After he was let go in Chicago, it was widely considered a fait accompli that Joel Quenneville would end up in Florida with his old GM, Dale Tallon. And so it came to pass.
Now, the Panthers enter the summer as the clear frontrunners to acquire the services of Columbus’s two Russian superstars, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. They have the money to acquire both elite talents (especially if Roberto Luongo is indeed riding into the sunset) because they have relatively few RFAs to re-sign and none of them are likely to cost much at all.
People have thought these two were destined for South Beach for so long that the signings might as well have happened already. But the question is how much that talent infusion would actually help the Panthers.
The first thing to keep in mind is that Bob Boughner wasn’t a particularly good head coach, but he also didn’t have a huge amount of talent to work with. The Panthers were very solid at the top of the lineup, and not so much at the bottom. Adding Panarin and Bobrovsky doesn’t really address that issue, but incoming prospects (Aleksi Heponiemi? Owen Tippett?) probably help there.
And more to the point, the addition of Panarin obviously shuffles the Panthers’ already solid left wing depth down a bit. That’s true even if you keep Jonathan Huberdeau with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov, who were excellent together two years ago but only a little better than average for much of last season. Doing so slots Panarin in with Vincent Trocheck and, I don’t know, Denis Malgin? (Look, there aren’t a ton of exciting right wings on this roster.)
That still gives you room to run Panarin out on the power play, where Florida was already great last year (almost 27 percent) and he can be lethal. That, then, moves Mike Hoffman down a slot with, say, Henrik Borgström. There are rumors he could be traded, and Florida reportedly asked for his no-trade list last season, but the guy had 70 points last year so I wouldn’t be too keen to sell him even if the value could be pretty high given what he costs.
But the point is: If you’re ending up with someone who had 70 points last season as your third line left wing, well, all the concerns about scoring goals — especially at 5-on-5, where the Panthers were middle of the pack last season — go away.
It’s worth noting that while the Panthers scored at a decent rate (ninth in the league overall thanks to that insane power-play performance), they also dramatically outperformed their expected-goals number… by about 42. That’s eight extra wins provided by a high shooting percentage and strong talent. Adding Panarin to the mix likely softens the blow of regression considerably, and makes them more dangerous at full strength specifically.
Of course, when you’re ninth in goals in the regular season, the thing that probably kept you out of the playoffs was defense and goaltending. The Panthers are fully stocked on the blue line, without much cap room to add anyone (barring a trade or two, or the Luongo retirement), so no help there.
The only help, then, comes in net, as Bobrovsky adds elite goaltending to a team that had almost as bad of a season stopping the puck as San Jose (.889 for the Sharks, .891 for the Panthers). Let’s put it this way: If the Panthers got even league-average goaltending last season with the exact same shot quality and volume Luongo and James Reimer faced, they would have allowed about 29 fewer goals. That would have brought them from fourth-worst in the league to a tie for 16th, and given them a plus-20 goal difference. As you might imagine, it’s basically impossible to finish plus-20 and miss the playoffs.
But Bobrovsky isn’t a league-average goaltender. He’s much better than that (for now at least). He wasn’t that great last year and he still ranked 19th in goalie WAR. Since he came to Columbus (before he won two Vezinas), Bobrovsky ranks third in goals saved above expected at nearly 72 in seven seasons. Take the average of that, and he saves about 10 above expected a season in 60ish games. If you get even competent backup goaltending, you’re cruising.
The clear goal here is to get the Panthers into the playoff conversation, and it ain’t easy in that division. The top three teams the last two years aren’t likely to go anywhere next season, meaning Florida just has to be, say, sixth-best in the East. At best.
Can a team with that much extant offensive talent, plus an elite offense-driving winger, plus likely above-average goaltending, plus a new/all-time great coach get to sixth in the East? I’m gonna say yes.
Now they just have to sign the guys. Which, hey, we’ve been counting on that for months.
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