Florida Panthers Moving Forward Part Six: Potential Targets & Lineup

ICYMI: Parts 1 (Introduction)2 (General Manager), 3 (Coach) , 4 (Expansion), and 5 (Depth Chart).

Any notion that the Florida Panthers’ roster was close to ideal withered before winter. Injuries made quick work of any forward depth hype and showed how shallow the offseason moves were. This is counting Jonathan Marchessault’s goals. The roster at any position was not skilled enough or deep enough to contend for a Stanley Cup. Even healthy and properly coached this team was made for the playoff bubble, questionable to win a round. That is all well and good for Year One of the Stanley Cup Window™.  Entering year two of three with already one goose egg calls for higher standards.

insideorgnextyrdepth

The above lineup is what this team *could* look like if Tallon stayed within the organization to complete his roster. The lineup is also heavily influenced by how the team physically lined up and utilized the players in 2016-17 season, with priority to how things trended by year’s end (hello, Reimer over Luongo).

Every year will have injuries. Every offseason other teams (in your division, in your conference, in the NHL) will get better. It takes a hundred games worth of skill and luck to win a cup. That requires the most skill (in quantity and quality) you can jam into a 23 man roster and 50 contract slots. This is obvious yet there are Panther fans that will look at the above lineup and see a Stanley Cup Contender, despite the presence of the persistent problems dogging the team this year.

The areas of need were discussed in Part 5. Here we put some solutions to the issues raised in what, in my humble opinion, is a realistic plan of action. First let’s set out the foundation. A good number of players with contracts next year are firmly in place.

Note: Left or Right for both forwards and defenders are not set in stone. They can easily move sides to accommodate the final roster as needed.

Forwards

In the construction of forward lines the focus has shifted from three man units to pairs + interchangeable part. A reason behind this is to help divide more evenly the Top 6 across the three scoring lines necessary in today’s NHL. Instead of 2×3, it is now 3×2. It is much easier to adjust on the fly with a pair of forwards whose chemistry you want to keep together than a trio. The flexibility is better.

forwardfoundation

The GM can be pretty confident this is what he’s turning over to the new head coach, more or less. Huberdeau and Barkov, enough said. In only 99 5v5 minutes ever, Trocheck and Bjugstad actually co-exist well. Trocheck is the driver Bjugstad needs, and Bjugstad can help Trocheck defensively with his hard back check and long reach. Smith’s all around play anchors a young center. Smith can play either wing, is not a liability defensively, and should be able to finish and set-up Malgin regularly. Smith has good history with right handed puck carriers like Malgin (ask Trocheck).

Defense

It is clear that despite Matheson’s rapidly progressing play, Yandle is the defensive anchor on the left side (maybe in more than one way). Ownership and salary pretty much dictate that. Ekblad is the obvious anchor on the right side. It is also both clear and obvious that Yandle and Ekblad together just don’t work. Sure, they have positive numbers but they do not maximize the strengths of either player. It’s imperative to find them stable partners. The other spots come into question with expansion. Still, McCoshen should start the year on the left side of the third pair barring some calamity in camp (This is not a jynx. This is a jynx.).

foundationd

 

The goalies are pretty situated. Unless any of the harebrained ideas  of getting rid of one of the goalies come to fruition, its Luongo/Reimer in any order. We can skip the chart.

That leaves five forwards, three defensemen, and three extra players (usually two forwards, one defenseman) to be added to the 23 man roster. The first thing needed is to finalize the list of who stays and who goes, thinning the herd competing for spots.

In

Type Name Position Why
Re-sign Michael Sgarbossa F Sign to compete for 4th line or be call up. Protect AHL C Depth.
Re-sign Alex Petrovic D Could be taken by Vegas. Petrovic's injury showed his importance in lineup.
Re-sign Mackenzie Weegar D Earned NHL call up & should compete for NHL spot next year.
Re-sign Kyle Rau F Serviceable 4th liner & good AHLer.
Re-sign Adam Wilcox G Can get AHL starts, expect to sign him after trading for him.
Re-sign Tim Bozon F Okay year in A but worth to bring back. Natural skill set nice to have in AHL.
Re-sign Reece Scarlett D Trade indicates he will be brought back, solid offensive RHD.
Re-sign Mark Pysyk D IF D is lost in Expansion and it is not him. Good shot suppression. Also wouldn't mind replacing from within
Sign Drafted Evan Cowley G See what ECHL minutes will do for him. With talent, better than other options there.
Sign Drafted Maxim Mamin W May be hard to sign but worth the shot.

The UFA Market is pretty slim but there are a few names to keep an eye on:

Type Name Position Why
Sign UFA Alex Radulov RW Short term, high money deal may land him. Interest was there last year from FLA. have to be perfect storm w/ his age.
Sign UFA Jordan Weal C/W Underappreciated but shown very well in PHI mins. Adds skill, scoring to bottom 6 or Call ups.
Sign UFA Cody Franson D Franson is best bet of UFA D. Realistic, good bottom pairing D who can guide a rookie.

I don’t think there are too many surprises, questions, comments (lewd or otherwise) on this. Radulov is not likely, and Weal and Franson are players I’d try to ink for depth but wouldn’t stop me from making any other moves. If you ask, “why T.J. Oshie isn’t on this list?” I might not have enough time to save you.  Oshie is due for big regression and betting big on 30 year olds in UFA isn’t the way Panthers should keep going.

The Panthers who stay are pretty obvious and aren’t divisive, so we can keep moving along.

Out

Type Name Position Why
Retire Shawn Thornton RW Going upstairs to work for team.
Let Walk Reto Berra G Replaced by Wilcox.
Let Walk Sam Brittain G Replaced by Cowley.
Let Walk Jakub Kindl D No room in the AHL.
Let Walk Brent Regner D No room in the AHL.
Let Walk Colin Stevens G Replaced by Montembeault.
Let Walk Graham Black C Replaceable.
Let Walk Chase Balisy C Replaceable.
Let Walk Brody Sutter C Replaceable.
Let Walk Jaromir Jagr RW Realistic re-signing but he'll want Top6 minutes and he shouldn't get that here. Tough call.
Let Walk Thomas Vanek RW Realistic re-signing and prefer over JJ68 as Vanek isn't safety blanket for kids. Still prefer to replace.

It will be hard to walk away from a legend like Jaromir Jagr. This is nothing personal but I think the team and Jagr grew out of their fit together. The team needs to take the next step and I don’t think it can do so while meeting Jagr’s demands. He doesn’t have the endurance or ability to play with the guys he wants to, on the power play he wants to, and the minutes he wants to be able to play. His (deservedly) high salary demands could also be an issue (especially if he gets hurt for long stretch of year). Other teams have walked away from Jagr before and their star players who were once mentored by him continued to take big leaps forward.

It will be hard to walk away from Thomas Vanek and admit a third round pick was wasted. Vanek played well but just never got the usage and the team around him collapsed. I’d be interested in Vanek on a cheap, one year deal but if I am being honest Vanek deserves more stability and money than what Florida can offer him. And Florida can probably spend that roster spot more wisely. His time here also probably hasn’t done much to sell the franchise. Sorry, fellow Thomas.

Prospect promotions, contract extensions, and unrestricted free agency won’t make make a big enough dent into the progress the personnel needs. That help will have to come through trading.

Trades

There are two things I should clear up now, to avoid confusion:

1- I’m not going “HFboards” here. There won’t be a “Duchene for Pysysk and a 4th” talk in this section. I can’t figure out what exact package or what player a team values more and is best to move. even if I have a good idea.

2-  I know trades are hard and require luck, time, timing, and more luck. Trades don’t just magically happen out of thin air and you can’t make trades happen without a willing partner.

Both #1 and #2 are answered by with the same reasoning– it’s the GM’s job. The General Manager needs to know what teams value  (#1), and it’s there jobs to execute those hard trades (#2).

Trading requires the perfect storm of luck and timing and skill. Just like winning the Stanley Cup (the main objective of the Florida Panthers ownership). If it is reasonable enough to have “Win the Stanley Cup” as a workable goal so, too, is “trade for a top6 scoring winger.”

That’s just the simple truth. It is Dale Tallon’s (or whoever’s) job to go out there and acquire the forwards (or any players) needed. The ownership needs to sign the checks and stay out of the way to make sure it happens.

But who is available, who can we offer, and most certainly, who can’t we offer?

The “untouchables” list is always longer in your head than actuality. There are players or deals that show up on your doorstep that require moving an “untouchable.” With that in mind, here’s the best guess:

Name Position
Sasha Barkov C
Jonathan Huberdeau W
Vincent Trocheck C
Nick Bjugstad W/C
Aaron Ekblad D
Michael Matheson D

Gun to my head, Barkov’s the only one you couldn’t make me trade. Ekblad and Huberdeau close behind. Whatever is done this summer, it is safe to bet against these players leaving. If one does, it may be a more dramatic summer than winter in Sunrise.

Conversely the likely  “trade bait” lists are always shorter than actuality. We saw last summer how hard it was for fans to see players leave (whether they were good deals or not). But Florida shouldn’t be afraid to part with players to improve their roster. The last two seasons did not see success in the playoffs, so at some level you have to change inputs.

Name Position Contract
Jussi Jokinen F $4m x 1
Reilly Smith W $5m x 5
Jonathan Marchessault W $750k x 1
Jason Demers D $4.5m x 4
Mark Pysyk D $1.125m RFA
Alex Petrovic D $1.05m RFA
Jayce Hawryluk W $925k x 2
Ian McCoshen D $925k x 2
Jared McCann C $894k x 1
Michael Downing D $820k x 2
James Reimer G $3.4m x 4
Picks Any All

Smith and Marchessault are surprising candidates on this list. Both have scored goals for the Panthers and if you want to add goals why the heck would you move them? That’s a fair point but there’s also reasons to flip them. Smith regressed after getting a big contract a year early. Marchessault is prime candidate for that next year, and there might not be money to sign him after the year. Both players may follow former Cat Brandon Pirri’s path.

The Demers, Petrovic, and Pysyk situation has been a huge conversation all year. It’s best to trade one, keep one, and hope the third doesn’t get taken by Vegas. Aggressive GMs trying to really bring in offense would move two.

McCoshen, on the other hand, seems silly to be on this list. But if you are keeping two of the three above, where does McCoshen play? Better to trade him for an asset you can use, and replace McCoshen by drafting a defender further down the line when Demers, Yandle, Pysysk, Petrovic are phased out and room exists.

Debate on whether it is better to trade this years first rounder (as it is considered a “weak draft”) or an older prospect like McCoshen, Hawryluk, or McCann is interesting. If this is an obviously weak draft class where does the first rounder hold the most value? In your hands or in a trade? The closer to the front of the draft you are, I’d think it would be more valuable in your hands. The weakness of draft hurts the trade value.

The Florida Panthers currently have a bottom of the league prospect pool. Is it better to move a  piece of the prospect pool that made up such a low ranking or a Top 15 draft pick in a weak draft? Looking at the roster and salary cap situation, the prospects are needed more down the road than in the moment. I’d move older prospects before the first rounder but there will be no tears from me if the first rounder is moved for a scorer.

A scorer. A scorer. All we ever talk about in trades is a scorer. Don’t expect to see anything different in possible targets.

Name Position Contract
Matt Duchene C/W $6m x2
James van Riemsdyk LW $4.25m x1
Nail Yakupov RW $2.5m RFA
William Karlsson C $1m x1
Jordan Eberle RW $6m x2
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins C $6m x4
Gustav Nyquist F $4.75m x2
Gabriel Landeskog LW $5.57m x4
Nazem Kadri C $4.5m x5
Jeff Skinner W $5.725m x2
Charlie Coyle C/RW $3.2m x3
Evgeny Kuznetsov C/LW $3m RFA
Tyler Toffoli W $3.25m RFA
Tomas Tater W $2.750m RFA
Anthony Duclair W $772k RFA
Zemgus Girgensons C/LW $1.15m RFA
Teuvo Teravainen F $1.46m RFA
Jakob Silfverberg W $3.75m x2
Andre Burakovsky LW/C $894k RFA
Tomas Jurco W $900k RFA
Tomas Hertl C/RW $3m x1
Kasperi Kapanen W $863k x2
Mikko Rantanen RW $894k x2
John Tavares (why not) C $5m x1
Sam Reinhart C $894k x1
Oliver Bjorkstrand RW $655k x1
Val Nichuskin RW $2.125m RFA
Denis Gurianov LW $925k x2
Kevin Fiala LW $863k x2
Jesse Puljujarvi RW $925k x2
Nikolaj Ehlers LW $894k x1
Andreas Athanasiou F $628k RFA

Other than JT, all of those options are realistically available and have Top6 skills. If the Yormarks and Barclay’s Center continue, Tavares may be an actual, realistic option.

some of the names you wouldn’t expect to see so readily available are much more in-play with expansion. How teams balance their protected slots will be interesting and their is definitely opportunity for the Panthers to exploit that. Silfverberg and Karlsson are two Swedes who could be left exposed. The team may be willing to move them instead of losing them for nothing. Vegas may be willing to take them for us in the expansion to flip for assets from us.

Again, I know trading is hard. I know you have to give to get. I know it will cost money. I know you need a good GM. I concede all of that. Get a good GM (Tallon!), spend the money (owners!), give to get, be able to execute the difficult parts of having a hockey team.

My personal favorites from the list are (in no order): Duchene, Yakupov, Eberle, Skinner, Teravainen, Burakovsky, Rantanen, Nichuskin, Gurianov, and Puljujarvi.

I could spend a lot of words talking about this but it’s better to just link to a recent post about it and move on.

Possible Lineup

possible-lineup

 

Eliminating the largest obstacle in Florida’s way, 5v5 and 5v4 scoring, the Panthers can keep a pretty consistent roster. This possible prediction (out of many) sees only four new-to-Panthers additions, though it does see a few amount of call ups and rookies. However, the players being asked to step up have marinated and are coming up to age markers where you’d like to get a true sense of their NHL potential and capabilities. A McCoshen-Weegar pairing may scare you but these two have experience together and will be sheltered. That’s also a reason to make the Kindl replacement a Cody Franson or someone like that.

The team is significantly younger, faster,  and more skilled.  Who fills in the top RW slot will make the most difference. This is the summer it must be addressed.

 

Conclusion

I’d much rather finesse this point home but about 18 months of that hasn’t worked. Florida Panthers fans need to have higher expectations of the franchise… of the people owning the team, of the people running the team (hopefully this is two different and distinct groups next season), coaching the team, and playing on the team.

Watching hockey outside of Florida Panthers games it is obvious: The Florida Panthers are an average team. They aren’t run like the Championship caliber team they want to be and they don’t play up to it either. Ownership has given a mandate to win a Stanley Cup in the next two seasons. To accomplish that they need to kick it into high gear because right now they are on par with the results two seasons prior to the Stanley Cup Window™ going into effect.

That is what we in the hockey expert business call, not good.

The Panthers get smoked in their own division (which means a lot in this post season structure) and its clear why. They can’t score enough. Toronto, Tampa Bay, Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Dallas, San Jose, Edmonton, and Calgary all have much deeper, more potent offenses. In a playoff run you don’t see all of those teams but, in essence, you gotta be near the top to have a chance. Having half the league with a pretty obvious advantage in the sport’s number one objective (scoring) won’t give you success.

We can talk to the cows come on (many of you will tell us we already do) but all we can do is critique and speculate and opine. It is up to the ownership to put this in motion and step back. It is up to Tallon to fill the roster with the talent and depth required of being serious contenders.  It is up to the coach to put in a system that fits his team and give them chance for success. It is up to the players to go and execute. And it is most certainly up to fans to hold ownership accountable if any or all of these parties fail to do so.

Will they change, won’t they change? We will have to wait and find out. One thing is for sure–until they get the Top 6 scoring winger they desperately need Whyhockey isn’t going to be convinced.

 

 

 

 

 

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