Hope everyone is well and enjoying their summer!
It hasn’t been easy, but between the old 9-to-5 and other obligations, I’ve been able to catch up on some Cats (and hockey in general) news - as well as collect some thoughts about this past season.
Though I’m kind of shooting from the hip here, let’s give it a shot…
Beyond This Season
2020-21 was a great campaign for Florida hockey, that was unfortunately capped off with a disappointing finish in the form of a Florida classic: another first-round exit.
Say what you will about the refs, Tampa “gaming” the system with Kuch, etc., etc…the bottom line is that this crew couldn’t get the job done.
The recent signing of draft pick/World Championship standout, Anton Lundell, to a three-year, entry-level contract, eases some of the playoff pain and makes it easy to be excited about the Cats down the middle. I mean, you have Selke finalist Barky, new-comer Bennett (please stop taking stupid penalties), and potentially talent-packed Lundell all occupying the center position for Florida - and all 25 and under.
But as cool as that is, the reality is there’s still a lot of work to be done. While Bill Zito did a great job “working the edges” and brining in guys to strengthen this club (with only a couple misses), I feel he has a big task ahead of him this off-season.
I’m sure most don’t feel this way, but I’m in the camp that he has to make a big move. My opinion is a top dog, or some kind of legit package, has to go to bring something back. They’re in the “you have to give something up to get something in return” position.
What complicates this matter is Bob and his contract. Contrary to a lot of folks, I thought Bob played well this season, but that contract…well, that thing is something else.
There’s a good read from The Hockey Writers
the discusses the contract and potential options for the Panthers to get out from under it.
We all know what we would like to happen and that would be Zito somehow managing to move the trinity of Yandle, Stralman and Bob this off-season. While that’s a an extreme long shot, I think Bob is the most desirable of the three, and as a result, the most likely to be moved.
The article proposes:
“With many fringe playoff teams being desperate for goaltending, like the Philadelphia Flyers and the recently-swept Edmonton Oilers, Zito could bait a team into taking on Bobrovsky’s huge cap hit with a first-round pick attached, but his $10 million cap hit may be too much for even those teams to bite on.
The more likely scenario, and that’s if Bobrovsky agrees to this, is if Florida sends a first-round draft pick and likely more on top of that to the Seattle Kraken for them to take on his contract. It would be something remotely similar to what the Vegas Golden Knights did when they acquired Mikhail Grabovski’s contract in exchange for the New York Islanders’ first-round pick. The player they selected with that pick, Erik Brannstrom, helped them land Mark Stone, by the way.
The golden goose in this deal for Seattle, however, that may work in favor of them biting on this $10 million contract, is the slight chance that Bobrovsky returns to Vezina Trophy-winning form, but this is all contingent on the 32-year-old netminder agreeing to leave for Seattle in the first place.
If all else fails and the Panthers want Bobrovsky gone enough, the Panthers could buy out his contract and have a $5.8 million dead cap hit for doing so. No matter the scenario, this contract will have lasting effects on the organization for years to come, and it’s likely going to have some repercussions on the Panthers.”
The first idea seems unlikely to me. I don’t think a first-round pick is enough incentive for a fringe team to take on that $10M anchor, and the buyout thought seems messy.
I think the idea of putting together a nice “sweetener” package for Seattle with Bob attached is the way to go. If they play it a similar way to Vegas, the Kraken have a chance to obtain not only solid NHL-ready talent, but picks/prospects at this year’s Expansion Draft that they can then flip for pieces they can use now to be competitive out of the gates. To the dismay (and anger) of a lot of hockey fans, this is what Vegas did and it’s paid off. Plus, there’s always a chance Bob returns to being Bob and that would only make Seattle picking him up an added bonus. Also…don’t most expansion teams need to pick up big contracts to reach the floor, or however that works? My salary cap wizards, please chime in!
I’m not saying that Florida should leverage their future, but their window is open now, and if they truly want to get out from that Bob contract, this could be an avenue to do so. Getting that cap space back would be huge in terms of being able to put it towards something they desperately needs *cough
* legitimate defenseman *cough
We know Driedger isn’t sticking around. So fans might have to get used to the idea of a Bob/Knight combo. Not the worst thing in the world.
The article finishes with:
“All told, the Panthers have just $9 million in cap space to re-sign the likes of Duclair, Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour, and Nikita Gusev, and with captain Aleksander Barkov’s contract set to expire after the 2021-22 season, they’re due to lose some key contributors to the cap crunch.”
Obviously Barky will be a priority when his time comes, but looking at that list of potential casualties this off-season, the only guy I wouldn’t want to lose is Bennett.
I love Duclair’s speed, but he often struggled to finish. I thought Goose brought a different look on the PP and had nice vision and passing out there, but is probably replaceable. Lastly, Montour was a huge disappointment to me. He seemed more into playing like a fourth forward rather than playing defense. His poor positioning also led to goals and big time opportunities for Tampa in the first-round. I think he would be a good asset on a team that is looking for/can afford a defenseman with that mindset, but the Panthers can’t afford that kind of guy on the backend. They need a true defenseman (or two) back there - and as an “expert” sitting on my couch watching the games, I can say that (haha).
In all, the Panthers had an exciting season and most likely gained a lot of valuable experience from that playoff series, and subsequent loss, that they will carry over to next season. Add to that the Jack Adams finalist behind the bench, the future is looking very bright for these Cats!
Lastly, with Zito at the GM helm, I think it’s going to be an equally exciting off-season as the season was. The guy clearly has a plan and it’s been fun watching it come together.
Someone just needs to suggest to him to bring these gloves back: