The Florida Panthers saw drastic improvement in 2015-16, winning the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record. They made the playoffs for just the second time this century, but lost in six games to the New York Islanders. The team was well-rounded, with young forwards Sasha Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathan Huberdeau learning under legend Jaromir Jagr up front and franchise defenceman Aaron Ekblad developing nicely on the back-end. Veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo turned in an All-Star performance.
Despite winning their first ever division title on the backs of their young talent, the Panthers fired their head scout in May. Scott Luce had been with the team since 2003. The team also promoted GM Dale Tallon to President of Hockey Operations and replaced him Tom Rowe, the associate GM. The team also made a pair of intriguing trades, sending tough D Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver for picks and getting rid of the contract of Marc Savard.
Projected Cap Space: $20.8MM, 18 players under contract
Key Restricted Free Agent: Vincent Trochek enjoyed a tremendous break-out season with 53 points in 76 games. His 25 goals were tied with Reilly Smith for second most on the Panthers. The two-way centre missed the end of the regular season with a fractured fibula. He returned for game 5 of the post-season, posting a single assist in two losses.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: Defenceman Brian Campbell is no longer the top-pairing offensive dynamo he once was. But he’s still a dependable second or third pairing option to mentor the Panthers young defence core. He’s also in line for a significant pay cut from the $7.142MM annual salary he’s made since 2008.
Other pending UFA Jaromir Jagr has already been extended for another season.
The team will be looking for a taker for underperforming centre Dave Bolland, who scored just 5 points in 25 games last season but is making $5.5MM per season until 2019. Any trade involving Bolland would require a big sweetener, so a buyout is more likely. His health is also a potential roadblock in either case.
As well, the Panthers will be looking to acquire another goaltender. The 37-year-old Luongo has played 129 games in the last two seasons, so a solid young goaltender who can play 30 games would ease the workload and allow Luongo to be fresher for the playoffs.
Last year’s 11th overall pick, young power forward Lawson Crouse is expected to be given a long, hard look in training camp, but the team may also choose to acquire a winger to replace trade deadline rentals Purcell and Hudler.
The Panthers have plenty of cap space and new management looking to make a splash. However, new GM Tom Rowe must be wary of cap space heading into next off-season, with 11 players coming off the books including Ekblad, Smith, Huberdeau, Jagr, Dmitry Kulikov, and Alex Petrovic.