Vincent Trocheck

Previewing the 2019-20 Florida Panthers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Much better … and they’re paying a premium to do so, what with Sergei Bobrovsky‘s risky seven-year, $70 million contract.

The changes in net didn’t stop there, with Roberto Luongo retiring and James Reimer being traded away. Joel Quenneville is the other big-name addition as head coach, while the Panthers also paid a pretty penny for Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

If nothing else, the Panthers proved that they’re willing to spend money.

Strengths: The Panthers entered 2018-19 with optimism for a simple reason: they have some great, young forwards. Aleksander Barkov is the headliner, but Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, and (if healthy) Vincent Trocheck are all excellent players, most of them signed on bargain deals.

On paper, there’s a pretty big drop-off from the top six to the two lower forward lines, even if Connolly ends up being a boost for Florida’s depth. One thing that can swing the depth battle a bit would be promising prospects graduating. Can Henrik Borgstrom take that next step? Might Owen Tippett leap to become a full-time NHL winger? Aleksi Heponiemi was already sent down to the AHL, but there are others who might win training camp battles, and they might just move the needle in playoff bubbles for the Cats.

Weaknesses: Florida’s defense is expensive, but not necessarily worth the money. That was an uncomfortable undercurrent to their goaltending struggles last season: how much of this came down to putting netminders in a position to fail? Stralman had some great highs during his underrated career, yet his play dropped off badly recently, so he might be yet another Panthers blueliner who fails to justify his price tag.

This is an area where Florida hopes that the combination of Bobrovsky’s often-elite goaltending mixes with Quenneville’s system to keep the puck out of the net, while that offense hogs the puck. There are situations where that juggling act might fail, and there are also doubts about Florida’s backup options if Bob struggles and/or gets injured.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Quenneville hopes to prove that he still has it, and the Panthers must be feeling impatient after years of disappointments, particularly after spending big bucks to get better. Coach Q isn’t bulletproof, but he’s pretty safe with this being his first season. Let’s call it a 2 on the seat scale.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Bobrovsky, Hoffman, and Trocheck.

After some drama and a final season of peaks and valleys in Columbus, Bob got his wish. He’s out from under Torts, and he got paid. Excuse me, he got paid. Now it’s time to prove that he’s still a Vezina-level goalie, even as he turns 31 on Sept. 20.

Hoffman, meanwhile, is chasing his big payday, as the sniper enters a contract year where his next deal can really climb or fall depending upon how he performs in 2019-20.

Trocheck has been a gem for the Panthers, yet it’s unclear how well he might perform not that far removed from a ghastly injury last season. It’s impressive that he was able to return in 2018-19, but can he find that pre-injury game that was so all-around brilliant?

Playoffs or Lottery: They’re closer to the playoffs than the lottery.

It’s not out of line to paint a picture of a huge jump, with health, Bobrovsky’s goaltending, strong top scorers, and Quenneville coalescing into a new-look contender. There are plenty of ways things can go wrong, too, including Bob having another so-so season like he did in 2018-19.

More than anything else, the Panthers might just face long odds to climb into the Atlantic’s top three, as they’re less of a sure thing than the Lightning, Maple Leafs, and Bruins. That doesn’t mean Florida can’t dislodge one or more of that seemingly mighty group, but it’s easier to picture them battling for a wild-card spot.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Pressure is on Tallon for Panthers to win after big offseason

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers. 

Even with their lack of recent success there has still been a lot to like about this Florida Panthers team.

Aleksander Barkov is one of the best all-around players in the world and just now entering his prime years. He is a star and a cornerstone player that you should be able to build a championship contending team around.

Along with him, the Panthers just finished the 2018-19 season as a top-10 offensive team and have a pretty promising core of forwards in Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov. When combined with Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle on defense, there is a foundation here they should be able to compete with. What’s even better is that a lot of those core players (specifically Barkov and Huberdeau) are signed long-term to team-friendly contracts under the salary cap.

The key was going to be for general manager Dale Tallon and the front office to put the right people around them to allow that to happen. That was the mission for this offseason.

[MORE: 2018-19 summary | Three Questions | X-Factor]

The only question that matters for the Panthers — and Tallon specifically — is if he acquired the right people.

Among the new additions to the organization…

  • The hiring of Joel Quenneville, a three-time Stanley Cup winning and future Hall of Fame coach that has a history of success with Tallon.
  • One of the biggest free agent signings of the offseason in starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on a massive seven-year, $70 million contract. In the short-term it could be a huge addition and maybe even help put the Panthers back in the playoffs. Given Bobrovsky’s age, inevitable decline, and size of the contract it could also become a long-term headache.
  • The additional free agent signings of defender Anton Stralman (three years, $16.5 million) and forward Brett Connolly (four years, $14 million)

Those are some big contracts, all of them carrying varying degrees of long-term risk. It will probably become very apparent very early in the process if they are going to make a positive impact on getting the Panthers to where they want to be. That means Tallon’s long-term future with the team could be riding on the success or failure of those signings.

Tallon has been in a position of power with the Panthers since 2010 and during that time the team has seen its roster get overhauled, is now on its seventh different head coach, and has just two playoff appearances (and only five playoff victories) to show for that time. Given the talent the Panthers have at the top of the lineup, the high-profile coach they just hired, and the money they handed out this offseason (not to mention the eight-year contract defenseman Mike Matheson just signed a year ago) the expectation has to be for the Panthers to win, and to win right now.

The longer the team goes without winning, the more likely it is more changes get made and the Panthers are running out of people to change before they get to Tallon. You can’t trade every player, and it makes little sense to trade a Barkov or Huberdeau because the rest of the team isn’t good enough.

Quenneville is going to get some kind of an extended leash to start because of his resume and the fact he literally just arrived.

That leaves the person responsible for the final say over what the team looks like.

In the end the Bobrovsky contract will probably be what makes or breaks Tallon’s tenure in Florida.

If the Panthers get the Vezina-caliber goalie he was in Columbus it might be enough to propel them back to the playoffs this season and beyond.

If they do not get that goalie it is probably going to be more of the same for the Panthers on the ice, leaving the team with a pricey goalie on the wrong side of 30. That simply will not be good enough.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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’ Trocheck nearing a return after broken ankle

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Panthers desperately need a boost, and Vincent Trocheck has pronounced himself ready to provide one.

Barely eight weeks removed from surgery to repair the right ankle that he fractured by crashing into the boards during a game at Ottawa, Trocheck took part in a full practice Thursday for the first time since the injury happened. He’s been back on the ice for the last couple weeks, limited to either working out either on his own or with a small group.

”I’ve been pushing to play for the last couple weeks,” Trocheck said. ”So I don’t think it’s up to me at this point. It’s just a matter of whenever they give me the go-ahead. When I get back out there, it’ll be 100 percent me. Whenever they give me the go, I’ll be ready.”

He’ll likely miss only three more games before returning. The Panthers play Friday against Toronto, Saturday against Nashville and Monday against San Jose. The All-Star break follows that stretch, and when Florida resumes play on Feb. 1 it seems that barring a setback Trocheck will be back in the lineup.

”The doctors have basically said his healing process is back to where it should be, his cardio is back to where it should be, he’s ready to play as of right now,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ”But we’re going to do the smart thing, obviously, and not rush him back until after the break. If it was Game 7 tonight, he’d be in.”

Trocheck had a series of checkmarks to hit before reaching this point. The first step was getting his cast removed after surgery, followed by having the ability to walk again, then some strength-building, then getting skates on and stepping back onto the ice. All that remains on the list now is suiting up for games.

”It was tough to see him go out,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. ”But it’s nice to have him back.”

Trocheck can’t get back soon enough for Florida, which is facing a long road back into the playoff picture.

The Panthers have lost seven consecutive games, their longest slide since dropping nine straight early in the 2013-14 season. They started Thursday 14 points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and even with roughly half the season left – 37 of their 82 games – they are, at best, highly doubtful to make a postseason appearance.

”I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been tough to watch,” Trocheck said. ”Win or lose, I want to be on the ice. It’s a matter of me wanting to be out there. It’s been a tough couple months.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Panthers’ Trocheck back on ice, continuing ankle rehab

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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck was back on the ice and skating Friday, barely six weeks removed from fracturing his right ankle.

The team released a photo of Trocheck on the ice before the team practiced. There is still no timetable for his return.

Trocheck had three goals and 11 assists in 18 games before he got hurt in a gruesome scene after crashing into the boards at Ottawa on Nov. 19, and had surgery to repair the fracture two days later. Trocheck has said that he plans on returning to the team this season.

He had career-highs of 31 goals and 44 assists for the Panthers last season.

MORE: Panthers’ Trocheck stretchered off after suffering leg injury

Panthers’ Trocheck has surgery for fractured ankle

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck has had surgery for a fractured ankle and may play again this season.

Trocheck was hurt when twisted his right leg while chasing the puck near the end boards in Monday night’s game at Ottawa. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher.

”It’s never easy to see a player and person like him suffer an injury like this, but we are confident that he will make a full recovery and be back on the ice with our team this season,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in a statement Wednesday.

The 2017 NHL All-Star has three goals and 14 points in 18 games this season.

Florida recalled forward Denis Malgin from Springfield of the AHL in advance of Wednesday night’s game at Tampa Bay.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports