As the NHL trade deadline approaches, rumors have Florida Panthers GM Bill Zito on the frontlines of General Managers making inquiries for a possible bolstering of the roster. With an unexpected injury to Captain Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers lack of center depth was exposed as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Florida Panthers by a score of 3-2 last night. The Panthers desperately need help up the middle.
In the organization, the Panthers have a few options. Alex Wennberg and Noel Acciari are solid as 3rd and 4th line centers, but the panthers need a true 2C behind Barkov. The Panthers best options would be one of Anton Lundell and Henrik Borgstrom. However, Borgstrom has expressed his desire to finish his season in the Finnish Liiga. Lundell has been injured for a while and has battled COVID. Currently both players play on the same Liiga club HIFK Helsinki, which is currently in quarantine. The Panthers don’t have any real prospect options. Eetu Luostarinen will likely come back after a one game stint on the taxi squad, and almost all of the Panthers AHL forwards are wingers.
This means the Panthers have no choice but to look at the trade market. It is imperative to get a backup option for Barkov and for the playoff push. The one option I see for the Panthers is Eric Staal.
The former Carolina Hurricane legend, Staal was unexpectedly traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Buffalo Sabres this summer. Staal was not enthusiastic about the move at all, due to his desire to retire in Minnesota. The Sabres have been absolutely terrible this season, and Staal has struggled with only 10 points in 30 games. Staal desperately needs a change of scenery and Sunrise would be a perfect fit for his talents.
Eric Staal would immediately be slotted in as the team’s second line center and would likely get consistent playing time with Patric Hornqvist and Jonathan Huberdeau. Staal won the Stanley Cup in his rookie season, and has only seen 19 playoff games since 2009. Staal’s career is coming to a close and with the Panthers ready to go all in, Staal would be foolish if he blacklists the Panthers on his NTC. Staal had 47 points in 66 games last year for a mediocre Minnesota Wild team.
Staal is also the best option around the league in my opinion. He’d likely only get a mediocre return, most likely a third round pick. His salary isn’t terrible and his contract expires after this season. Wennberg is a solid option for the third line and Acciari would be fine on the fourth line.
Here are some other potential options, but I’ll explain why I’d prefer Staal over them:
Adam Henrique (Ducks)– 15 points in 29 games. In my opinion he has too much salary and term, and I don’t think the Ducks would be eager to retain salary in a trade. He would be solid, if he made less money and didn’t have so much term.
Sam Bennett (Flames)-Bennett would probably be more likely to be a third liner, and has been constantly in the trade rumor mill. The former 4th overall pick would fetch a decent return and as unproven as he is, I wouldn’t be too eager to give up the return Calgary wants.
Alex Iafallo (Kings)-Iafallo would likely be my second pick. He’s younger than Staal, but the return would be higher. He has 20 points in 30 games and is a UFA at the end of this season. Also I’m pretty sure the Kings want to hold on to him.
Ryan Strome (Rangers)-Strome has 26 points in 31 games. It’s unknown whether or not the Rangers would trade him. The return would also be a lot. Strome has another year on his deal, which if the Panthers aren’t happy with him, they can use him as bait for Seattle.