The Florida Panthers’ pair of star defensemen, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, are both on track in their respective recoveries from offseason shoulder surgeries, general manager Bill Zito relayed this week on the Sirius XM NHL Power Play radio spot. Both players sustained the injuries in Florida’s run to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final and were given recovery times from June surgeries that placed them ready for returns around the start of the regular season.
Zito believes both players are one to two months away from returning. That means opening night on October 12 is possible, but not a guarantee, for both. The information explains why the Panthers didn’t dip too much (if at all) into the potential long-term injured reserve relief provided by Ekblad and Montour this offseason, as one or both of them are likely to return early enough into the season that they wouldn’t be eligible for LTIR placement.
While Florida made a multitude of adds on defense this summer, they were all of the stopgap nature to help them get by until their number one and number two defenders returned to the lineup. If they’re not available when the Panthers open their season on the road in Minnesota, they’ll be looking at a top pairing of a mix of Gustav Forsling, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Josh Mahura, or Dmitry Kulikov – a far cry from what you’d expect from a defending conference champion.
When they return to the lineup, Ekblad and Montour will undoubtedly fill out the right-shot positions on both the team’s first and second pairings. Both players averaged over 23 minutes per game last season, although Montour pulled ahead in ice time slightly with a career-high average of 24:08 per game in the regular season. In his increased role, Montour had a rather earth-shattering breakout season at the age of 28. Recording 16 goals, 57 assists and 73 points in 80 games, Montour finished 12th in Norris Trophy voting last season. It was his first instance of receiving any consideration for the league’s Defenseman of the Year award.
Montour especially will hope to get off to a smooth start next season and hit the ground running. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent and needs to prove he’s worth a sharp increase on his current $3.5MM cap hit. Given his age, this is his one chance to lock in a lucrative long-term deal.
Ekblad, meanwhile, is locked in for two more seasons at a $7.5MM cap hit. He’ll look to return to his 2021-22 form when he recorded a +38 rating, 15 goals, 42 assists and 57 points in 61 games en route to finish sixth in Norris voting (and capturing the franchise’s first President’s Trophy).