Florida Panthers Decision In Goal Points To What About Bob?

It’s no secret that the Florida Panthers face a very important decision regarding goaltending that is either going to be addressed at or before the February 25th trade deadline. Or in the summer via Free Agency when it won’t cost them assets. The problem is how long can they wait to fix it, and will waiting cost them an opportunity? With the poor performance of James Reimer on Sunday night, where he gave up 3 goals on 12 shots and was pulled after the second period, the Panthers are sending a message that they need to be better. That loss put them 9 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card spot. A win would have made it 7, and an outside chance of climbing back in still existed.

Now? Not so much. The hill is too high to climb, but that doesn’t erase the need to find a solution. The rumors have been floating around that the Panthers are persistent in their attempt to trade for disgruntled goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky of Columbus. Key word is disgruntled. He does not want to be in Columbus, and has been talking about not returning when he becomes a UFA this summer virtually all season. That probably gets a little tenuous in the dressing room after a while.

So, as potential solution number one, is Bob the guy? If you trade for him, obviously Reimer goes the other way. Then likely a draft pick or two and a prospect, and maybe even an NHL ready player. Or, you wait till free agency and outbid other teams wanting to add a former Vezina Trophy winner. Bob is going to ask for and command a lot of money. He’ll be 31 in September and do you really want to sign him for 7 years on the open market? Or for 8 if you acquire him in a trade? If his game regresses at 35ish, he’s going to be hard to move if you’re paying him $8 million plus per season. If not acquired in a trade, can the Panthers out bid the competition? Sure there’s no state income tax. It’s sunny and warm all year round with beaches, golf, tennis, and boating. But what about winning?

It’s a tough decision to make. Couple that with the fact that the Panthers also want to make a run for Artemi Panarin, also with Columbus, and you have the basis for a real blockbuster trade that can certainly change the complexion of the team. But Panarin wants to test the market, so he likely won’t be here by the deadline. Or maybe he will. Who knows. I sure don’t and I’ll bet neither do any of you reading this.

Before we take a quick peek at other options, consider this. Bob has proven to be an exceptional regular season goalie. But his playoff record in the 24 games he’s appeared in is 5-14-0. He’s 5-12-0 in 17 games with Columbus. A small sample, but is that enough to invest 7 or 8 years in if you’re chasing a Stanley Cup? No slight at all against Columbus or Bob, but what rabbit hole are we going down here? I doubt he signs for 5 years, and I doubt he takes less money than he’s making now. So, this one really needs to be well thought out. The Panthers window to win with the core they have is the next 2-5 seasons. If you can live with a trending down goaltender at that point, then maybe it’s ok. As long as you’ve won.

Other options:

Semyon Varlamov with Colorado. Varly will be 31 in April, and he makes less than Bob, and based on his record will cost less than Bob. His best season was 2013-2014 when he finished with 41 wins in 63 starts. He placed 4th in the Hart Trophy race, and was 2nd in the Vezina Trophy race. In 26 playoff games with both Washington and Colorado his record is 13-13. You can probably get Varly for 5 years. Maybe 6, and probably for about 6 million per season. Cheaper, doesn’t always mean better, but again, the asking price, as well as the signing price will be less. It also leaves more money to shore up the defence.

Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders. Lehner will be 28 and is on a one year deal. He’s having a terrific season for the Islanders, and after coming out with his personal story over the summer, it’s been nice to see. He has only appeared in 2 playoff games so far in his career, but that’s likely to change this spring, as he’s part of an Islanders team that’s looking extremely serious about winning. Maybe they have a chip on their shoulder since they lost John Tavares and are out to prove something. Maybe it’s coaching. Maybe the players have all bought into the system, and the belief that they play for each other, and by giving their best effort, they can be a really good hockey team. Maybe they’ve caught lightning in a bottle. No matter what, Lehner deserves some consideration. And if his season continues at this pace and the Islanders do well in the playoffs, he’s going to get paid. And he’s going to get term. And he’ll have deserved it.

Lastly let’s consider Cam Talbot in Edmonton. It was rumored that the Panthers were interested in him before he landed with the Oilers. He had a nice season last year, but this season he has regressed, and is likely on the way out. Not sure he’s your guy at this point because of the Edmonton situation, but it’s worth a look. Another cheaper option, that won’t likely command as much as the previously mentioned players.

If you’re looking for some experience, with a history of winning (as little as it might be), that about sums it up. There are other goalies that will be UFA’s, but these 4 are probably at the top of the list.

The Panthers have to play this smartly without breaking the bank, giving up too much in assets, and also not forgetting to improve the blue line. The problems this season are not solely goaltending, but we all know you build your team from the back end forward. Scoring wins during the season, but goaltending and defence win in the playoffs.

Bobrovsky is the front runner in all this, and rightfully so. But the decision of when to acquire him and at what price determines future moves, as well as the future of the team. At some point, the attraction for a player can no longer be the sun, the beach and no state income tax. While those are all fine and dandy, a culture of winning, and a determination to win the Stanley Cup must be present as well. Maybe that should be the primary reason for coming here.

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