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Panthers still aren’t getting money’s worth with Bobrovsky

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Few teams needed better goaltending more than the Florida Panthers last summer. So, when Sergei Bobrovsky hit the free agent market, the Panthers ignored red flags like age and a mixed 2018-19 season to snatch Bob up.

On paper, the move makes a ton of sense. The Panthers disappointed last season, yet there was a feeling of “… But what if they could just get some stops?” Then, poof here comes a seemingly perfect opportunity. Goalies of Bobrovsky’s caliber rarely hit the open market. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time a two-time Vezina winner became available at least somewhat close to their prime years, yet there Bobrovsky was.

But, again, there were some red flags flashing.

During a busy Saturday afternoon in the NHL, the hockey world got a reminder that you don’t always get what you pay for when you hand $10 million per year to a goalie, even one as accomplished as Bobrovsky.

[Bobrovsky wasn’t off to a great start, in particular.]

Panthers pull Bobrovsky against Sabres

The Panthers likely already entered the first intermission vs. Buffalo with serious frustration. Despite managing an 11-5 shots on goal advantage through 20 minutes, the Sabres managed a 1-0 lead.

Things spiraled out of control for Bobrovsky and the Panthers during the middle frame, as Bob allowed two more goals. Joel Quenneville saw enough, pulling Bobrovsky after the 31-year-old gave up three goals on just seven SOG.

Blaming Bobrovsky alone is unfair, as he could only do so much. Take, for example, this Conor Sheary 2-0 goal:

 

Still, there’s only so much you can do when a goalie barely stops more than half of the attempts he faces.

Bobrovsky giving Panthers more of the same numbers

Teams who allow too many goals face chicken-and-the-egg arguments. That’s often fitting, really, because usually the problems are a mix: goalies should stop more pucks, but their teams could put them in better situations.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon either misdiagnosed the problem as mostly goalie-related, or was throwing up a Hail Mary pass that Bobrovsky could save his bacon.

Either way, it’s painful to note how similar the Panthers’ problems are despite throwing a ton of money and resources at goaltending.

Heading into Saturday, Bobrovsky sported a putrid .897 save percentage. Adjusting for context only helps so much; Bob’s -10.94 goals saved against average languishes among the worst in the NHL. By that standard at Hockey Reference, Bob has only been slightly more effective than the likes of Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones, starters suffering through profoundly miserable seasons.

Such numbers parallel the season-sinking work of James Reimer and Roberto Luongo from 2018-19. Uncomfortably so.

Also uncomfortable: comparing 2018-19 Reimer with the 2019-20 version. Nestled in the Carolina Hurricanes cocoon, Reimer improved his save percentage to .914 versus last season’s rough .900 mark. Reimer’s career average is also .914, making you wonder what happened in Florida — though it’s crucial to remember that, as always, “goalies are voodoo.”

Nature versus nurture

When the Panthers hired Quenneville, they described Coach Q as “transformative.” So far, the Panthers’ overall play seems … mostly middle of the pack?

The Panthers give the impression of probably deserving a little bit better from goaltending, but by how much? What portion of the blame goes to Bobrovsky and other goalies versus the team around them?

Panthers outscore some, but not all, of their problems

Florida deserves credit for hanging around the East playoff bubble considering their troubles stopping pucks.

While allowing a third-worst 3.35 goals against per game (before Saturday) qualifies as worrisome, the Panthers also rank third-best with 3.55 goals for per game. The Panthers generate more goals than they allow, so maybe the situation isn’t so dire.

Perhaps the Panthers’ well-compensated coach can turn enough knobs to make life easier for their well-compensated goalie?

After performances like Saturday’s dud against Buffalo, it’s easy to get pessimistic about Bobrovsky. An optimist may counter that Florida isn’t that far away from finding the right balance.

Unfortunately, a realist will note that the Panthers wouldn’t be in the playoffs if they began right now, and face a significant hill to climb in an Atlantic Division that’s starting to look stacked once again — at least at the top.

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: Markstrom stops 49 for Canucks; Foegele dominates

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Three Stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. He is doing everything he can to earn himself a big payday this summer. Markstrom helped the Canucks extend their current winning streak to four games while also jumping back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He stopped 49 out of 51 shots in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, stealing two huge points for his team. He has really established himself as a quality NHL goalie over the past couple of years, and this might have been one of his best games yet.

2. Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks. He needed a huge game, and he delivered one. He recorded his first career hat trick to help lift the Sharks to a much-needed 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. You can read all about Meier’s game, as well as the Sharks’ big win, right here.

3. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. Foegele was, quite simply, a beast for the Hurricanes on Saturday night. He finished with four points (two goals, including a shorthanded goal, and two assists), was a plus-four, and attempted seven shots during the Hurricanes’ 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals. It is the first four-point game of his NHL career and only the second time he has recorded more than two points in a game. The win helped the Hurricanes keep pace in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division and snapped what had been a three-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Ryan Strome had four points (including two goals) and Tony DeAngelo scored an overtime winner for the New York Rangers as they put an end to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ winning streak.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a brutal start that saw them give up the first 18 shots of the game (and two goals) to earn a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Killorn scored two goals and Victor Hedman had four assists in the win.
  • Bryan Rust scored two more goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they held on for a 6-4 win against the Nashville Predators. Jake Guentzel‘s power play goal with one minute to play in regulation was the game-winning goal.
  • Mark Stone scored two goals in a dominant Vegas Golden Knights win to help them jump ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Mike Hoffman had three points for the Florida Panthers as they overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-4, handing the Red Wings their fifth consecutive defeat.
  • Ben Bishop made 42 saves for the Dallas Stars and Alexander Radulov scored the shootout winner in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Highlights of the Night

Mika Zibanejad is on a roll for the Rangers right now and this second period goal off the rush was a real beauty.

Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman both scored their first career goals for the Sharks on Saturday.

The one highlight of the night for the Coyotes was this tic-tac-toe passing play to set up Michael Grabner for a goal.

Factoids

  • Steven Stamkos recorded his 800th career point for the Lightning on Saturday night.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored the 256th power play goal of his career for the Washington Capitals. That moves him ahead of Teemu Selanne for third on the all-time list. [Capitals PR]
  • Marc-Andre Fleury recorded the 454th win of his career to tie Curtis Joseph for the sixth-most wins in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Joe Thornton recorded career assist 1,079 for the Sharks, moving him into a tie with Adam Oates for seventh most in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Markstrom’s 49 saves were the most by a Canucks goalie since Roberto Luongo stopped 54 shots in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Luongo was eventually traded for Markstrom. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Montreal Canadiens 4
Florida Panthers 5, Detroit Red Wings 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Nashville Predators 4
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Washington Capitals 4
Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Arizona Coyotes 1
San Jose Sharks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 1

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.

Roberto Luongo back with Panthers as special adviser

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Roberto Luongo retired from the Florida Panthers. He just never left.

And now the goaltender is officially part of the franchise again.

Florida’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts has agreed to become a special adviser to general manager Dale Tallon, a move that has been in the works for some time and was formally announced Wednesday.

His hiring was no surprise: Luongo has been a regular fixture at games with the Florida front-office brain trust this season, only now wearing suits instead of skates and having conversations in press boxes instead of locker rooms.

”I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with Roberto during his time playing for the Panthers and am proud to welcome him to our franchise’s hockey operations staff,” said Tallon, who is both Florida’s GM and president of hockey operations.

The 40-year-old Luongo retired this past summer after 19 seasons in the NHL, 11 of them with Florida, and indicated then that he would be interested in staying with the Panthers in some capacity. His plan was to take some time and figure out in what role, and how quickly.

Turns out, the five-time NHL All-Star didn’t need that long to think.

Luongo and his family are remaining as residents of Parkland, Florida – the city where he lived at the end of his playing career – and since he’s sticking around, it was always assumed that he was going to be with Tallon again before long.

”Roberto always approached every game with an unmatched work ethic and we are confident he will take to this new role with the same passion,” Tallon said. ”A cornerstone player in our franchise’s history, we are thrilled that Lu will be a part of shaping our franchise’s future.”

Luongo joins Panthers senior vice president Shawn Thornton, director of player personnel Bryan McCabe and assistant coach Derek MacKenzie as former Florida players who have remained with the team after retirement in various key roles.

The Panthers are retiring Luongo’s No. 1 jersey on March 7, before a game against Montreal, his hometown team.

Luongo was the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft by the New York Islanders, with whom he made his NHL debut on Nov. 28, 1999. Luongo then spent five years with Florida, the next eight with Vancouver and returned to the Panthers on March 14, 2014. His last game was April 6, two days after his 40th birthday.

NHL Power Rankings: Best season starts in league history

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New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad and Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha are two of the most surprising — and productive — players through the first week of the NHL season.

Zibanejad is already up to eight points in the Rangers’ first two games, while Mantha is coming off a four-goal effort on Sunday and already has seven points (including five goals) for the Red Wings.

With their fast starts in mind, we wanted to use this week’s Power Rankings to take a look back at some of the best individual starts to past seasons.

Which fast starts make the cut?

To the rankings!

1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers/Los Angeles Kings (1983-84 and 1988-89). Bless the 1980s NHL and its lack of defense and overmatched goaltenders. Gretzky’s 1983-84 season was one of those truly baffling years where no one could stop him. He opened with 15 points in five games and then went on to record at least one point in each of his first 51 games. He was held without a point in just three games all year! A few years later Gretzky moved to Los Angeles where he posted 13 points in his first five games in 1988-89 as part of a 22-game point streak to open the year.

2. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1988-89 and 1992-93). Lemieux was a hockey cheat code in the late ’80s and early ’90s and had two different starts where he recorded at least 17 points in the first five games of a season. He first did it in 1988-89 with nine goals and 10 assists, including an eight-point game in a 9-2 win against the St. Louis Blues. He went on to finish that year with 85 goals, 199 points, and one of the most controversial second place MVP finishes ever. The ’92-93 season was Lemieux at his most dominant, and it began with him putting 17 points on the board in the first five games. He would go on to record at least two points in each of his first 12 games. This was also the year he missed nearly two months battling Hodgkin’s disease, only to return in early March and overcome a 17-point deficit in the scoring race to top Pat LaFontaine for the Art Ross Trophy.

3. Mike Bossy, New York Islanders (1984-85). This was a truly dominant start for one of the best pure goal scorers the league has ever seen. Bossy started the ’84-85 season with nine goals and 18 points in the Islanders’ first five games and he never really slowed down after that. He went on to score at least one goal in each of his first 10 games (including two four-goal efforts) with 32 total points.

4. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (2017-18). He opened the Capitals’ Stanley Cup winning season with seven goals in his first two games and nine in his first five. It was the best start to a season in his career. Those are the type of numbers you would have expected from the 1980s era NHL. Doing it during this era, and over the age of 30, was truly incredible.

5. Michel Goulet, Quebec Nordiques (1987-88). Goulet had some massive years for the Nordiques in the 1980s, with the ’87-88 season being one of his best. He finished with 48 goals and 106 points and it all started with a dominant run at the start that saw him score six goals to go with 12 assists in his first five games. He had nine three-point games before Thanksgiving, including four four-point games.

6. Peter Stastny, Quebec Nordiques (1982-83). The Stastnys were wildly productive players from the moment they arrived in the NHL. Peter opened the 1982-83 season with eight goals in his first three games. Since the start of the 1979-80 season, no player in the NHL has scored more goals in their team’s first three games.

7. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild (2014-15). His 2014-15 season did not end up being a great one overall, but he started the year about as well as any goalie has ever started a season in recent memory. He recorded a shutout in three of the Wild’s first five games, allowing just four total goals during that stretch.

8. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers (2005-06). Still probably the most under appreciated great goalie in NHL history simply because he never ended up getting his name on the Stanley Cup. During his first stint with the Panthers he took on a massive workload and was peppered with shots every night and almost always giving his team a chance. He opened 2005-06 with back-to-back shutouts in his first two games and had a save percentage over .960 through Florida’s first five games. It was the second year in a row he led the league in shots faced and saves. He was traded to Vancouver after the season.

9. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks (2012-13). Marleau was one of the league’s top goal-scorers between 2008 and 2012 and looked like he was on track to continue that run when he opened the lockout shortened 2012-13 season with two goals in each of his first four games. Just for good measure, he scored one goal in his fifth game to give him nine goals in his first five games. He was never able to maintain that pace all year and finished with just eight goals over the remaining 43 games. He did, however, open the playoffs that year with a goal in five of his first six postseason games, including each of the first four. It was a very streaky year.

10. Mark Parrish, New York Islanders (2001-02). I mainly just wanted to include this one because I vividly remember it for its total randomness. Mark Parrish? Scoring all of the goals? For the early 2000s Islanders? It made no sense at the time. Parrish was in his second year with the Islanders after being acquired in the doomed-from-the-beginning Luongo trade and opened the 2001-02 season with eight goals in the team’s four games, and then 12 goals through 12 games. He went on to score 30 that year (the only 30-goal season of his career) and while he was a very good player, he was never productive enough to make up for being traded for Luongo and Olli Jokinen.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 take huge risk on Bobrovsky: 7 years, $70M

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The Florida Panthers just cleaned their hands of the expensive, risky Roberto LuongoJames Reimer in net … only to get even riskier with Sergei Bobrovsky.

With Bobrovsky set to turn 31 on Sept. 20, the Panthers are throwing caution to the wind. They handed Bobrovsky a whopping seven year contract, and that term didn’t really buy them much savings – particularly with Florida’s tax perks in mind – as it’s roundly reported that the cap hit will be $10 million per year. The Panthers didn’t confirm the AAV in their release, but did include that seven-year term; The Athletic’s George Richards ranks among those reporting it at $10M per year.

Richards also notes that this is the richest contract in Panthers’ history, surpassing the $50M Pavel Bure received way back in 1999.

Unfortunately, goalies simply aren’t as easy to forecast as Hall of Fame, speedy snipers. While Bobrovsky is the most prominent goalie to hit UFA status in ages, it doesn’t guarantee the Panthers much.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The most obvious comparable who comes to mind is Carey Price at $10.5M, and while Price enjoyed a relative bounce-back season in 2018-19, his contract remains terrifying for the Montreal Canadiens. The Panthers are rolling the dice in a big way that Bobrovsky will turn out better than Price, but it’s a big gamble. Really, it might be even bigger, as at least Montreal knew more about what they were getting. The Panthers, meanwhile, invest this $70M before Bobrovsky’s stopped a single puck behind their hit-or-miss defense.

None of this is to say that Bobrovsky isn’t good.

He was probably the best goalie in the NHL if you combine his efforts between 2016-17 (fantastic .931 save percentage) and 2017-18 (still strong .921 save percentage). Really, Bob has arguably been the league’s top netminder since the Flyers recklessly traded him to Columbus, if you look at the big picture. Even if that’s off the mark, Bob easily ranks in the top five.

Past accomplishments don’t stop pucks, however, and the aging cure is a concern. It’s also a little worrisome that Bob had an up-and-down 2018-19. While he salvaged his season with a strong finish, Bobrovsky still ended up with a middling .913 save percentage.

The bottom line is that the Panthers are taking a leap of faith. There’s talent there, but it’s dangerous to assume that Bobrovsky will be able to deliver, and it’s important to realize that even the most reliable goalies are … well, not all that reliable. With Florida’s state tax edge, the Panthers have to feel some regret in not dialing down the AAV, especially since they rolled the dice with the seven-year term, the largest they could offer.

Heading into the offseason, it was easier to square away the idea that the Panthers were rolling the dice with Bobrovsky if he was a package deal with fellow blockbuster free agent Artemi Panarin. It turned out that the pals were not a package deal, however, as Panarin is bound for Broadway with the New York Rangers.

Such a thought had to be enticing for Joel Quenneville, not to mention Panthers fans as a whole.

Instead, this is a less certain step forward, although it’s certainly another bold (and expensive) statement that the Panthers aren’t satisfied after suffering through decades of irrelevance. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2015-16, haven’t won a series since that unlikely run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, and have only appeared in the postseason on four occasions since 1996-97.

Betting on Bob to be the difference is extremely risky, but it shows that they’re trying. Goaltending was the biggest hurdle for the Panthers as they failed to take an expected next step in 2018-19, so on paper, they squared that up in a big way.

It just remains to be seen if Bobrovsky is worth anywhere near that much paper.