Continuing with our fresh new format, here’s a new round of Panthers thoughts from the past little while.
1. From Scott Cullen, writing for TSN on the Panthers’ trade deadline playbook; February 1st:
The Plan: It turns out that the Computer Boys weren’t the problem in Florida and, like the Red Wings, the Panthers are a long way from a postseason spot. They don’t have particularly compelling players on expiring deals, however, so if they make a major deal it will be less obvious in nature. In the long run, they have some interesting core pieces, and some talented prospects, but need more talent in the supporting cast.
He’s mostly right.
The popular opinion, especially on social media, is that the ‘Computer Boys’ were the ones responsible for “tearing apart” the franchise record-setting, fueled-by-a-12-game-win-streak Panthers team following the 2015-16 season and leaving a mess for returning general manager Dale Tallon.
In reality, the 2015-16 team wasn’t really torn apart.
Willie Mitchell retired.
Brian Campbell and his family wanted to go back to Chicago.
Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov were traded for not only players no worse than them (Mark Pysyk and Jared McCann), but also draft picks used to select Adam Mascherin, Jonathan Ang, and Linus Nassen.
A whole host of AHL-caliber forwards – Howden, Knight, Shaw, McFarland, Grimaldi, Wilson – were left unsigned.
The tweaked management team signed eventual 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault, Colton Sceviour, James Reimer, Jason Demers, and Keith Yandle, and extended the contracts of the Panthers’ young core players to [mostly] team-friendly terms.
Signing Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau,and Vincent Trocheck each to contracts worth under $6 million today would be near impossible.
Were some off-ice matters handled as well as they could’ve been?
Probably not. But in terms of the roster, they did a good job recognizing a need for more speed, skill, and depth throughout the lineup while keeping the team in a good situation cap-wise.
Now, the Panthers are essentially back where they started.
Dale Tallon is back in charge, Marchessault is gone, Demers is gone, Reilly Smith is gone, they have virtually no bottom-6, and they’re back to relying on players who either aren’t totally ready or have a roster spot because they bring #character to the room.
2. The Panthers did in fact try to shore up their secondary scoring this season by signing 37-year old Radim Vrbata out of free agency and getting Jamie McGinn back from the Coyotes in the Demers trade.
Vrbata has five goals in 35 games this season after posting at least 20 goals in three of the last four years, but three of them came in one game and the other two have come over the last 26 games.
He’s shooting at an abysmal 4.2 percent during that span and he’s found himself scratched in each of the last five games.
He did lead the bottom-feeding Coyotes in points last season with 53, but as we’ve seen recently with Jussi Jokinen and most NHL overall players, it’s not easy to keep up that type of production into the mid-to-late 30’s.
However, I don’t think anyone really expected Vrbata to fall off as quickly as he has.
“It’s a good fit for him, he’s excited, and playing with some good, skill players, he’ll get some good production for us,” Dale Tallon said at the start of free-agency in July.
McGinn, on the other hand, doesn’t completely fit the Panthers’ style.
He brings a net-front presence that they lack, but he’s no speedster and plays a checking game more often than he does a skilled, offensive game.
Ideally, McGinn is a fit on fourth line, just not at the money he’s making.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Panthers unload him somehow, whether that’s through a buyout or a trade, especially with the early returns of Maxim Mamin and having Jayce Hawryluk in the pipeline waiting for his chance.
3. Nick Bjugstad has 2 goals in his last 25 games despite spending most of his time with the Panthers’ best players in Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, and Dadonov.
He leads the team in high-danger shot attempts (42), has the fourth-most scoring chances (93) at 5v5, and has two more goals and 11 more points than last season in two fewer games.
Better chances have come his way lately, and he does have five assists in his last 9 games, but I don’t think anyone would sit here and say that’s enough, especially for a team that is in need of secondary scoring.
The playoffs aren’t mathematically out of the question just yet, but if the Panthers have any desire to make a late push – which would require winning a good majority of their remaining games – Bjugstad has to start putting the puck in the net and being more consistent.
He is on pace for about 14 goals and 39 points, which is roughly on par with his $4.1 million annual salary, but he could lose his top-6 spot soon with players like Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett expected to arrive in the near future.
Dale Tallon and company were banking on a bounce-back year from Bjugstad and technically they got that, but I do think they would like to see more out of him still.
4. Remember, the Panthers opted to protect Bjugstad in favor of Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, who now combine for 36 goals, 64 assists, and 100 points this season in Vegas.
“I think [depth scoring] is gonna come,” said Tallon in mid-January. “We’re relying on a lot of young players and it takes time. Scoring is the hardest thing to do.”
Tallon said in July at the start of free-agency that the team’s “core, young guys need to take over this team,” and it’s fair to say they’ve done that this season.
Huberdeau, Trocheck, and Barkov lead the Panthers in scoring, and now the problem is that they don’t have nearly enough support around them to make that production worth anything.
You either have depth scoring or you don’t, and honestly, the Panthers’ really aren’t relying on too much youth up front outside of their top players, who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
We’ve already mentioned Nick Bjugstad. Jared McCann, Denis Malgin, and Connor Brickley are the only other young forwards in the lineup, and all three of them should ideally be in the AHL right now, but the Panthers gave themselves no other choice.
Henrik Haapala was mentioned as a possibility for the second-line left wing very early in the off-season, and so far he’s struggled to even stay healthy and produce in the AHL.
“I’ve always said we’re a four-line team and we need all four lines going,” said head coach Bob Boughner in October – yes, October – after a loss to the Lightning. “We’re not as deep as other teams and that’s why we need everybody.”
It’s really an issue when the coach himself says that his team isn’t deep enough or as deep as other teams.
It makes you wonder if they actually expected to get solid production up and down the lineup and are now surprised that things haven’t come to fruition, or if they didn’t expect much in the first place.
“We lost a proven goal scorer,” said the Panthers’ Director of Player Development, Bryan McCabe, on the loss of Jonathan Marchessault way back on June 22nd. “We’re definitely gonna miss his goal-scoring touch.”
Yep, they sure have missed it.
“We gotta find ways to score,” said Boughner just a few days ago after a 3-1 loss to the Kings. He has acknowledged the Panthers’ lack of secondary scoring basically all season long.
It’s really ironic when two players, Smith and Marchessault, who could have easily served as depth scoring options, are given away for peanuts at the Expansion Draft, and then members of the organization lament not only the loss of one of those players, but also the lack of scoring.
But I suppose it wouldn’t be pro sports without something weird and unexplainable like that.
5. From TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s Trade Deadline podcast, on the Panthers:
I could be way off the mark here but I do not suspect that Florida is going to be making too many significant moves at the deadline. I don’t get the sense that there’s any appetite for any rentals or quick-fixes in Florida, no band-aids, just try and stay there course with their young core. I think they’re disappointed a little bit where they’re at this year, but they also feel like they’re headed in the right direction. Obviously if Radim Vrbata is healthy enough to be considered a lower-end rental at the deadline, he’ll be moved, […] but I honestly don’t think Florida is gonna be that active between now and the deadline.
It’s pretty easy to agree with what McKenzie said.
Up front, basically all the Panthers have is their core and a handful of complimentary players that are part of the team’s future.
If Vrbata’s not gone at the deadline, he’s an unrestricted free-agent at the end of the season and almost certainly won’t be re-signed.
Jamie McGinn will be a few months shy of 31 by the time his contract is over at the end of next year, that is if he’s not dealt or bought out.
The Panthers have players coming in Mamin, Hawryluk, and even Sebastian Repo who could fill McGinn’s role or any other open spot in the bottom-6.
Could Bjugstad be a trade chip someday? I wouldn’t rule it out.
On the backend, the Panthers are fine for the most part.
The primary focus there should be a defenseman with experience (and not named Erik Gudbranson), considering Keith Yandle is the only blueliner on the team to have played in more than 300 NHL games.
Mackenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen are viable NHL defensemen, but they shouldn’t be anywhere except the bottom pair, at least for now.
6. From The Ottawa Sun on Sunday:
Two league executives told this newspaper Sunday the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks have all joined the Senators on the list of teams looking to unload [at the trade deadline].
And then there’s that.
Unload could mean a lot of things, especially in Florida since the Panthers don’t really have too much to unload.
In due time, we’ll see who was right and who was wrong.
7. The Panthers’ entire amateur scouting staff was in Florida this week for its mid-season meetings.
The team’s pro scouting staff, which had their meetings in late-January, were in attendance as well and both groups sat together to watch the home games against the Canucks and Kings.
The scouting staffs meet around this time each year to go over everything they’ve gathered thus far, form draft rankings, players they may want to acquire in trades for both the NHL and AHL rosters, and determine who they should take a closer look at in the second half of the year, among other things.
8. Craig Button, TSN’s Director Of Scouting, posted his annual list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects this past week.
The Panthers have three players on the list:
- Henrik Borgstrom (16)
- Aleksi Heponiemi (17)
- Owen Tippett (41)
One notable omission is 2017 4th-round pick Max Gildon who is third in goals (8) among all NCAA defensemen and is tied for first in goals and second in points (22) among all Hockey East defensemen.
Not bad for a freshman, but apparently not good enough to crack the top-50 list.
Meanwhile, freshman defenseman Cale Makar has just 3 goals and 18 points for UMass – in the same conference as Gildon – and is ranked 11th.
It probably helps that Makar had 8 points in 7 games at the World Juniors for Team Canada while Gildon was [oddly] left off the Team USA roster. That was another odd decision.
9. Is there a world where pending unrestricted free-agent John Tavares would come to Florida?
With no state income tax, he’d bring home some nice money, the Panthers would instantly turn into a playoff contender, and it would give them probably one of the best top-6 groups in the league.
Something else to think about.
10. The evolution of Harri Sateri has been interesting.
Drafted 10 years ago in the 4th round by the Sharks, Sateri spent three years in Finland before coming over to North America before playing just three seasons in the AHL.
He went back over to Europe to play in the KHL and put up good numbers there and in the 2017 World Championship.
“Well, he shut out Team USA in the quarterfinals […] for Finland and stood on his head,” said Dale Tallon after signing the 28-year old as a free-agent.
“So we liked his play. We want [Sam] Montembeault to be mentored and have protection in the minors right now, and the 3rd goalie is very important, depth in the organization. The 3rd goalie usually gets to play important games for you.”
They seemed to be fairly high on him before the season, but something must’ve changed between the start of the season and his recall to the Panthers following Roberto Luongo’s injury in early-December.
“Sateri is a quality goaltender but he doesn’t have a lot of experience,” said head coach Bob Boughner in mid-December.
That’s an interesting comment to make regarding a third goaltender, which is a guy you probably want to have at least some confidence in.
It’s not the same as the NHL, but Sateri played six years of pro hockey against quality shooting competition in Finland’s top pro league and the KHL, in addition to the time he spent with San Jose’s AHL affiliate.
He didn’t manage the greatest numbers before the Panthers recalled him – a 2.76 goals-against average and a 0.906 save percentage in 12 appearances, but the Springfield Thunderbirds really struggled early on and practically rebuilt their defense on the fly during that time as a result.
An injury to James Reimer gave Sateri a real chance in net and he eventually won four straight.
I thought he looked pretty good in his first NHL appearance on January 20th and he looked even better during the four game streak.
For whatever reason, the team went as far as starting Reimer in 17 straight games, including two sets of back-to-backs, to seemingly avoid using Sateri until Reimer gave them a reason too.
He now seems to have gained some trust back, although I’m still not exactly sure why he lost it in the first place.
Maybe that has something to do with his success?
11. Matt Buckles, a 4th round pick in 2013 by the Panthers, announced his retirement from hockey a couple of weeks ago.
Buckles spent the last 4 years at Cornell playing college hockey and signed an ATO with the Springfield Thunderbirds at the tail end of last season, recording 7 points in his first 9 pro games.
“After 16 years I have made the tough decision to step away from a game that has given me so much,” Buckles said in an Instagram post.
“Making this decision was not easy, but the injuries I have sustained that come along with playing a physical sport have forced me to think about my future, and make a decision that is in the best interest of my long-term health and well-being.”
He saw limited time out of the gate this season and managed just 3 points in 14 AHL games before tallying 14 points in 14 ECHL games with the Manchester Monarchs.
I always liked his game; he was a smart, two-way player and had a knack for picking up loose pucks around the net and redirecting shots.
In the end though, health is obviously one of the most important things in life and I commend him for being able making a tough decision.
Best of luck to him in all of his future endeavors.
12. The Panthers signed forward Colton Sceviour on Monday morning to a three-year contract extension worth $3.6 million ($1.2 million per year).
Sceviour was due to become an unrestricted free-agent at the end of this season.
He made just $1.9 million in total from the two-year deal he signed at the start of free-agency in 2016. Him and Marchessault were the first two pieces the Panthers’ tweaked front office added as soon as the market opened on July 1st of that year.
That’s now the second ‘Computer Boy’ acquisition that Dale Tallon has opted to retain, joining defenseman Mark Pysyk.
The soon-to-be 29-year old has gone on to become a huge part of the Panthers’ penalty kill, logging the second-most shorthanded ice time among the team’s forwards over the past two seasons, and has proven to be a reliable, versatile option up front.
He’s totaled 38 points – 11 while shorthanded – in 126 career games with the Panthers.
He’ll be a solid, responsible veteran to have as the Panthers begin to add younger pieces to their lineup over the next few seasons.