Although there is plenty of conversation when it comes to the Florida Panthers and new head coach Joel Quenneville trying to bring aboard top free agents like goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin, there hasn’t been nearly as much attention put to Quenneville’s other task, which is to fix the Panthers’ defense. While there could be quite a bit of personnel changes, The Athletic’s George Richards (subscription required) writes that one thing that is certain is that the team is going to be looking for a new top-four defenseman.
Last season, the Panthers had one of the worst defenses in the league after allowing 273 goals, the fourth highest total in the league. The team also led the league in turnovers. Four goaltenders took the ice for Florida as well and all four, including starter Roberto Luongo finished with a GAA over 3.00, while James Reimer finished with the best save percentage of the bunch at .900. Even if the sloppy puck movement and poor goaltending can be remedied by other additions, much of the team’s success will rely on Quenneville putting in a new defensive system, as he has historically run a more simplified style that forces defensemen to play a stricter and tighter game and be less involved in the offense. GM Dale Tallon commented on the benefits to Quenneville’s defensive style:
We had a lot of bad habits and have a lot of things we need to change. Team defense is important, and the forwards have to buy into that as well. That’s something I think Q will definitely address. There are going to be changes made, that is for sure.
Beyond just strategic changes, Florida will need to boost their defensive personnel. The team has three top-four defensemen under contract long-term in Aaron Ekblad (six years at $7.5MM), Mike Matheson (seven years at $4.9MM) and Keith Yandle (four years at $6.35MM). All three are pretty much untradeable even if the team wanted to move them. However, the final spot in the top four is up for grabs. Mark Pysyk has failed to show he can be an effective fit in that role and now enters the final year of his contract at $2.73MM, making him an intriguing trade chip. RFA’s MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen are also unlikely to be top-four candidates. As such, the team will be forced to either look to sign a defenseman off the free agent market or could try to pull off a trade to strengthen their blue line. Tallon will likely seek a more defensive-minded veteran to fit Quenneville’s scheme.