As his new players watched from the back of the room, Joel Quenneville had a message to them during his introductory press conference as Florida Panthers head coach.
“I want everyone of you guys to remember where you’re at right now, and remember the feeling that you have today,” Quenneville said Monday. “Next year we want to be right now coming off the ice with our skates on and we’re preparing for our first-round opponent, and you’re going to know that when you’re on that ride it’s the ride of a lifetime and the memories are going to be ever-lasting.”
The Panthers, who have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the last seven seasons, hope that is the reality a year from now. The move to open up the wallet and splash the cash for Quenneville — a reported five-year deal worth north of $30 million — is the first step in an aggressive off-season for the franchise.
“We need to win now,” said team president and CEO Matthew Caldwell.
“This is a great start. This is a good kick off to it, I think,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who added he was “giddy like I’ve never been before” after landing Quenneville. “We’re going to put our heads together and we’re going to come together with a great plan. We have a great core of young players and we’re going to take this to another level.”
Quenneville’s resume put him on a level where he would be sought after hard by NHL teams and would have his choice of where he coached next. So why the Panthers? He sees a parallel with his new team that he did in 2008 when Tallon promoted him to the Chicago Blackhawks’ head coaching job.
“I believe that this team is close to winning,” said Quenneville, who was fired in November by the Blackhawks. “I was fortunate to be the luckiest guy in the world when I walked into the Chicago situation there — a team ready, sitting on go to win. I feel the same thing here now.”
Quenneville has seen it from the outside, saying he believes the Panthers have the “ingredients to win” and that he wasn’t going to return behind a bench if didn’t believe the team was a Stanley Cup contender.
The Florida Panthers should be a lot better than this.
After a nearly miraculous second half surge to close out the 2017-18 NHL season that brought them to within a single point of a playoff spot, the Panthers went out over the summer and added another top-line scorer in Mike Hoffman to a team that already had a pretty good, and extremely affordable, core of high-end forwards in place.
It is not just him that excels at the top of the lineup.
Between Barkov, Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Evgenii Dadonov, the Panthers currently have four of the NHL’s top-45 point producers, including two of the top-20 (Barkov and Huberdeau), with all of them signed to contracts that can definitely be described as “team friendly.”
All of them are signed through at least the end of next season, with none of them counting more than $5.9 million against the salary cap. Those are well below market contracts for what they produce.
That quartet also does not include Vincent Trocheck, a bonafide 25-30 goal, 60-point winger when healthy, and Frank Vatrano, who is already scored 23 goals this season. Add those two in and there is what should be the makings of a contending core in place that has also give the organization (and will continue to give them) plenty of salary cap flexibility to build around them.
Despite all of that, the result this season has been a significant step backwards as they play out the string in what will be yet another lost, forgotten season for a franchise that has known nothing but lost, forgotten seasons for almost its entire existence. The 2018-19 season, when it mercifully wraps up in south Florida, will be the 20th time in their 25 year history that the Panthers have missed the playoffs, and the 16th time over the past 18.
In a league where more than half of the teams make the playoffs every year, that is a stunningly depressing run of futility that is made even more frustrating in the short-term because of how much high-end talent there actually is on the roster.
Things have seemingly hit rock bottom over the past week — and emphatically so — with a trio of ugly losses that has seen the team give up seven, seven, and six goals. It is a stretch of games that finally resulted in Trocheck reaching his breaking point on Tuesday night following the latest drubbing, this one at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
“Structurally we can’t give up — I feel like five of their six goals were let them have as much room or as much time as they wanted. Three of their goals were right down the slot or in front of our net,” fumed Trocheck. “It’s just laziness. Not doing your job. It’s just unacceptable to leave our goalies out to dry the last three games, to let up that many goals in three games is an absolute embarrassment.”
When asked what exactly was going wrong with the defensive breakdowns over these past few games, he continued.
“It’s just not paying attention to our system,” he said. “We’re getting away from our system. Somebody is trying to do somebody else’s job, you’re duplicating on guys, and whenever you duplicate obviously someone is going to be open and in the NHL they are going to find that open guy. They did, especially in the first, and that is what leads to goals against. Then it seems like we get down two goals like we did the past couple of games and we let off the gas and we just kinda quit. It’s embarrassing. It’s extremely embarrassing. Every single guy in here should be embarrassed the past three games.”
Harsh words, but not entirely wrong words, either. The defensive structure and commitment to it has been bad, and when you add in sub-par goaltending on top of it you are going to have the type of problems the Panthers currently have.
So how do they fix it?
First, it is never a good sign for a coach when you’re on your way to a second straight non-playoff season behind the bench and one of your top players is talking about how the team “kinda quit” and that they can’t stick to the system. Especially when there is a three-time Stanley Cup winning, high-profile coach just sitting out there without a job right now that also happens to have a history of working with the team’s current general manager and having success.
Second, as laughable as it might be to say about a franchise with the recent track record the Panthers have, there is something to be said for patience when it comes to some of the players on the roster. Specifically the players at the top of the roster.
For years the Winnipeg Jets continued to commit to the same core of players that produced the same mediocre results in the standings year after year. It would almost be a constant running joke every season about how inactive the Jets were from a roster standpoint and never did anything to change things. But they knew the players at the top (player like Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele, etc.) were not the problem. They were good, and they stuck with them and waited for the right complementary pieces from within (and a franchise player at the top of the draft in Patrik Laine) to come along and make it so they were no longer being wasted.
Could they have accelerated the timeframe to becoming a contender by maybe being more aggressive in some areas (like finding a new goalie)? Absolutely they could have. But the point is they didn’t sacrifice the players that weren’t a problem in the name of “changing culture” or “changing the mood in the room” or whatever it is bad teams do when they trade their few good players for pennies on the dollar.
They stuck with them, eventually added the right pieces around them, and are now being rewarded with a Stanley Cup contender that is led by those same core players.
In other words, unless somebody absolutely blows their doors off with a trade offer there is literally zero reason to even consider moving the likes of Barkov, Huberdeau, or Trocheck.
Instead, the focus needs to continue to be adding around them because this should still be a core they can win with.
Given how cheaply some of them are signed, combined with the fact they shed some big money in future years by trading Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the Pittsburgh Penguins for two expiring contracts, the Panthers have put themselves in a position to be major players in free agency and ownership seems to have a willingness to spend to the cap this summer. As it stands right now, the Panthers are projected to have around $17 million in salary cap space to play with which could make them the favorites to land pretty much any free agent they wanted.
Speculation for months has centered around the Columbus duo of forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Panarin obviously does nothing to fix the team’s defensive shortcomings, but it also wouldn’t hurt to add another top scorer to the lineup. Bobrovsky is an even trickier situation because even though they need an upgrade in net, they already have two big-money goalies on the roster and for as good as he has been throughout his career you can not ignore the fact signing any soon-to-be 31-year-old goalie to the type of contract he would demand on the open market is going to carry some significant risk.
One thing is for certain, though, and that is things have to be shored up defensively.
Maybe that starts behind the bench.
Maybe it has to be a focus on defenders in free agency.
Maybe it is a goalie, whether it is Bobrovsky or somebody else, because for as good as Roberto Luongo has been throughout his career he is starting to finally lose the battle with father time.
Maybe it has to be a combination of all three.
With Barkov, Huberdeau, and a healthy Trocheck the Panthers have some of the most important — and hardest to acquire — pieces in place when it comes to building a contender. With them in place it should not take a full-scale rebuild or total teardown to get to where they want to be.
It is possible to get there quickly if the right pieces are added around them.
A perpetually mediocre team like the Jets was finally able to do it around their core of players.
With money to spend and salary cap space at their disposal this summer, we are about to find out if this current Panthers’ front office is able to do it as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Tallon, on @SiriusXMNHL, said the coaching staff has done a good job and he looks forward to many years with Boughner.
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.
With the 2019 NHL trade deadline coming up on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, we already have a pretty good idea as to who the clear buyers and sellers are.
We know Tampa Bay, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Vegas, Calgary, Nashville, Boston, Washington, San Jose and a few others (New York Islanders? Montreal Canadiens?) at the top of the standings will be buying.
We also know the teams at the bottom of the standings will be selling — teams like Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other clear rebuilding teams. We already looked at a couple of those teams in depth a little. (Chicago here; Los Angeles here).
We also know there are probably a few teams in the middle that might tinker with their roster a bit with a bigger picture move here or there. Maybe they even simply stay the course and do nothing. Teams like Vancouver, Carolina, and Buffalo.
Then there are a couple of teams that are still on the playoff bubble that have some big decisions to make. Here, we take a look at four teams that are probably still considered on the playoff bubble that should resist the temptation to add and go into a seller mode.
1. Anaheim Ducks. The record is a mirage. It is not even a good record, but it is still a mirage. The standings say they are only three points out of a playoff spot, which might be manageable and doable under normal conditions in a normal season. But they are only three points out of a playoff spot because the bottom half of the Western Conference is as bad as it’s ever been, and because John Gibson and Ryan Miller carried them to more wins than they deserved early in the season.
Even with three-point gap they still have five teams ahead of them for a playoff spot. They are also only on pace for 78 points this season. That is awful, and the fact they are still “in it” is a testament to how bad the rest of the Western Conference is around them.
Not only are the Ducks arguably the worst team in the NHL right now — and seemingly getting worse by the day — they have three massive contracts tied up in players age 33 or older and only have five draft picks in the 2019 class. So they’re bad now and are probably going to be bad for the foreseeable future. Yes, Corey Perry has only played in two games played this season. Yes, Ryan Kesler has dealt with injuries recently. But let’s be honest about this mess and admit that this team isn’t a 33-year-old Corey Perry and a 34-year-old Ryan Kesler away from being good again.
There should be no one on this roster that is untouchable other than John Gibson.
Jakob Silfverberg is their big upcoming free agent and they should absolutely be looking to move him. Given their current salary cap situation they can’t afford another long-term deal on a player pushing 30 that probably won’t be an impact player.
Tear it down and start over.
2. Florida Panthers. For the second year in a row the Panthers began the season by falling flat on their face in the first two months before trying to put it all together for a second half push that will ultimately fall short.
That sell off should continue in the coming weeks. Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, both acquired in the Pittsburgh trade, have no real long-term value to the Panthers beyond this season and could easily be flipped again as rentals at the deadline for additional picks. If they are going to take a run at Bobrovsky that means one of their goalies that is already under contract beyond this season (for several more seasons) is going to need to go.
The Panthers aren’t going to make up enough ground in the playoff race to be a factor this season, but they can position themselves to be players in the offseason and hopefully build around their of Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, and Jonathan Huberdeau.
3. Philadelphia Flyers. Goalies are weird, and projecting goalies long-term performance is not something you want to try to do based on less than 30 games at the NHL level because there is a good chance you are going to make yourself look like an idiot in the future by being horribly wrong. Having said that, I’m going to take a chance here and say Carter Hart might be the player. He might be the player the Flyers and their fans have been waiting for. He might be the player that actually sets them in net and positively impacts the franchise.
He might be. He could be. Maybe he is?
Heck, he has already helped change this season by arriving in the NHL and backstopping the team to an eight-game winning streak that has a chance to keep going with a couple of dog teams on the schedule over the next week.
That is all great news for the future of the Flyers. Perhaps even as soon as next season. But even with this current hot streak they are still five points out of a playoff spot and they still have three teams ahead of them. For as much ground as they have gained over the past two weeks that is still a difficult gap to overcome and they’re not going to keep winning forever.
When Chuck Fletcher took over as the new general manager I argued he needed to let this season play itself out, evaluate what he is, and then address what he still needs in the offseason. In other words, don’t come in and take a machete to the roster and don’t make some foolish short-term addition to the roster that tries to salvage the season. Let it play out.
With Hart emerging as the team’s starting goalie he could be a game-changer for them and it might be worth seeing what a core built around Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier can do with an actual living, breathing, solid NHL goalie. So a tear down probably isn’t in the cards.
What should be in the cards is dealing the upcoming unrestricted free agents on the roster (Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl specifically) if there is a market for them, and perhaps trying to dump an undesirable contract (Andrew MacDonald?).
The hot streak is probably (heavy emphasis on probably) too little, too late, but offers some encouragement for the very near future. There are pieces here to sell, but don’t blow it all up just yet.
4. Edmonton Oilers. They need to do something to fix this mess. But what is that something? The head coach and general manager are already gone There aren’t many options here that don’t result in another core player (likely Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Oscar Klefbom) getting shipped out. Given their history of those moves, that would probably be disastrous.
The Oilers look like a team that is on track to miss the playoffs, again, and there is no rental or addition they can possibly make in the next three weeks that is going to change that.
So they need to sell. Sell whatever they can that isn’t named McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins or Klefbom.
Some of that will be difficult because there isn’t much here beyond those four that has a lot of value. But the one name that stands out is Alex Chiasson. He joined the Oilers for nothing on a PTO, earned a spot on the roster, and has had a surprisingly decent season that has already seem him set a career high in goals scored.
A very Oilers-like move would be to look at a 28-year-old winger having a career season that is driven by an unsustainably high 25 percent shooting percentage and thinking, “he’s going to repeat this! Let’s sign him!”
The sensible move is to sell high, cash in what they can, and try to pick up a future asset for a player that was a pleasant surprise for you.