buzzer: Blackhawks stay hot; Long-lasting Luongo

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Three Stars

1. Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko generated a hat trick to help the Blues sweep their home-and-home set against the Predators, with his third goal being a sweet overtime-winner for St. Louis. Things were already looking great for the Blues coming into this weekend, and now they’re trending toward being the team top West contenders do not want to face in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“The Tank” extended his point streak to eight games. During that span, he’s generated seven goals and five assists for 12 points. Tarasenko’s at 22 goals in 2018-19, giving him six straight seasons with 20+ goals.

It’s a good sign that Tarasenko is firing the puck a lot, too. He generated eight shots on goal on Sunday, giving him 23 SOG over the last five games.

2. Alexandar Georgiev

What a performance by the rookie New York Rangers goalie.

Georgiev stopped 55 of 56 shots on goal by the Toronto Maple Leafs, including all 23 SOG he faced during Toronto’s four unsuccessful power-play opportunities. It was quite a way for Georgiev to celebrate his 23rd birthday.

He finished just four saves short of Mike Richter’s single-game Rangers record of 59.

3. Dominik Kahun

Six different players reached three points on Sunday. Tarasenko stands out from the pack being that he’s the only won whose three points comprised a hat trick.

Kahun joins Tarasenko as the only one of the six to score a GWG on Sunday. He generated two goals and one assist as the Blackhawks beat the Red Wings to win their seventh consecutive game.

The 23-year-old’s enjoyed a reasonably solid rookie season (27 points in 56 games), but he’s been really racking up points lately. Over the last four games, Kahun’s produced three goals and four assists for seven points. Kahun’s Blackhawks teammate Alex DeBrincat also had a three-point game on Sunday, with his coming via three assists.

Sharp on CHI

Speaking of Chicago’s winning streak, here’s Patrick Sharp on his former team’s turnaround, and their chances of making the playoffs.

Highlights of the Night

As nice a goal as Ryan Callahan scored, the biggest highlight is his celebration.

The Avalanche have really been struggling, but Nathan MacKinnon is still spectacular. Video evidence:

Factoids

Scores

STL 5 – NSH 4 (OT)
CHI 5 – DET 2
BOS 2 – COL 1 (OT)
WPG 3 – BUF 1
NJD 3 – CAR 2
NYI 2 – MIN 1
TBL 5 – FLA 2
NYR 4 – TOR 1

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.

Here they go again: Panthers hoping for late-season surge

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By Time Reynolds (AP Sports Writer)

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers are hoping for deja vu.

Sort of.

A year ago, the Panthers shook off a disastrous start to the season and caught fire after the All-Star break – only to miss the playoffs by a single point. This year, they’re heading into the break on a three-game winning streak and playing perhaps their best hockey of the season after spending the first three months of the year sputtering near the bottom of the NHL.

So here they go again, trying for another late and improbable playoff push.

”We have that confidence back, that swagger,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said after a 6-2 win over San Jose on Monday night.

They’ll need more than swagger.

The Panthers were 24-8-2 in the final 34 games last season, getting 50 of a possible 68 points down the stretch. This year, with 34 games left when they return to the ice on Feb. 1, they’ll need a similar run. Florida is 10 points out of the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, and 11 points from catching Boston for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot out of the Atlantic Division.

”I think we are starting to turn the corner,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ”We have a long way to go.”

As unlikely as it seems – especially for the Panthers, an often-woebegone franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996 – there is a potential path to the postseason.

Florida (20-20-8) has 12 games between Feb. 1 and Feb. 23, and 11 of those are on home ice. That’s the good news. The flip side is this: Of those 12, eight are against teams that are currently in the top half of the NHL, including matchups with Tampa Bay, Nashville, Washington, Pittsburgh and Vegas quickly after the All-Star break ends.

”It’s nice to be back to feeling the way I like to feel and the confidence is there,” said Luongo, who has won consecutive starts for the first time in more than a month. ”The guys are playing well in front of me. It’s a two-way street. When the guys play well I feel good and when I feel good the guys play well.”

There is a clear urgency, and it started last week with the team on what was then a seven-game losing skid.

Florida was without Vincent Trocheck for 27 games after he broke his right ankle in November. When he returned to practice last week, the Panthers’ plan was to keep him out until after the break in order to make sure he was fully ready to go.

Trocheck successfully argued otherwise. Not only did he play in three games since returning to practice – in a four-day span, no less – the Panthers went 3-0-0 in those games, clearly sparked by his comeback.

”We’re having fun,” said Trocheck, who has two goals and two assists since returning. ”It’s fun to win some hockey games. It’s been tough for us this year in that department. To go into a break like this with a little bit of momentum, having some fun, it’s going to make a big difference for the second half.”

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