Florida Panthers Summer Will Define Them!

Hiring 3 time Stanley Cup Champion Joel Quenneville was just the beginning.

Free Ageny Frenzy begins tomorrow and the anticipation of what the Florida Panthers will do has the entire fan base on pins and needles regarding the status of unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. It also has other fan bases such as the Rangers, Islanders, and maybe the Avalanche making their own predictions, or wants.  Everyone is an expert, and everyone has the answers to where these two are going to end up.  If you pay attention to social media platforms such as Twitter you’ll either laugh or do a head slap on your forehead based on everyone’s thoughts.  Personally, I don’t do rumors.  It’s one reason why I’ve been very quiet.  The fact that the Florida Panthers are even in the discussion of two such potential prized players is enough for me to just wait it out.  Yet I must admit that I pray that both Bob and the Breadman land in South Florida.

This is the most important off season in team history.  Sure it’s been said before, however the foundation is in place for this club to take the next step.  Now!

Let’s rewind just a smidge and see how they got to where they are today.  Last season was filled with hope.  Not promise.  In 2017-2018 the Florida Panthers with a new head coach missed the post season by one point.  Everyone blamed the miss on the slow start to the season, and they were right.  By Thanksgiving of that year the Panthers had won only 8 games.

The 2018-2019 campaign began with hope of lessons learned from the previous year, and to a man, everyone knew and believed that another slow start not only couldn’t happen, but almost promised it wouldn’t.  To improve the team general manager Dale Tallon essentially stole Mike Hoffman from the San Jose Sharks for 2 draft picks.  Hoffman was acquired by San Jose from the Ottawa Senators, and the ink was barely dry on the deal before Tallon snatched him up.

Tallon also signed veteran forward, and former Stanley Cup champion Troy Brouwer to bolster the experience of the group and the bottom six.  What they also did however was go into the season with the exact same defence as the previous year, and with a 39 year old goaltender who’s body was wearing down.  Let’s face it, for the mileage that Roberto Luongo had on him, that was a grave mistake to have made.  Let me be very clear, that is not to disrespect Roberto at all!  However Luongo trained and worked very hard to be ready, and it looked as though he was.

Additionally, James Reimer who was viewed as goalie 1B in this tandem would be the one to turn to if and when Bobby Lu got hurt.  Which he did.  In the first game of the season.  On a freakish injury that no one could have predicted.  Reimer went from inconsistent to bad to worse during the year. By Thanksgiving, the Panthers once again had only 8 victories.  The 5-4 loss at home to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime that weekend would be the nail in the coffin to the season.

After ending this past year with a 36-32-14 record, good enough for 86 points, the Florida Panthers promised changes.  And swiftly one was made.  Three time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville was hired as the new head coach the Monday after the regular season was completed.  Euphoria set in as the announcement was made.  The last high profile coach to receive anything close to the warm welcome that Q received was when Mike Keenan was hired in 2001.  18 years prior.  Since then no coach with a resume as decorated as Keenan has come to South Florida.

However in order to support Quenneville the Panthers are going to have to make some roster moves and adjustments if they expect to contend for the Stanley Cup.

The shopping list for this writer has been a goaltender and a solid defenceman who actually plays defence.  If there’s still money, then add scoring.  You cannot win the Stanley Cup without defence, and it’s built from the goalie out.  Winning games 5-4 during the regular season is fun, but that won’t get you very far in the playoffs.

The rumors have been flying that both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin are both bringing their talents to South Florida.  These two high profile players are not coming cheap.  The only advantage when it comes to money that the Panthers can offer is no state income tax.  That could save about $1.5 million off a 11-12 million per year offer for the Breadman, and $1 million off a $9 million dollar offer on Bob.  That’s a boatload of money for two players with other contracts needing to be signed.  And let’s not forget about James Reimer’s situation.

Reimer is going to be difficult to trade because of the contract that he was given by Tom Rowe.  There’s a signing bonus to Reimer that gets paid prior to July 1st of next year.  Do YOU want to inherit that?

There have been rumors over the past few days that the Panthers are working hard to try and move Reimer.  It won’t be easy.  If he can’t be moved then they’ll look to buy him out.

Bobby Lu had been given time to make a decision, and respectfully so.  Earlier this week the future Hall of Famer announced his retirement.  Based on the structure of his contract the Panthers will have a $1 million dollar cap hit for the next 3 seasons.

Additionally after this coming season is completed, Evgeni Dadonov, Mike Hoffman are unrestricted free agents, and Henrik Borgstrom is a restricted free agent.  There’s a lot of work to be done, and the calculators and pencils need to be working and sharp.

If the Panthers sign Bobrovsky and Panarin and don’t address the defence, you still have a problem.  And let me be “frank”, the defence is an issue.  The Panthers cannot return with the exact same cast as last season.  Too inconsistent, somewhat inxperienced (McCoshen and Weegar) and too many of the same thing.  Also, please don’t be infatuated with Josh Brown.  He’s a nice player, but not the answer.

And just the fact that Joel Quenneville is the new head coach won’t be enough to turn things around on the back end.  I have said multiple times that should the Panthers acquire Bob and the Breadman, then it’s very likely that Mike Hoffman gets moved for a defenceman.   This was posted on Twitter Saturday afternoon:

A lot has to go right for all of that to take place, and it very well could.  If so, the Panthers would have solved their goaltending, strengthened their top six with an extremely skilled forward who’s younger than Hoffman.  And they would have bolstered the defence.  With players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov already in place, this year could be one of the most exciting years ever for the Panthers.

Getting Joel Quennevile was the first piece to raising the bar for this franchise.  Culture, mindset and expectations all changed dramatically the day his signing was announced. Adding Panarin whom Q loves is huge.  Adding Bobrovsky gives them piece of mind in goal.  Getting a true defenceman is the final piece to everything.  Think of it as three legged stool.

This isn’t the same as when the Panthers traded for Pavel Bure.  At that time they were putting all their eggs in one basket.  This is bigger.  And it revolves not only around a future Hall of Fame head coach, but around 2 players that have the ability to put this franchise into an elite status,  Finally.  And if that happens the jokes and disrespectful remarks will end as well.

Despite what you read and see over the next 24 hours or so, don’t believe or bank on anything until official announcements are made.  And remember to look for the blue checkmark next to the names of various hockey “insiders”.  Don’t be fooled by impersonators, and by fans who have sources.

There a number of scenarios that are swirling around.  One is that Bob and Panarin are a package, and where one goes, so will the other.  Another is that Panarin wants to come here, but Bob is considering other locations, namely the New York Islanders.  If Bob lands on the island, the Panthers will need to act quickly and move towards either Robin Lehner, Semyon Varlomov or Petr Mrazek.  We cannot control what either or any of these players ultimately decide.  All that can be done is to move to plan B if plan A doesn’t pan out.

As for Panarin, if signed he essentially makes Mike Hoffman a target to be traded for a defenceman that is much needed.  Panarin is younger. will back check and has a lethal shot that’s very accurate.  He’s an electric player. No insult to Mike Hoffman, but he’s likely to test free agency next summer, and there’s a good chance that the Panthers won’t be able to afford him.  But if they land Panarin, they can afford to use him to get defence.

Let’s be very clear.  If either or both of Panarin and Bobrovsky sign here, Joel Quenneville will have played a major role in that decision.  Which of these two is more attractive if you can only have one?  Let’s not put the cart before the horse.  Or the butter before the bread.

Between now and Monday the roller coaster of emotions will be tested.  If they already haven’t.  Buckle up.  There could be some bumps along the way.

Thanks for reading.

Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas





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