The big, reasonable knock on the Florida Panthers is that for all their success this season, it's come mostly through luck and a system that suppresses shot quality to a significant extent.
The problem, then, was that this is a team that didn't have any real offensive finishing talent, at least beyond the first line. They entered Sunday with the seventh-most goals at full strength. But that's because they carry the fourth-highest 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league, and despite the fifth-fewest score-adjusted shots on goal per 60.
There was therefore always a chance that the goals simply stopped coming at some point. Probably wouldn't have mattered for the regular season, because that lengthy winning streak gifted them so many points it really didn't matter. At that point, they would have had to collapse badly to miss the postseason. But where the playoffs are concerned, it always looked like there was the potential for an early-round upset.
Right now, the Panthers look like they're going to draw either Pittsburgh or Detroit, and both teams play a much stronger possession game, have definitive skill throughout the lineup, and so on. While the result of any playoff round is always going to be heavily predicated on luck, the better team advances more often than not, and the fact that you couldn't definitively say a No. 2 seed in the conference was better than the No. 7 was somewhat telling.
Florida's actual repeatable success has come through suppression of high-danger chances this season. New Jersey, Nashville, San Jose and Los Angeles are the only teams better at keeping opponents away from the areas immediately around their nets, and those are some pretty stalwart defensive clubs. For Florida to be in the mix there speaks highly of them.
With that having been said, however, the ability to get to those areas themselves is second-worst in the league, behind only the Devils.
The three trades Dale Tallon made on Saturday address that issue specifically.
As you might imagine, there aren't too many guys on that team who allow a lot of high-danger shot attempts themselves, but there also aren't too many who can generate them at a reasonable rate either. Among forwards with at least 500 minutes (there are 294 of them), Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau are both clear first-line players in this regard, entering Sunday ranked 66th and 69th in high-quality chances per 60. But after that there's a huge decline. Nick Bjugstad is 121st, and Jussi Jokinen is 147th, putting both in the top half of this group but not too impressively so. Farther down the list are Sasha Barkov (152), Reilly Smith (168), Vince Trochek (193), Derek MacKenzie (286), and Brandon Pirri (294).
So these trades for Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler theoretically help. They're both something like buy-low propositions, because both are having some of their personal worst seasons in the last four years, but during that whole period their numbers would solidly put them in top-four for Florida this season. It's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison but in terms of what the Panthers actually gave away for them, their expected value is probably a little higher than their performances this year on two of the absolute worst teams in the league might suggest.
What's interesting is that both are pretty demonstrably goal-scoring drivers, with relative goals-for percentages of plus-8.77 (Purcell) and plus-5.17 (Hudler) this season. Hudler is 50/50 in this regard, being on the ice for 33 goals both for and against at full strength, and Purcell is only a minus-1. Keep in mind these guys are playing NHL hockey in Alberta, where getting badly outscored has been the name of the game all season. For Florida to tack them onto the team's scoring depth is therefore hugely important. It might also be worth noting that, in his entire career, Hudler seems like a rare guy who props up shooting percentages, as some players can; his relative shooting percentage in the Behind the Net era (2007-present) is plus-1.92, which is a massive difference. That's over nine seasons, and at some point you do have to wonder whether that's just a trend which continues until his career comes to an end.
Now, does that help the Panthers score more goals, or at least prop up their shooting percentage so that it is more sustainably high? Tougher to say. The Panthers have mostly cashed in on the few high-quality chances they do get, shooting well, well, well, well above the league average from the high slot, and only well above it immediately around the net.
Having a shooting percentage from anywhere on the ice, let alone the high slot, that's 123 percent north of the league average is insane. This is a perfect showcase of why and how the Panthers have been lucky to amass the record they carry. They get a lot of attempts off from that area (as indicated by the deep red dots), which is just outside the “high-danger” zone, and they score on an absurd number of those shots which end up on goal.
Meanwhile, because Hudler has proven pretty effective at getting to the net and you're obviously going to carry a high shooting percentage from those areas, it stands to reason that the Panthers' higher shooting percentages should be supported at least a little bit by his play. Purcell is also good(ish) at getting to the net, but doesn't necessarily drive shooting percentage the way Hudler does.
As for Jakub Kindl, well, it's always nice to have an extra warm body on your blue line.
Tallon has said the Panthers might not be done, and if they have any pretensions of getting deep into these playoffs, the team had better hope he's not bluffing. The process by which the team has won its games still has some serious issues, even if they've improved in that area since the winning streak came to an end. Hudler and Purcell don't necessarily address those problems, but if forward depth was the concern, they've addressed that much here. The question for Tallon becomes whether he's willing to push even more than his current commitments of draft picks (or even prospects) into the pot to help ensure a deeper run.
This is a team that could use a Loui Eriksson-type player in the worst way, but those players are exceedingly expensive, and teams like Florida have to understand their actual place in the league. They are pretty good at some things but clearly deficient in others, and their long-term ability to beat a rival like Tampa or Washington as the spring moves along doesn't seem particularly great. That's not even getting into how badly the elite teams of the West would brain this club in a seven-game series.
A year or three from now, when more talent has come into the club via prospect maturation, trade, or free agent signings, spending more than they have already for rentals might make sense. But now they're maybe the sixth- or seventh-best team in the East, all things considered. They still get out-attempted, outshot, and out-chanced on a nightly basis.
Is maybe-helping in that area worth a first-round pick and a good prospect?
These were good, low-risk trades that solidified areas of clear need, but they don't move the needle enough to make Florida a legitimate threat to any actually good team elsewhere in the league. No one else on the market gets them to that level, either.
So the question becomes: How much more does a team with basically no chance to win a Cup actually give away in pursuit of the mere appearance of trying to win one?
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: I mean it's almost like there was no way the Ducks were going to score like the Devils all season. Almost like that exact thing.
Arizona Coyotes: Okay, sure.
Chicago: How scary will this team be if, in addition to all the team-improving trades, Stan Bowman also gets someone to take the Bickell contract? Everyone should be scared of this team having that kind of flexibility.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Another game where the Jackets play themselves out of the conversation for the top pick. After being the worst team in hockey for months, they have two regulation losses since Jan. 23.
Detroit Red Wings: It has been very, very easy to forget Brad Richards is actually in the league this season. This big goal was his seventh of the year.
Florida Panthers: Yeah but I'm saying they probably shouldn't.
Nashville Predators: Here's Filip Forsberg scoring his second natural hat trick in about a week. Gee whiz.
St. Louis Blues: When you have to turn to the Oilers to improve your goaltending, that seems like a worry.
Tampa Bay Lightning: This is getting to be a bit much. Pick a backup and stick with him.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Here'a couple who did a very nice thing.
Play of the Weekend
Gold Star Award
Shout out to the kid who fried Jeremy Roenick.
Minus of the Weekend
Strap yourself in for another no-fun deadline day. Very little of interest is likely to happen.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “OkpoTavanek” is trying to spruce up the place.
1st round pick
I'm sure the manual will indicate which lever is the velocitator and which the deceleratrix.
(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)
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