Jamie McGinn A Puzzling Addition For The Panthers

Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers needed offense when Sunday began.  By Sunday night, they still needed scoring.  The straight-up trade of Jason Demers for Jamie McGinn yesterday was a sudden but ultimately unsatisfying swap for the Panthers.  In Demers, the Arizona Coyotes will get a healthy veteran defenseman with offensive capabilities and playoff experience.  In McGinn, the Panthers get a tough winger to play among the bottom-six forwards.  There are money considerations present in the deal (although Florida will retain 12.5% of Demers’s salary), but the upshot is that the Panthers haven’t made a considerable improvement on the ice.

Without putting the cart completely before the horse, I see some problems with this trade at face value.

McGinn’s offensive skills are suspect.  Tallon and the Panthers are betting that McGinn will revert back to his 2015-16 form, when he scored 22 goals over 84 (!) games for the Sabres and Ducks.  He had a serviceable year as a third-liner on both teams, and the Panthers will likely ask him to repeat the feat on Nick Bjugstad‘s wing this season.

But the Panthers are making this bet despite knowledge of McGinn’s latest season in Arizona, during which his productivity tanked.  His point total shrank from 39 to 17.  His goals created per game was halved from 0.20 to 0.10.  And if you take any interest in this godforsaken statistic, McGinn’s plus/minus was a team-worst among all forwards-an ignominious -23 (the two forwards behind him? Lawson Crouse and… Radim Vrbata).   For the nerds like me reading, McGinn’s 45.2 CF% was fairly abysmal.

It’s fair to chalk that season up as a red herring, attributable more to a terrible Coyotes roster than to McGinn’s deficiencies as a player.  But the Panthers gave away dozens of goals this offseason in Jonathan MarchessaultReilly Smith, and (evidently) Jaromir Jagr.  There isn’t convincing evidence beyond a gut feeling that Jamie McGinn could replace a large portion of that lost offense.

Free agency would’ve provided better value.  Like Jagr, for instance?  

Obviously the best time to attack the free agent market is in July, and not September.  But the market is constantly replete with forwards with some scoring touch.  Consider how easy it was for Florida to pluck Marchessault last year as a UFA.  During this year’s free agency period, Sam Gagner was a depth scoring option.  Drew Stafford and Nail Yakupov each signed one-year deals worth less than $1 million.  Stafford only signed less than a month ago, too.  

Tallon and the Panthers are entitled to reasons why they didn’t sign these players while they were on the open market.  But all of them would’ve been cheaper moves for the Panthers than to swap Demers for McGinn.  Instead of losing depth at defense to help with depth at forward, why not just sign the forward depth and keep the defense in tact?

What does Demers’s absence do to benefit the team?  It’s not shocking to see Jason Demers leaving the Panthers.  He has four more years left on his contract and is-to a relative degree-expensive.  His frequency of defensive lapses bordered on being more than “occasional”.  

But Demers scored nine goals, played almost 20 minutes on average over 81 games, and arguably deserved a shot playing for a non-Tom Rowe character.  Additionally, the Panthers didn’t sign any defensemen over the offseason: only in-house options MacKenzie Weegar or Ian McCoshen could fill Demers’s void.  Now that October is less than two weeks away, it strikes me as imprudent to handcuff the roster.

Unloading Demers’s contract might be a good reason, but his $4.5 million AAV isn’t so unwieldy compared to McGinn’s $3.33 million AAV.  And when you take into consideration that the Panthers will still pay 12.5% of Demers’ salary, Florida only saves about $600,000 against the cap for each of the next two seasons after this trade.  Accordingly, the Panthers now have the 3rd-most cap space in the entire NHL, a cool $11.5 million.

The deal might just have to be considered a value based on term, which is an awkward explanation as well.  At the end of McGinn’s contract at 2019, the Panthers’ expiring NHL contracts are McGinn, Derek MacKenzieMichael Haley, and Denis Malgin.  As of the time of publication, none of those players are in line for a massive extension.  Letting McGinn’s contract expire two seasons from now would only create more cap space without an obvious use for that space.  

Of course, the Panthers could be planning to chase down some free agent whales in July 2019.  But there are two seasons between now and then, which is two seasons of Aleksander BarkovJonathan HuberdeauVincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad entering the primes of their careers and kicking ass.  The Panthers should be giving their core every tool to win before Gary Bettman inevitably shuts down the NHL again.

Thanks for reading!