News just broke that Josh Brown has been traded to the Senators for a 2020-4th Round Pick
What do you think? I’m kind of bummed, I liked Brown and thought he would develop nicely. Guessing Zito has something cooking...
The Stanley Cup was awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and just like every year, every organization and fan (outside of Tampa) looked on in admiration (and jealousy).
Watching the Bolts hoist their second cup over head, I couldn’t help but think of Harvey’s comment in the last blog:
“Players come to Florida to retire, but players come to Tampa to win cups.”
There’s some truth to this statement. The Panthers have long been joked about as a place where guys go to coast through their careers - a place where not much is expected, and that’s OK.
As the years went on, the combination of a losing culture, lackluster/uninspired play, and sparse crowds, only reinforced the notion that Florida was/is a Mickey Mouse operation.
It doesn’t help when their instate rivals are the opposite. Sure, Tampa had dark days, too. What organization hasn’t? The difference is that they did something about it.
Tampa has built a strong winning culture over the past number of years. It seems to run through their front office, coaching, drafting, and on-ice talent. Through years of working and tinkering their roster, they did what needed to be done and got the ultimate reward.
One of the things that sticks out to me with TBL, and any successful team, is this: they’re always hungry.
I believe the Panthers are on the right track to get this thing turned around. Bringing in Q and Zito feel like the right direction. Now it’s time to start carving the roster up.
That’s where the Free Agency and the Draft will be big this year...
Free Agent Plan
No doubt about it in my mind, if you’re Zito, you have to land a legitimate defenseman. They missed it last year. Can’t let it happen again. We’re looking for, like...a “guy” in this league, you know.
NBC Sports posted an article
earlier this month where they rank who they believe the top 20 Free Agent targets are. The list of defensemen is as follows:
Obviously a lot of solid names on there, but the tricky thing is getting a guy to buy in to Florida’s direction, and, of course, terms and money...
According to Capfriendly.com, the Panthers have $21, 738, 712 of current cap space. That’s some nice cheddar, but they have some decisions to make as there are a number of UFA and RFA players for the 2020-21 season.
The talk for a long time now is that one or both of Dadonov and Hoffman could be gone. I’d let Pysyk go, too. I think resigning Boyle would be a good idea. Yes, he was hurt a lot last year, but he adds a veteran presence and size/toughness and physicality in the lineup. I bet they could get him cheap. If they don’t go with Boyle, you know who I would like to see them go for? Wayne Simmonds. I think he’d be great fit. They need some sandpaper to toughen up the forward group. I say take a look at big Wayne if you can get him for a cheap. The guy is tough and does have the ability to produce. I think he’s due for a bounce back with a fresh start. I’d also resign Haula. Nothing extreme - just a “prove it” deal if you can get him to agree to it. The Cats (like a lot of teams) are thinned at the Center position and he can play there. We only got a small sample size of him after coming over in the trade with Carolina, but I think he can contribute well for this team.
Hunt and Saarela are easy resigns in my opinion. Young guys that are your future. Weegar is a must (obviously) and I would resign Brown, too. Give him some more reps. I like his simplistic game and willingness to get physical can be further developed. Wallmark is needed - again, that Center position is very important. Toninato can be a trade piece.
Back to the available free agents...
I’m sticking with the idea that Zito needs to make a splash on the backend. Trying to fill the holes of a riddled blueline that’s begging for stability with stop-gap guys just won’t get the job done. That’s nothing against someone like Stone Cold Stralman. I like him and his game most nights, but he’s not meant to be a difference-maker back there like I would expect a lot of the names on the Free Agent defensemen list to be.
While it would be great to get a guy like Pieterangelo, a bonafide defenseman and leader, the reality is, it most likely won’t happen.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of Dillion and have wanted the Cats to go after him for a while now. A defensive defenseman that I think he would make a really nice impact - pun intended because he loves to play physical, something sorely missing in the lineup.
I’m sure you guys have seen the rumors linking the Cats to Krug. It seems to be the most prevalent one out there right now...what are your thoughts? In my mind, if they’re interested in Krug (who is going to want a big payday) could mean they have a plan in place when it comes to money - possibly making the guys on the list not unattainable.
The truth is, just looking at the list, without taking into consideration everything that goes into getting a guy (money, fit, potential players moved, etc.), I think any of those names would make a positive impact in Florida. Sure, each one has their pros and cons, but each would be an upgrade.
Then there’s the offense...
Florida was up and down at times when it came to scoring and it was frustrating watching the “big guns” go long stretches without burying one, or disappearing and just plain not scoring at all.
It’s easy to point to the defense being the main issue on this team, but consistent scoring is another blemish.
They have two good options to seriously consider in Dadonov and Hoffman. Of those two, I lean towards Daddy. While not as flashy, I think he’s the steadier of the two long term. Hoffman can be electric, but is kind of one-dimensional. He would probably fit better on a team where he can afford to float and focus purely on offense. Florida does not have that luxury right now. They need everyone to pull their weight and play on both sides of the puck. To me, Dadonov is the more rounded/complete player of the two.
I have seen different sites linking the Cats to Mikael Grandlund. He’s struggled scoring a bit the past couple years, but is apparently a very good playmaker. The only problem there is there’s a lot of guys already on Florida that want to be good playmakers. Maybe Grandlund comes in and relieves them of their attempted playmaking duties and takes over as a guy that can free others up to focus on scoring? Could probably be signed for a nice deal, too.
While a shakeup is needed, I don’t think Zito will target big names like Toffoli, Ryan, etc...but something/someone is needed.
Regardless of if you get a legit scoring forward, I think they need to start promoting from within this upcoming season. How much longer are we going to hear about Tippett? It’s time for him to come up and have a long look. That impacts your game plan heading into free agency, but I’m curious to see what they’re thinking for the future.
Looking back at this season and the prior one, the Panthers lines are just too similar. The successful teams usually roll four lines that all produce. Each of those lines typically has their own identity/role and they execute it well - there’s a good mix of talents and styles. Florida’s lines all kind of mesh into one when I watch. Most of the roster has a similar playing style and approach, that’s why I’m really excited to see Hornqvist come into the fold. He brings a different element.
Obvious statement alert, but...my hope is that Zito is going to try and diversify this lineup by injecting guys with different strengths and skills into it. Who those guys are, or what that team structure looks like? I don’t know, but I have faith Zito can do it.
Funny enough...I’ve never been a big draft guy. Outside of the first few picks, I just don’t have much interest. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of building up the future, but outside of the first few picks (top guys predicted to go), I kind of lose interest. I get pumped once the pick is made and then we can research and start analyzing the player.
Unless you have that first pick, it’s tough to really know how things will shake out. Zito and co. certainly have a plan and probably a ton of different scenarios to follow as things unfold in different directions throughout the draft. With the Panthers picking 12th, who knows who they will grab.
That being said, here’s what some of the experts have for Florida in their mock drafts.
Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Fin.)
In terms of fit, this one is perfect. The Cats have an undisputed No. 1 center in Aleksander Barkov, but could use some backup behind him. Lundell is also a big, two-way pivot from Finland and his defensive game is quite advanced for a teenager. Lundell has already won a world junior gold and is playing against men back home.
The Hockey Writers:
Jake Sanderson, D, U.S. U18 (NTDP)
There were a lot of young talented wingers on the board at this selection, but with the likes of Grigori Denisenko and Owen Tippett on the way for the Panthers I could pass up a future one-two punch on the blue line of Jake Sanderson and Aaron Ekblad. Anton Stralman and Keith Yandle will both be 34 at the start of the 2020-21 season and the Panthers are in desperate need of an injection of youth into their blue line. Sanderson is an extremely efficient player, excelling in both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game. He makes transition up the ice look easy and has the ability to finish players and set-up teammates in opposition territory.
NHL.com - three writers weighed in
Kimelman -- Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert, WHL: Guhle's skating allows him to excel in any kind of game, from up-tempo and attacking to grinding and physical. He's strong enough to use his body (6-2, 186) to punish opposing forwards. His offensive game took a big step this season, and those who have watched him closely believe there will be more to come in the future.
Morreale -- Guhle: He's a two-way defenseman who's considered a good skater with a hard shot. Guhle is a great value with tremendous upside at this point in the draft. He scored 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) in 64 games.
Lepage -- Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL): The forward (6-0, 180) does everything well. He can play in the middle or on the wing and should provide a boost on special teams. His versatility would be beneficial to the Panthers, who need to add depth behind Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on the top line. Mercer scored 60 combined points (24 goals, 36 assists) in 42 games with Drummondville and Chicoutimi this season.
Who do you guys want to see come in via free agency/trade/draft?
Also, I’ve noticed some other Panthers fans periodically chiming in here. Please feel free to jump in more often. It’s always fun hearing thoughts on the team.
Lastly...I leave you with this picture of Laus and Probert. What a title that must have been!
Take care and as always...Go Panthers!