With the cap projected to stay the same, the Panthers are going into the offseason with $20 million in cap space. They need a 2nd line center, resign either Dadonov or Hoffman, and a defensive defenseman.
Hoffman vs Dadonov
With Barkov and Huberdeau due for raises soon, only one of these guys can stay. I’d keep Mike Hoffman. Hoffman has been more consistent with the Cats than Dadonov. Owen Tippett is ready. Hoffman will probably get a 6 year, $8 million deal. This leaves us with $12 million in cap space. Now there is a big question mark. Are the reports that Vinnie Viola wants to cut salary by $10 million true? If true, Viola will be dooming the team to failure.
2nd Line Center
Erik Haula has had a decent showing, but hasn’t put up the offensive numbers. It is imperative the season resumes to come to a judgement on Haula. If Haula isn’t the right fit, the Panthers should take a look at Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk put up solid numbers before his doomed stint in Pittsburgh. Galchenyuk has returned seemingly to form in Minnesota. Galchenyuk has been a player largely hampered by expectations. Montreal is a stressful market. He was supposed to be the number 1 guy in Arizona. In Pittsburgh, his role was awful, as he wasn’t given a chance to contribute. Florida seems like a good fit for Galchenyuk, as he can have a safe 2nd line center spot and he has good wingers. Joel Quenneville should be able to develop Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk is currently ending a $4.9 million deal. I expect that with the inflation of salaries, but also his horrible contract year, I believe Galchenyuk would garner around $4.75 million. A 2 year, $4.75 million option would be good, with flexibility to go up to $5 million. Haula would be a cheaper option, as I see him commanding a 4×4, but I think Gally would be a better fit.
Expect to see two new faces next year up front. Owen Tippett and Grigori Denisenko should be on the Opening Night Roster. Tippett is more likely as Denisenko may need adjustment to the NA game, but Denisenko does have professional experience, playing in the KHL.
The Panthers need a cheap bottom pairing defensive defenseman. With $7 million in cap, I’d want to spend around $2-3 million. Despite his success as a hybrid, I don’t think Mark Pysyk is part of the organization’s long term plans. Despite his notioriety, Radko Gudas might be a decent fit. Gudas has shown flashes of offense and is a beast defensively. Plus you’d rather have the guy on your team than play against him. Gudas also helps protect Huberdeau and Barkov, allowing skilled tough guys like Noel Acciari to continue their offensive production. I’d sign Gudas for 4 years at $2.5 mllion.
Mackenzie Weegar is due for a big boy contract. It is important to buy out Anton Stralman, assuming Gudas is coming on board. Stralman would take up $2.5 million in cap. This gives the Panthers $7 million in cap if Gudas comes on board, if my math is right. Weegar should be given a 5×5 deal.
Assuming that Tippett and Denisenko make the opening night lineup, as well as the Panthers signing Hoffman, Galchenyuk and Gudas, here are your 2020-21 Florida Panthers.
Jonathan Huberdeau- Aleksander Barkov- Owen Tippett
Tippett needs to be put in an opportunity to succeed immediately, and I think his best bet is with Huberdeau and Barkov. Mike Hoffman could be another option, however I think this brings Huberdeau and Barkov full circle. They started with an older guy (Jagr) showing them the ropes and now they have to show a young guy the ropes. However, I think Tippett’s shot combined with Huberdeau’s elite playmaking would be a match made in heaven. Barkov would probably not be on the score sheet as much, as he would be drawing the defenders away from his wingers, but he’d still contribute a lot.
Mike Hoffman- Alex Galchenyuk- Frank Vatrano
I put Vatrano with Hoffman and Galchenyuk over Connolly, because I think a veteran like Connolly would be better suited playing with a rookie like Denisenko. Vatrano has the grit and can make plays. Hoffman is a lethal sniper. Galchenyuk will have the pressure taken off of him, as he won’t be expected to be a 30 goal scorer again, and he’ll be allowed to play a more pass heavy game.
Brett Connolly-Noel Acciari-Grigori Denisenko
Denisenko immediately jumps into the NHL with two veteran wingers. Denisenko will have pressure eased off of him, as the focus will be largely on the veterans. Playing with these two guys, who know what it takes to win will be invaluable for the Russian. I don’t know if Acciari will keep up his offensive output, but I can see him still putting up double digit goals, maybe in the teens. This line will be more defensively responsible. I went with Acciari over Wallmark, largely because of the experience.
Aleksi Saarela-Lucas Wallmark-Colton Sceviour
This line will be largely a defensive line. I see Saarela rotating in and out with Dryden Hunt, who should be the team’s forward scratch. As for Henrik Borgstrom, I don’t see him having a future in this organization. Saarela can develop his defensive game, and should see powerplay minutes. Wallmark and Sceviour are both valuable defensive forwards.
Riley Stillman-Aaron Ekblad
Despite the fact I like Ekblad and Weegar, I think Riley Stillman has potential. A lefty, Stillman played with Ekblad in preseason. I think they would complement each other well, Ekblad a more offensive defenseman and Stillman a more defensive one. Similar to Huberdeau and Barkov coming full circle with Tippett, Ekblad comes full circle as he moves from veteran Brian Campbell to playing with an upstart young player.
Michael Matheson-Radko Gudas
I’d prefer Riley Stillman with Gudas, but a Yandle-Matheson pair’s negatives far outweigh the benefits of the Stillman-Gudas pair. Gudas’s stay at home game should help cover for Matheson’s mistakes and I definitely think Gudas is the kind of guy who would help Matheson develop his defensive game.
Keith Yandle-Mackenzie Weegar
I like Weegar with Ekblad, but I think you have to roll these two together. Yandle was a buyout candidate, but he still has value on the powerplay. Weegar can play a more defensive game to help ease the pressure on Yandle having to go back.
Look for Bob to come back with a vengenance. Bobrovsky’s worst statistical seasons so far (2011-12 and 2015-16) were both followed up with Veznia wins. I don’t know if he’ll go three for three, but I think he would play well next year.
Driedger has earned his spot. He is a reliable backup, that can take the reins when Bob is hurt.
Dryden Hunt, Josh Brown