The 2021-22 regular season was the year of the Panthers. A high-octane offense coupled with decent defense and goaltending led to a President’s Trophy and the inevitable playoff failure that comes with that award. Florida went all-in at the deadline, and saw the effects pay off this offseason. The Panthers are clearly not as good as they were last year. But are they still a Cup contender?
Offseason additions: F Matthew Tkachuk, F Colin White, F Nick Cousins, F Rudolfs Balcers, D Marc Staal, F Eric Staal (PTO), F Chris Tierney, D Michael Del Zotto, F Gerald Mayhew.
Offseason subtractions: F Jonathan Huberdeau, D MacKenzie Weegar, F Claude Giroux, D Ben Chiarot, F Mason Marchment, F Joe Thornton, F Noel Acciari, D Robert Hagg, F Maxim Mamin.
The Panthers traded away their all-time point leader after a 115-point season. If that doesn’t put pressure on the front office, then nothing will. In return for both Jonathan Huberdeau, top-pairing defender MacKenzie Weegar, and a first-round pick, Florida acquired Matthew Tkachuk. The good news is that Tkachuk is a superstar capable of replacing Huberdeau. But no forward could match the impact of both players. Tkachuk scored 42 goals with 104 points in 82 games for the Flames last season. He’ll get the chance to play with Aleksander Barkov, who has been nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy in each of the past seven seasons. A Byng and Selke winner, Barkov scored 39 goals in 67 games last season, with 88 total points. Barkov had an xGF% above 58, just like linemate Carter Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe has been a star since coming to the Panthers. He scored 24 goals with 55 points in the regular season, then scored six times with six assists in 10 postseason games.
Florida will be missing a key producer until at least December in Anthony Duclair, who has an Achilles injury. Duclair scored 31 goals with 58 points last season. Sam Reinhart’s first season with the Panthers couldn’t have gone any better. He scored a career-high 33 goals with 82 points in 78 games. Reinhart was tied for the second best xGF% on the team at 59.51 percent. Meanwhile, Sam Bennett proved that his amazing numbers after being acquired from Calgary in 2020-21 were not a fluke. He scored 28 goals with 49 points, both career-highs. He did this while being a full-time center for the first time since 2016-17. With Duclair hurt and Mason Marchment gone, the second-line left-wing is open. Of the new acquisitions, Rudolfs Balcers has the most offensive upside. Along with solid underlying numbers, he scored 11 goals with 23 points in 61 games for the Sharks last season.
Lost in the Calder race last season was Anton Lundell, who finished sixth in voting. The 2020 first-round pick scored 18 goals with 44 points in 65 games. Lundell was on the ice for a ridiculous 4.37 GF/60 at five-on-five. The next player for the Panthers to fix is Colin White, who was bought out by the Senators. White has just 51 points in his last 130 games after having 41 in his first full season. He played in only 24 games for Ottawa in 2021-22, recording 10 points. Veteran Nick Cousins will join his sixth NHL team, and play on the third-line. He had 22 points for the Predators last season. He doesn’t offer a ton of offense or play special teams.
Aside from Lundell, the Florida fourth-line could actually be better than the third. Veteran Patric Hornqvist is a huge part of it, even with his ice time being significantly cut back last season. Hornqvist had 28 points in 68 games with an amazing 65.26 xGF%. Ryan Lomberg had 92 penalty minutes with 117 hits in 55 games, while also scoring nine goals. Lomberg doesn’t get a ton of ice time when he does play, but had nearly one goal scored individually per 60 minutes. The final member of the line is Eetu Luostarinen, who has settled into a regular role after coming over from Carolina in the Vincent Trocheck trade. Luostarinen had 26 points in a career-high 78 games played. Another Senator trying to redeem himself is Chris Tierney, who started his Ottawa tenure off well, but struggled the last two seasons. He had 18 points in 70 games in 2021-22. In 40 games for the Ducks and Flyers last year, Gerald Mayhew scored 11 goals, putting him into an NHL roster spot discussion. The Panthers also have Eric Staal in camp on a PTO. He didn’t play in the NHL last year, instead playing in the Olympics.
Without Weegar, the Panthers’ defense looks a lot shallower. All of a sudden, they are dependent on Aaron Ekblad, who has sustained a major injury in the last two seasons. While playing in only 61 games last year, Ekblad scored a career-high 57 points, with 15 of them being goals. He finished sixth in Norris voting. His xGF% led Panther defenders by nearly four percentage points. The next man up on the left side is Gustav Forsling, who regularly played with every right-handed defender but Ekblad last year. Forsling has been a great find since being claimed off waivers in 2021. He had 37 points in 71 games last year but had a 3.33 xGA/60. The only Panther defender at a worse number was rental Ben Chiarot.
Brandon Montour unsurprisingly set a new career-high in points in his first season with the Panthers, scoring 11 goals with 26 assists. Montour’s 55.5 xGF% was second behind Ekblad on the Florida defense. Former Chicago draft pick Lucas Carlsson played in a career-high 40 games, although he averaged less than 13 minutes of ice time. Carlsson had nine points with a 2.67 xGA/60, the best among semi-regular Panther defensemen.
The physical presence that is Radko Gudas completed his second season in Florida with 355 hits. That didn’t only lead the NHL, but was also the seventh-most hits in a single season since it started to be tracked in 2005-06. Gudas is 13th in hits all-time in that span. He could easily pass Zdeno Chara, Dion Phaneuf, and maybe even Chris Neil this season to sneak into the top-ten. Gudas could be paired with Marc Staal, who is top-50 in blocked shots all-time. Staal only had 16 points in 71 games, but his GF/60 led Detroit defenders. Veteran Michael Del Zotto had 13 points in 26 games for the Senators last season, which is a good pace. If he gets into a game, the Panthers will be Del Zotto’s ninth NHL team.
The wild inconsistency of Sergei Bobrovsky continued in his third season with the team. Thankfully for Florida, it benefitted them this time. Bobrovsky had a .913 save percentage and a 2.67 GAA, which isn’t special by any means. However, he was top-ten in goals saved above expected, and was the sixth-best goalie in the playoffs. That doesn’t live up to his salary, but still nice to see after a few bad seasons. The concern lies on Spencer Knight, who had a disappointing rookie season. Knight played in 32 games, with a .908 save percentage, a 2.79 GAA, and a negative GSAx. Before jumping to conclusions, remember that it was his age-20 season.
Matthew Tkachuk – Aleksander Barkov – Carter Verhaeghe
Rudolfs Balcers – Sam Bennett – Sam Reinhart
Nick Cousins – Anton Lundell – Colin White
Ryan Lomberg – Eetu Luostarinen – Patric Hornqvist
Scratched: Chris Tierney, Gerald Mayhew
Gustav Forsling – Aaron Ekblad
Lucas Carlsson – Brandon Montour
Marc Staal – Radko Gudas
Scratched: Michael Del Zotto