2020-21 record 37-14-5, 79 points
2nd in the Discover NHL Central Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Tampa
Additions: F Zac Dalpe, F Maxim Mamin, F Sam Reinhart (acquired from BUF), F Joe Thornton, G Christopher Gibson
Subtractions: F Alexander Wennberg (signed with SEA), D Vladislav Kolyachonok (traded to ARI), D Anton Strålman (traded to ARI), D Keith Yandle (buyout), G Chris Driedger (expansion, SEA), G Devon Levi (traded to BUF)
Still Unsigned: None
Re-signed: F Sam Bennett, F Anthony Duclair, F Juho Lammikko, F Carter Verhaeghe, D Lucas Carlsson, D Kevin Connauton, D Gustav Forsling, D Noah Juulsen, D Brandon Montour, D Chase Priskie, G Sam Montembeault
Offseason Analysis: The Panthers made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, then spent quite a few years in-between without playing a postseason game in back-to-back years before making the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier (losing in four games in a best-of-five series to the New York Islanders) and taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 First Round.
Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Final.
Unlike the time between then and now, the Panthers are legitimately on the rise.
Head coach, Joel Quenneville, has a tendency to keep a team’s composure together and make them competitive from year-to-year on the ice, but General Manager, Bill Zito, has the tough job of ensuring the chemistry works off the ice and under the salary cap too.
Luckily for him, all he had to do this summer was stay the course.
Though they lost in six games to the Lightning in the first ever “Battle of Florida”, the Panthers got a taste of what makes champions, champions, and gained valuable experience in the postseason department.
Zito bought out Keith Yandle, brought in Joe Thornton for the bottom-six via free agency, acquired Sam Reinhart (and signed him to an extension) and traded Anton Strålman to the Arizona Coyotes in his biggest moves of the summer.
The emergence of Mackenzie Weegar and the return of Aaron Ekblad pre-empted a spot in the top-six for Yandle with Brandon Montour, Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas garnering more time under Quenneville’s masterplan.
Meanwhile, Strålman’s departure opened up $5.500 million in cap space for Zito to spend elsewhere– like on Reinhart’s three-year extension worth $6.500 million per season, for example.
Reinhart was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2022 1st round pick and goalie, Devon Levi, on July 24th– two days before Zito flipped Strålman with Vladislav Kolyachonok to the Coyotes for a 2023 7th round pick.
Despite a horrible 2020-21 season for the Sabres as a whole, Reinhart chipped in 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games as one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.
One season in Toronto was enough for Thornton as his Maple Leafs tenure produced 5-15–20 totals in 44 games. At least now that he’s in Florida it’ll be 1) warmer for surfing year-round and 2) better overall.
With about $1.330 million in cap space, Zito has room to keep adding the missing link (if there even is one) by the time the trade deadline rolls around.
Offseason Grade: A-
Hockey is weird in that once a team starts showing signs of forward progress sometimes they go off the deep end and make tons of moves that make no sense from season-to-season.
Zito is sharp enough to stay the course and add– bolstering his top-six forward group with Reinhart and providing Florida with the best chance to succeed for the first time this millennium.
That said, there’s always the Sergei Bobrovsky factor, but Spencer Knight should help ease Bobrovsky’s workload if he isn’t already the starting goaltender to begin with for the Panthers in 2021-22.
Chris Driedger leaving for the Seattle Kraken was inevitable, but Florida was wise enough to stockpile goaltending depth in Sam Montembeault and Knight over the last couple of seasons.
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