With the trade deadline fast approaching, we will be taking a closer look at the situation for each team. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? Next up is a look at the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers are in a difficult situation with the NHL Trade Deadline fast approaching. Few truly consider the team to be a playoff contender, but the fact of the matter is they are not that far out from a postseason spot. Florida currently sits in 12th in the Eastern Conference and nowhere close to an Atlantic Division berth, which admittedly is an uninspiring scenario. However, trailing the New York Islanders by eight points with a whopping six games in hand, the Panthers don’t need an unrealistic stretch to catch up. Yet, what is problematic is their upcoming slate of games leading up to the trade deadline, in which they play four games, all of which are against bona fide playoff teams. An 0-4 result this week would not be much of a surprise, but could deter GM Dale Tallon from continuing to pursue a playoff berth. At the same time, a positive result against strong competition could instill hope in the team and urge them to make a deal to improve the roster. The Panthers’ deadline role is still very much up in the air.
25-23-6, 4th in the Atlantic Division
To be determined
Deadline Cap Space
$33,124,940 in deadline cap space
41/50 contracts per CapFriendly
2018: FLA 1st, ARI 2nd, FLA 3rd, VGK 4th, FLA 5th, FLA 6th, FLA 7th
2019: FLA 1st, FLA 2nd, FLA 3rd, FLA 4th, FLA 5th, FLA 6th, FLA 7th
The Panthers may not be buyers at the 2018 deadline, depending on their next few games, but can they really be “sellers” in the traditional sense? Florida has just two impending unrestricted free agents with any value: veteran forward Radim Vrbata and AHL import goalie Harri Sateri. Neither player will net Florida much at the deadline, as neither is more than a luxury depth addition, rather than a difference-making acquisition. The team decided to move forward with an extension for Colton Sceviour, who otherwise might have drawn ample deadline attention. What remains is a roster that offers little to contenders. However, where the Panthers could make a move is trading away players with term for other players with term, rather than participating in the rental market. While they may be happy to move the likes of Jamie McGinn or Derek MacKenzie, the Panthers will have to deal value for value if pursuing some of the bigger available targets. Defenseman Alex Petrovic, a restricted free agent this summer, appears destined to leave Florida sooner rather than later, while young forwards Denis Malgin, Maxim Mamin, and Dryden Hunt and rookie defenseman Ian McCoshen will surely be in demand.
The Panthers don’t have much in the way of prospect depth, especially on defense, so may be hesitant to deal away too many draft picks or their high-value picks, including a potential lottery pick this season. Henrik Borgstrom is a near untouchable, and could even make his NHL debut this season if the Panthers are in the hunt, whereas 2017 first-rounder Owen Tippett is definitely a non-starter. Adam Mascherin or Aleksi Heponiemi won’t enjoy the same protections and could be moved in the right deal.
1) Top-six winger with term
The only reason the Panthers would move any of the aforementioned young players is to bring in a long-term asset. Tallon and company have made it known they are looking for a top-six winger to round out a really strong top-six group. With names like Mike Hoffman, Max Pacioretty, Mats Zuccarello and more reportedly available, Florida is one team willing to make a major deal in-season to acquire such a name. A young roster player, prospect, and draft pick could be enough to land one of these experienced scorers, which will serve the Panthers this season and beyond.
2) Starting defenseman with term
Interestingly, the Panthers’ main focus appears to be at forward when the team actually scores at a decent clip, but struggles to prevent goals against. Florida is very attached to Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, and the recently-extended Michael Matheson, and for good reason; the trio have been excellent this season. The other half of the defense corps has been less impressive and both Petrovic and Mackenzie Weegar don’t seem to be long-term fits. The Cats could surely benefit from adding another body on the blue line that has a some years remaining on their contract. Such a deal could easily be made in free agency or on the summer trade market, but if the right player at the right price becomes available – such as an Oscar Klefbom for example – the Panthers will be interested.
3) Draft picks
At the end of the day, with their playoff chances caught in limbo and no desperation to make major deals, the most likely deadline strategy for Florida will be to simply trade away impending free agents or other expendable pieces for the best draft picks they can get. The cupboard is basically bare when it comes to defensive depth in the pipeline. A great quantity of picks in the next draft or two should help to rebuild the system on the back end as well as at other positions.