With Free Agency approaching, the Panthers have several guys who may be on their way out of town. With Anton Lundell expected to make the NHL roster and RFA Sam Bennett’s emergence in Florida, it seems that Alex Wennberg is the odd man out in Florida. The 26 year old Swede performed admirably as a middle of the lineup center for the Panthers, scoring a career high 17 goals in 56 games, finally playing a full season of healthy hockey after many years of injury concerns. Wennberg had 29 points in 56 games.
Why should the Panthers keep Wennberg if they have Bennett and Lundell? It is simple-insurance policy. Although Anton Lundell shows tons of promise, there is no guarantee that he will succeed in the NHL. These things are never a given. Additionally, Sam Bennett is a high risk, high reward guy who may regress after his initial hot start in Florida. I do think Bennett will regress from his rapid pace, because realistically 1.5 points per game is not sustainable, but I do think he will be a 50 point guy in a full season due to his chemistry with Jonathan Huberdeau. Wennberg provides a valuable insurance role in case any of those scenarios occur or god forbid someone gets hurt.
I do think the Panthers can get Wennberg back cheaper than what he may receive on the open-market. I don’t know the man personally, but all the signs I get from him are from someone who seems to really enjoy his time with this team. He doesn’t have the most skill, but he is a hard worker and he can score when needed to. He’s a valuable asset on the powerplay and the penalty kill. Wennberg is due a pay raise from his $2.25 million dollar deal for a year, but I do think a one year extension at around $3 million would be solid for him.
The Panthers can afford this if they play the salary cap game smart. They need to dump Anton Stralman and Keith Yandle. Yandle is likely going to get bought out, and I think Stralman goes to Seattle along with either Frank Vatrano or a first round pick. With rumors swirling that the Panthers are expected to be aggressive in the pursuit of Patrik Laine, I expect whichever one of those two pieces to be a headliner in a potential deal for Laine, which may see Bill Zito send a tandem of prospects such as Aleksi Saarela, Eetu Luostarinen and Matt Kiersted to Columbus for the Finnish winger.
If my calculations are right, by dumping Yandle/Stralman/Vatrano/Nutivaara, the Panthers can sign some blueline help, resign guys like Bennett, Duclair and Forsling on the RFA side of the ball. Laine likely won’t be more than $7 million, and both Huberdeau and Barkov are still making under $6 million.
I think it would be smart to keep Wennberg. I think Wennberg would play with Anton Lundell, and take turns with him at center reps. I also think those two would be a good combination on the penalty kill together. With Barkov playing in the top 6, I think Wennberg can help mentor Lundell, as Wennberg’s two-way game is similar to Lundell’s style. Wennberg makes few defensive mistakes and that could be very helpful for Lundell.
If the Panthers let Wennberg go, this is a massive risk. They risk damage to a solid center core if Bennett regresses and/or Lundell doesn’t pan out. Wennberg helps the Panthers ensure that they have a backup option if things go south, and the other centers on the market seem to be too expensive or not skilled enough to fulfill the role. The best insurance policy you can have is the one you currently have rather than no insurance policy, and Wennberg fulfills the role as an insurance policy.