Florida Panthers 2020-21 Season Preview

From Getty Images

 

       For all of last year, the Panthers were embracing for pain. They knew that Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov were free agents, and that they couldn\’t sign both, or maybe even one of them. Even more quality players like Erik Haula left, but in came a savior to get them on the road to recovery. Longtime GM Dale Tallon was fired, and former Columbus AGM Bill Zito came in and did a great job. Zito went to the cheap side of the market, and got a ton of quality players to replenish the Panthers, and brought in some of his former Blue Jackets as well. 

Additions: F Anthony Duclair, F Patric Hornqvist, F Alex Wennberg, D Markus Nutivaara, F Vinnie Hinostroza, D Radko Gudas, F Carter Verhaeghe, F Ryan Lomberg, D Kevin Connauton (PTO), G Scott Darling (PTO).

Subtractions: F Mike Hoffman, F Evgenii Dadonov, F Erik Haula, D Mike Matheson, D Mark Pysyk, F Colton Sceviour, F Brian Boyle, D Josh Brown, F Lucas Wallmark, F Dryden Hunt.

Best Move: Trading Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour to Pittsburgh for Patric Hornqvist.

Worst Move: Signing Radio Gudas to a three year deal.

One Move I\’d Make: Bring back Brian Boyle, maybe on a PTO.

Best Contract: Aleksander Barkov, two years remaining with a $5.9 million cap hit. 

Worst Contract: Sergei Bobrovsky, six years remaining with a $10 million cap hit.

New Division Rivals: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, Tampa Bay.

Pending UFAs: Alex Wennberg, Vinnie Hinostroza, Chris Driedger.

Pending RFAs: Anthony Duclair, Riley Stillman, Brady Keeper, Chase Priskie, Sam Montembeault.

Current RFAs: Aleksi Saarela, Henrik Borgstrom.

Forwards

The dynamic duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau will return for another season. With Hoffman and Dadonov gone, Huberdeau\’s 23 goals is the most among returning Panthers. He also led the team with 78 points in 69 games. Barkov received Byng and Selke votes for the fifth consecutive season. He scored 20 goals, hitting that mark for the fifth time in a row, and had 62 points in 66 games. The Panthers have a lot of cap flexibility thanks to Barkov and Huberdeau having matching $5.9 million cap hits. They might have trouble after 2021-22, when Barkov is a UFA, with Huberdeau\’s deal expiring the year afterwards. Whoever replaces Dadonov on the right wing is a mystery, with many different options available for Head Coach Joel Quenneville. In his first two full seasons in Florida, Frank Vatrano has combined for 40 goals and 33 assists, with 16 of those goals coming in 2019-20. In his prime, Patric Hornqvist was a great goal scorer, especially on the power play. He played in 52 games for the Penguins last year, but still managed to score 17 goals, with three of them coming on the man advantage. Vincent Trocheck was traded to Carolina last year, and his replacement, Erik Haula, also left as a free agent. Alex Wennberg looks to be the replacement to both for the time being. He was overpaid with Zito\’s Blue Jackets, leading to his buyout, but he always had a CF% above the team average. Wennberg does not score goals whatsoever, but can rack up assists. Put him with a goal scorer like Hornqvist, and that would work. Another former Blue Jacket, Anthony Duclair comes in on a cheap, $1.7 million deal. His career came back on track with Ottawa, as he scored 23 goals with 40 points in 66 games. Duclair is 25 and the Panthers are already his sixth team. The Panthers signed Brett Connolly to a four year deal after he scored 22 goals in Washington, and he did score at a higher pace in year one with Florida. In 69 games, Connolly netted 19 goals with a 52.3 CF%. The 10th overall pick in 2017, Owen Tippett was regarded as one of the top goal scorers in the draft at the time. He definitely scored in the OHL, and in his first AHL season last year, Tippett scored 19 goals with 40 points in 46 games. A fourth liner in Boston, Noel Acciari played saw some first line action with the Panthers, and scored 20 goals when his average ice time increased by three minutes a game. Somehow, he only had seven assists. Don\’t expect his goal scoring to continue, but he can still kill penalties. The Panthers brought in Vinnie Hinostroza on a nice, cheap one year deal. He scored 16 goals in 2018-19, but that fell to five in 68 games for Arizona last year. He recorded 17 assists as well. Carter Verhaeghe finally got a chance in Tampa last year, and scored nine goals in 52 games, and got into eight games during their run to the Stanley Cup. In 2018-19, Verhaeghe scored 34 goals with 82 points in 76 AHL games. The Panthers acquired Aleksi Saarela in a minor deal in October 2019 from Chicago. He scored two goals with two assists in nine games last year. Saarela scored 12 goals in 19 games while playing in Finland during the break. When the season starts, he will be 24 years old. The Panthers signed Ryan Lomberg to a two year, one way deal after he scored 11 goals with 20 points in 21 AHL games. While he only had 14 penalty minutes, in prior years Lomberg played an old-school style. In 11 NHL games, he has 32 penalty minutes. Former first rounder Henrik Borgstrom has been disappointing in the AHL and NHL. He had 23 points in 49 AHL games last year. 2018 first rounder Grigori Denisenko is coming to America from the KHL. Last year, he had 12 points in 38 games. 

Defensemen

While Aaron Ekblad only scored five goals, not hitting the double digit mark for the first time in his career, he scored a career high 41 points in a career low 67 games, and averaged one second under 23 minutes a night. Ekblad had an amazing 11.4 GAR. He plays with analytics darling MacKenzie Weegar, who was an RFA rumored to be in trade talks this past offseason. Weegar had 18 points in 45 games, with an 8.4 GAR. He may be 34 years old, but Keith Yandle can still put up points. Yandle finished with 45 points in 69 games, hitting the 40 point plateau for the 10th consecutive season (minimum 50 games). Anton Stralman signed a three year deal last offseason that was questionable at the time. The 34 year old had 19 points in 64 games, with his lowest GAR since 2010-11. He is overpaid now with a $5.5 million cap hit. Florida traded away AHLer Cliff Pu to acquire Markus Nutivaara, who had nine points in 37 games last year. He doesn\’t bring much to the table offensively, but Nutivaara is a nice third pairing defensive defenseman. Hard hitting defenseman Radko Gudas comes in to replace Mike Matheson, who had an awful 2019-20. Gudas had 164 hits in 63 games for Washington last year, with 15 points and a career best +15 rating. He averaged under 17 minutes a night for the first time in his career. 22 year old Riley Stillman has no goals in 35 career NHL games. 34 of them came last year, and he had five assists. He played in three of the team\’s playoff games. Brady Keeper had 18 points with 108 penalty minutes in 61 games in the AHL last year, and subbed in for Stillman in one postseason game. 

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky is known to be inconsistent at times. He\’s had some great seasons, some good seasons, and some mediocre seasons. Last year might have been his first truly bad season since he was a Flyer. Bobrovsky had a .900 SV% with a 3.23 GAA and a -14.91 GSAA, making every single person in the organization question the seven year, $70 million contract Bobrovsky signed before the season. When he\’s on his game, he\’s a top-three goalie in the league. It would be odd to see a two-time Vezina winner suddenly fall off of a cliff. For a few years, Chris Driedger was either the third goalie in Ottawa or stuck in the AHL. He finally got an NHL chance last year as Bob\’s backup, and capitalized, with a 2.05 GAA and a .938 SV% in 12 games. That play will earn him the job over Sam Montembeault, a 24 year old who had an .890 SV% in 14 games in 2019-20. 

Projected Lines

Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Frank Vatrano

Anthony Duclair – Alex Wennberg – Patric Hornqvist

Brett Connolly – Noel Acciari – Owen Tippett

Aleksi Saarela – Carter Verhaeghe – Vinnie Hinostroza

Extras: Ryan Lomberg, Henrik Borgstrom, Grigori Denisenko

MacKenzie Weegar – Aaron Ekblad

Keith Yandle – Markus Nutivaara

Anton Stralman – Radko Gudas

Extras: Riley Stillman, Brady Keeper

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Extras: Sam Montembeault

Projection

The Panthers look a lot better than they did before. While you wouldn\’t expect that after losing Hoffman, Dadonov and others, Zito did a nice job adding scorers and depth players so that there are no apparent holes. Depending on Bobrovsky\’s play, goaltending might be one of them. Of course, the last playoff spot will come down to Florida and Zito\’s old team, the Blue Jackets. I\’d give Columbus the edge, but if we see vintage Bobrovsky, I wouldn\’t be surprised if the Panthers can push themselves in. 

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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