Entering the season, the Florida Panthers’ goaltender trio of Roberto Luongo, James Reimer, and Michael Hutchinson seemed like one of the deepest in the league. As the second month of the season wraps up, the Panthers currently hold the second-worst goals against average in the NHL and their play in the net has been the team’s greatest weakness. As a result, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports (subscription required) that, despite their considerable depth, Florida is looking for an upgrade behind the injury-plagued Luongo.
Injuries have limited Luongo, 39, to just nine appearances, but even when healthy he has not looked like himself. Luongo holds a 3.07 GAA and a .902 save percentage that, if the season were to end today, would be his career-low. It could be that Luongo’s play is reflective of his poor health, especially considering his strong performance just last year. However, between his injury issues and inconsistent results, Luongo simply can’t be relied upon as a bona fide starter. Of course, that was the reasoning behind the Panthers initially signing Reimer three years ago. Reimer looked the part in his first season in 2016-17, with perhaps his best NHL campaign. Yet, his numbers tailed off last season as he too struggled with injuries and now this year Reimer looks far from a starting option. The 30-year-old leads the Panthers with 14 appearances, but has just four wins, tied with Luongo despite five more showings. His performance has been bleak, with an .895 save percentage and 3.39 GAA. Yet, the injury concerns and inconsistency of Luongo and Reimer is exactly why Florida signed Hutchinson this summer. That has quickly proven to have been a mistake, as the AHL veteran has been out of his depths in four NHL games, sporting a brutal .839 save percentage and 4.17 GAA. Hutchinson has struggled to even perform at an average level in the minors this season.
Nothing has worked out according to plan in Florida, so the team needs to make a move to improve in net. The problem with that plan, as LeBrun points out, is that Reimer still has two years remaining on his contract at $3.4MM. That contract could prove very difficult to move. Luongo is also signed long-term, with three years remaining, but it appears that the team would prefer to hold on to him despite his current struggles, even if they were able to find a take. As such, a long-term solution in net may be difficult to find, unless the team is also able to move Reimer. Nearly any established goalie signed beyond this season would put too much strain on the Panthers’ payroll, which is already close to $2MM from the salary cap. An expensive rental, such as Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, would also be difficult to manage. Cheap rentals, such as New Jersey’s Eddie Lack, Carolina’s Petr Mrazek, Edmonton’s Al Montoya, and recent waiver placement Calvin Pickard, are readily available, but would be unlikely to shift the status quo substantially. The Panthers could make a play for a young, affordable goalie lacking opportunity, such as Montreal’s Charlie Lindgren, Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko, Los Angeles’ Cal Petersen, or Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry, but it would come at a cost. The Panthers may want to upgrade their goalie depth, but such a move won’t come easy for the team this season.