Aleksander Barkov

Florida Panthers
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What is the Panthers’ long-term outlook?

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Florida Panthers

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Everything about this team in the immediate future is going to be built around the forward duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

They are two of the best and most productive players in the league, while Barkov has developed into one of the NHL’s most complete two-way centers. Barkov is signed for two more seasons after this one, while Huberdeau is locked in for another three. They have matching salary cap hits of $5.9 million per season.

Beyond them, the core gets a little cloudier because all of their long-term investments come with some pretty significant risks.

Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is signed for another six seasons at a salary cap hit of $10 million per season. They are going to need him to be significantly better than he has been so far if there is any chance of him playing out the remainder of that deal in Florida.

In front of him they have invested heavily in their defense with Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Anton Stralman, and Mike Matheson all signed for at least the next two seasons, while Ekblad, Yandle, and Matheson go for at least the next three years. Ekblad and Matheson are both signed for the next five. They have a ton of money invested in that quartet, but they haven’t really received a great return on that investment at this point.

Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, two of their best forwards, are unsigned beyond this season and eligible for unrestricted free agency. If they can not re-sign one — or both — that would be a significant amount of offense going out the door.

Long-Term Needs

Even though the Panthers have made a huge long-term financial investment in their defense and goaltending, they are still one of the worst defensive teams in the league right now.

Ekblad and Yandle are a solid duo at the top, and maybe even a little underrated. Ekblad’s status as a former No. 1 overall pick definitely raises the expectations around him, but he has been an extremely productive player offensively and shown improvement in his all-around game. He may not win the Norris Trophy, but he’s a good player.

But once you get beyond that top duo there are a lot of flaws and question marks with the defense as a whole, and not a lot of immediate help on the horizon to help fix it. That is one of the things that made the in-season trade of Vincent Trocheck so confusing. It was a deal that did not need to be made, and they did not even use it to address their biggest flaw.

They could also be looking at a depth issue at forward if they can not get Hoffman and Dadonov re-signed.

Long-Term Strengths

The biggest strength for the Panthers is probably the simple fact they not only have two elite players in Barkov and Huberdeau, but that they have them both signed for multiple seasons at a combined salary cap hit of less than $11 million per season. They are exceptional bargains against the cap, they are both elite players, and they are both in the middle of their prime years in the NHL. Having that sort of situation at the top of the lineup should be a massive advantage for a front office to work with. Those are the hardest players to find (the elite, game-changers on offense) and they tend to cost the most money. The Panthers not only already have them in place, they have them for far less than they should ordinarily cost. That is a gift and a bonus you do not want to waste.

It also might seem weird saying this given how much Bobrovsky struggled in his debut season with the team, but they do seem to have a lot of goaltending options in the short-and long-term.

Even if Bobrovsky’s contract turns into a problem in a few years, he should be better than he was this season and at least give them a few seasons of high level play. Chris Driedger has also been a pleasant surprise in net this season and could settle in as a nice back-up option, while they also have one of the top goaltending prospects in the league in Spencer Knight after using a top-15 pick on him in the draft a year ago.

They also have one of the NHL’s best coaches in Joel Quenneville.

More:

• Looking at the 2019-20 Florida Panthers
• Panthers’ surprises and disappointments

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.

Panthers have a lot to prove, starting with big test vs. Maple Leafs

Panthers face test in Atlantic third seed race vs. Maple Leafs
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What would be more embarrassing: the Maple Leafs or Panthers missing the playoffs? Because most signs point to the Maple Leafs and Panthers battling for one playoff spot as the Atlantic’s third seed.

There’s no question that the Maple Leafs missing the mark would draw more attention. Yet, as of Thursday, Feb. 27, I’d argue that Toronto would have more excuses than Florida. Not that such a notion would save anyone’s job, mind you, but it feels worth a mention.

Because, really, in a harsher market, there’d be more desperation in the air than the humidity in Sunrise as the Panthers host the Maple Leafs on Thursday.

[Maple Leafs perspective: can their banged-up defense survive?]

Panthers are a lot like Maple Leafs, but with fewer excuses

When you look at all the factors involved, these two teams are remarkably similar in strengths (scoring buckets of goals) and weaknesses (seeking shelter from a blizzard of goals). The biggest difference is that the Panthers’ most important players have generally stayed healthy, while the Maple Leafs feel like the NHL’s answer to Wile E. Coyote.*

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have experienced injuries to Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and the current list features Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Andreas Johnsson.

The point isn’t about the Maple Leafs’ challenges, as they have company among the most bruised teams in the NHL. Instead, it highlights Florida’s lack of excuses. They spent big on Bobrovsky and Joel Quenneville yet … from a big picture perspective, their situation doesn’t feel all that different from last season. Prominent Panthers will need to look hard in the mirror if they fall short (particularly GM Dale Tallon, who made another baffling move in shipping out Vincent Trocheck).

* – OK, the Blue Jackets are probably Wile E. Coyote, but the Leafs take a beating, too. Maybe Tom of Tom & Jerry?

Florida has a slightly friendlier schedule, so … again, not many excuses

The Panthers should be deeply disappointed if they don’t hold an advantage over the Maple Leafs after the first week-or-so of March.

A look at the standings cements the notion that Thursday’s game is huge for both teams:

Panthers Maple Leafs Atlantic standings

But the stage is set for Florida to gain ground. While the Maple Leafs play four of their next five games on the road, the Panthers begin a five-game homestand with this crucial contest.

Other contextual situations set the stage for the Panthers to go on a run, if this team has it in them.

The Panthers face the Senators two more times this season, and also have one game apiece against the Devils and Red Wings.

Will the Canadiens sag by March 7, and if not then, by March 26? The Rangers might also run out of magic by March 30, while the Capitals might opt to rest key players during a season-closing contest on April 4.

Of course, the two biggest games seem obvious. Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs in Florida could loom large, especially if it ends in regulation. The two teams meet for the final time in the regular season in Toronto on March 23.

Overall, the Panthers play 11 more games at home versus eight on the road, while the Maple Leafs see an even split (nine each).

No, that schedule doesn’t present a towering advantage for Florida, though it does seem like it’s more favorable. Instead, it makes it clearer that the Panthers have every opportunity to prove themselves, starting with Thursday’s big test against the Maple Leafs.

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.

First-period outburst propels Flyers past Panthers

The Philadelphia Flyers will need to improve their play on the road in order to remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

A three-goal first period propelled the Flyers to a 6-2 win against the Florida Panthers at BB&T center. Carter Hart made 26 saves and captured his first road victory since November.

James van Riemsdyk had a goal and two assists as Philadelphia improved to 9-3-1 over its past 13 games. Tyler Pitlick, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Scott Laughton, Sean Couturier and Robert Hagg also scored.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov each scored in the third period, but the Panthers fell to the Flyers for the second time this week. Sergei Bobrovsky exited at the end of the first period after allowing three goals on nine shots. He’s 0-4-1 in his past five starts.

Hart stopped the bleeding

The Panthers scored twice in the first five minutes of the third period to cut the Flyers’ lead in half, but Hart’s biggest save of the night came shortly after when he denied Evgenii Dadonov.

The Flyers have struggled on the road immensely this season and a loss on Thursday could have had a demoralizing effect on the team’s confidence.

While Hart has had his own issues away from home, the 21-year-old showed why the organization believes he has not only the talent, but the mental toughness to be a franchise goaltender.

The adjustment to the NHL is a challenge for any young player. But, a key a third-period save provided a moment of confidence for Hart to look back on and know he has the ability to accomplish anything between the pipes.

NOTE: Shayne Gostisbehere took part in the morning skate, but the defenseman missed his fourth consecutive game.


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

NHL Injuries: Frederik Andersen to miss Maple Leafs’ game Wednesday

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Checking in on some notable injuries around the NHL…

Frederik Andersen will not play for Maple Leafs on Wednesday

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday night looks even more costly the next day.

Not only did they lose a 3-1 lead, at home, to a team they are directly competing with for a playoff spot, but they also lost their starting goalie to a neck injury.

Frederik Andersen will not travel with the team to New York for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers and is currently listed as being “day-to-day” with a neck injury. Backup Michael Hutchinson will start in his place and be backed up by Kasimir Kaskisuo who was called up from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies on Tuesday.

This is a pretty significant situation to watch because the Maple Leafs are going to be in a lot of trouble if Andersen is not healthy. Their goaltending depth has been a major issue this season as neither Hutchinson or Kaskisuo (only one appearance, for what it’s worth) have been consistent enough.

While Andersen is 24-9-6 in his appearances with a .910 save percentage, the other two are just 4-9-1 with a combined .882 save percentage.

Hutchinson replaced Andersen on Monday and allowed three goals on the 13 shots he faced.

Ekman-Larsson to miss second straight game for Coyotes

Huge game in the Pacifici Division on Tuesday night when the Arizona Coyotes host the Edmonton Oilers.

The Coyotes will be without Oliver Ekman-Larsson, their captain and best overall defenseman, for the second straight game as he continues to deal with a lower-body injury.

Arizona enters the game in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks and three points back of the Oilers for the second playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Given that Edmonton still has two games in a hand a regulation win on Tuesday would be significant for the Coyotes.

They enter Tuesday on a five-game losing streak while also having lost eight out of their previous nine. They have collected just five out of a possible 18 points (1-5-3 record) during that stretch.

Samsonov shaken up in practice

The Washington Capitals received a bit of a scare in practice on Tuesday when goalie Ilya Samsonov was hit up high by an Alex Ovechkin shot and had to leave practice.

He was not expected to start Tuesday’s game, but the Capitals did call up Vitek Vanecek from the AHL as a precautionary measure.

Samsonov, one of the NHL’s top rookies so far this season, has also been the Capitals’ best goalie.

No word on Barkov for game against Columbus

The most impressive thing about Florida’s big win against Toronto on Monday night — they did it without star center Aleksander Barkov who missed the game due to a lower-body injury.

They have another massive game in their playoff push on Tuesday night when they face a Columbus Blue Jackets team that is 17-2-5 in its past 24 games.

The Panthers held an optional morning skate on Tuesday, so there is no official word on whether or not they will get Barkov back.

The initial diagnosis on his injury is that he is “day-to-day.”

If he does not return Tuesday, the Panthers’ next game will be on Thursday at home against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Related: Another injury for Blue Jackets as Wennberg to miss 3-4 weeks

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.

Panthers won’t have Barkov for huge game against Maple Leafs

The Florida Panthers will not have their best player on Monday night when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for a huge game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Coach Joel Quenneville announced that Aleksander Barkov will not be available for the game due to a lower-body injury.

The Panthers are currently listing him as day-to-day.

Barkov was injured in the Panthers’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday when he was hit by Shea Weber. He exited the game mid-way through the second period and did not return. It is going to leave a huge hole in the middle of the Panthers’ lineup on Monday. He is second on the team in scoring with 54 points, is their best defensive forward, and plays more minutes than any other forward on the team by a fairly significant margin.

Bad timing for the Panthers

There is never a good time for the Panthers to be without Barkov, but the timing here could not possibly be worse. Even though they have won six out of their past seven games they still enter Monday on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, two points back of Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.

This is your classic “four-point game” where a regulation win for one team would be a pretty significant swing in the standings. A regulation win for Florida would give them the current tiebreaker edge over Toronto. A regulation loss puts them four points back (with still two games in hand). And no, it’s not too early to start worrying about that. Especially since the Panthers are entering a pretty significant portion of their schedule. Their next seven games are against Toronto, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia (twice), Vegas, and one game against New Jersey mixed in.

Not only are six of those games against potential playoff teams, four of them (Toronto, Columbus, two against Philadelphia) are against teams they are directly competing with for a spot.

Related: Barkov leaves game as Panthers’ winning streak ends

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.