The Florida Panthers have cooled off after their super hot start, but are still looking strong (as long as they are at home against anyone other than Seattle). However, the team could use a few upgrades. Let’s look at the upgrades they could make and some potential targets:
FACEOFF WINNING 4th LINE CENTER
With Noel Acciari out long-term, the Panthers have struggled in the faceoff circle. They are 45.1% which is 2nd worst in the league. This was a massive reason for their 4-1 humiliation to Seattle in which the Kraken killed the Panthers in the circle 72% to 28%. Faceoffs are a vital part of the game and are especially important on special teams. A faceoff loss on the powerplay can completely suck out any momentum a powerplay can generate with a quick clear. A faceoff loss on the penalty kill is an instant boost to the other team’s powerplay. The only regular center above 50% is Aleksander Barkov, who is currently injured week-to-week. Anton Lundell (47%) is the active roster leader for centers who have taken draws. More concerning, Joe Thornton and Eetu Luostarinen are both under the 40% mark, and are currently the third and fourth line centers. Faceoffs are important and the Panthers need help in the circle. Here are a few faceoff specialists the Panthers can look at.
Jay Beagle (Arizona)– Jay Beagle is a 36 year old veteran with over 600 games of NHL experience. Beagle has yet to find the scoresheet this season, having being held pointless in 19 games, but has been a valuable contributor in the faceoff circle, with a faceoff winning percentage of 59.5%. Beagle has ranked consistently in the high fifties in the circle throughout his career. A Stanley Cup winner, Beagle can also add leadership to the Panthers core. Beagle would likely serve as a faceoff specialist and a penalty killer. In order to facilitate a trade, the Coyotes would need to retain 50% of Beagle’s 3 million AAV which he signed as part of a four-year pact with Vancouver. Beagle is in the final year of that deal and has a modified NTC, but I highly doubt that would be an issue if presented with the opportunity to hop from a team that is competing for Shane Wright to a team competing for the Stanley Cup (that’s not a certainty as he may not be eager to move his three kids out of a school after half a year to another school). A disciplined player, Beagle had decent offensive production in Washington, but it fell off after he signed in Vancouver. Beagle was a crucial part of the Capitals 2017-18 Stanley Cup, scoring 2 goals (one a game winner) and 8 points along with going over 60% in the circle in route to their first championship.
Projected Trade: ARZ trades C Jay Beagle (50% salary retained) to FLA for LW Maxim Mamin and a conditional 2023 7th Round Pick (ARZ)
Mamin hasn’t done well in his return to Florida and is likely on his way out. Florida got a 7th round pick from Arizona in the Anton Stralman deal and could throw it back in as a conditional pick depending on how many games Mamin plays in the desert.
Luke Glendening (Dallas)– At 32 years old, the long-time Red Wing went south this offseason signing a two-year $1.5M AAV pact with the Dallas Stars. The Stars are in an odd quagmire where they consistently underperform despite having excellent talent. Glendening is similar to Jay Beagle but younger and with more offensive upside, having collected five goals and eight points in 19 games this season. Glendening consistently ranks in the mid-to-high fifties in faceoff win percentage and is at 55.1% so far this season.
Projected Trade: DAL trades C Luke Glendening to FLA for D Michael Benning and a 2023 4th Round Pick (FLA)
Glendening would be more expensive than Beagle and essentially this price is two fourth round picks. Zito hasn’t been shy on parting ways with his drafted prospects to better his team, parting ways with Emil Heineman and Devon Levi to obtain the services of Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart. Dallas’s defensive prospect pool isn’t that impressive and they need defender prospects.
BOTTOM PAIRING DEFENSEMAN
With injuries to Markus Nutivaara, Gustav Forsling and Olli Juolevi as well as the oft-injured Kevin Connauton, the Panthers need more defensive depth.
Will Butcher (Buffalo)– The former Hobey Baker Award winner has struggled since his first season and has seen his progression decline each year. Butcher was traded from one mess to another as he ended up in Buffalo and hasn’t done much. The Panthers are attempting to revive Olli Juolevi (if he can ever get healthy) and Butcher could be another interesting reclamation project and a good test to see if Andrew Brunette can replicate Joel Quenneville’s success with getting the best out of his players. A Butcher trade would likely need to see Buffalo retain some of Butcher’s $3.7M salary and would likely take a mid-tier prospect as a return.
Projected Trade: BUF trades D Will Butcher (50% retained salary) for RW Serron Noel
Noel had a solid preseason, but I don’t see a roster spot for him opening up and he’s expendable enough. There is room for him to crack the Sabres lineup and I think he could have success there.
Matthew Benning (Nashville)- If Florida decides to hold on to Michael Benning, it would be a cool idea to trade for his older brother Matthew. The older Benning is a solid defensive defender that doesn’t put up a lot of points but is reliable in his own zone. Benning wouldn’t cost much and would be a solid option to boost the Panthers defensive depth.
Projected Trade: NSH trades D Matthew Benning to FLA for a 2024 4th round pick (FLA)