Some firsts, 100s, broken fingers and pointing fingers– who should be concerned about their job security behind the bench? Plus Cap’n and Pete are back.
Brayden Point re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a bunch of other RFAs signed extensions, the Boston Pride were sold, Dan Girardi retired and DTFR’s season previews continued with the Atlantic Division.
36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division
Missed the postseason for the third straight year
Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers
Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)
Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn
Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault
Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.
But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.
Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.
A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.
Tallon is in “win now” mode.
The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.
As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.
So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.
Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.
Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.
An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.
Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.
Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.
What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?
Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.
Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.
Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.
But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.
Offseason Grade: B
Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.
Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.
The Battle For Gloria rages on with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues tied 2-2 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Nick and Pete also discuss the latest coaching moves (Dave Tippett, Bob Boughner, Marc Crawford), trades (Kevin Hayes) and rumors (Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, Phil Kessel), while Nick introduces a new game segment that has Pete stumped.
Chris Wagner received NESN’s annual 7th Player Award as voted on by Boston Bruins fans prior to Saturday’s, 4-1, loss to the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.
Oh yeah, there was a game after Wagner got his picture with the award.
Roberto Luongo (17-16-4 record, 3.10 goals against average, .900 save percentage in 41 games played) made 30 saves on 31 shots against for a .968 SV% in the win for Florida.
Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (26-12-5, 2.43 GAA, .914 SV% in 44 GP) made 19 saves on 22 shots faced for an .864 SV% in the loss.
The B’s fell to 47-22-9 (103 points) on the season, but remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division.
Florida improved to 35-32-12 (82 points) and 5th in the Atlantic.
Boston is now 9-5-0 in the month of March and 26-8-5 since Jan. 1st.
Bruce Cassidy indicated to reporters prior to Saturday’s matinee matchup that Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) would be back in the lineup against the Panthers and Kevan Miller (upper body) would return to game action on Sunday in Detroit.
Grzelcyk suited up alongside Connor Clifton on the third defensive pairing in the only other lineup adjustment.
Midway through the first period, DeBrusk tripped Aaron Ekblad and sent the Panthers on their first power play of the afternoon at 11:36 of the opening frame.
One second after the B’s killed off DeBrusk’s minor, Sheahan (9) capitalized on the vulnerable minute after a skater advantage and made it, 1-0, Florida at 13:37 of the first period.
A little over two minutes later, Dadonov (27) buried a rebound for his first goal of the day and extended the Panthers’ lead to two-goals.
Ekblad (24) and Jonathan Huberdeau (60) tallied the assists on Dadonov’s goal at 15:44 and Florida led, 2-0.
Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Panthers, 16-8, but trailed on the scoreboard, 2-0.
Midway through the second period, Acciari (6) answered on the scoreboard and provided a spark for Boston– cutting the lead in half, 2-1, but it was short-lived.
Nearly 30 seconds later, Huberdeau was penalized for interference at 13:43 and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the afternoon.
It did not go well.
After failing to convert on a rush, Brouwer (11) took the puck the other way on a pass from Mike Matheson to score on a breakaway and make it, 3-1, Panthers.
Matheson (18) had the only assist on Brouwer’s shorthanded goal at 14:19 of the second period.
Late in the period, Sheahan slashed Johansson and took a trip to the penalty box at 17:21.
Boston did not capitalize on the ensuing power play to close out the middle frame.
Entering the third period, the Bruins trailed, 3-1, on home ice despite leading in shots on goal, 24-14.
There were no penalties called in the third period and Boston was forced to pull their goaltender late in the period in an attempt to tie the game.
Shortly after pulling Rask for an extra attacker, Aleksander Barkov worked the puck to Huberdeau into Florida’s offensive zone, whereby Huberdeau set up Dadonov (28) for his second goal of the afternoon on the empty net.
Huberdeau (61) and Barkov (57) collected the assists at 17:41 of the third period as the Panthers sealed the deal on their, 4-1, victory.
At the final horn, Florida won the game and finished the afternoon leading in blocked shots (20-8) and face-off win percentage (54-46), while Boston finished with the lead in shots on goal (31-23) and giveaways (11-5).
Both teams recorded 21 hits aside. The Panthers went 0/1 on the power play, while the Bruins went 0/2.
As a result of the loss, Boston’s 12-game winning streak at home came to an end as the B’s also lost their first game in regulation at home since Jan. 19th’s, 3-2, loss to the New York Rangers.
The Bruins travel to Detroit for a primetime matchup on Sunday to close out the month.
Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.
Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 4|
|Tuesday, March 5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Boston||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||New Jersey||2-1 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa Senators||New York Islanders||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Pittsburgh||2-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Tampa Bay||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Minnesota||Nashville||4-5 (SO)|
|8:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Dallas Stars||0-1|
|9 p.m.||Detroit||Colorado||3-4 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||Los Angeles||3-1|
|Wednesday, March 6|
|9 p.m.||Toronto||Vancouver||2-3 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Anaheim||5-4|
|Thursday, March 7|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Ottawa Senators||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Detroit Red Wings||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Minnesota||Tampa Bay||3-0|
|8:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Chicago||4-5 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Los Angeles||4-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||San Jose||2-5|
|Friday, March 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Washington||0-3|
|Saturday, March 9|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||San Jose||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Edmonton||CBC, NHLN, SN|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Boston||CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Rangers|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Arizona|
|10 p.m.||Vegas||Vancouver||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|Sunday, March 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Boston||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Los Angeles||Anaheim||NBCSN|
As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.
Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.
Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.
In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.
As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.
While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?
Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.
While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.
Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.
Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.
Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.
Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.
With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).
Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.
Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).
Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.
Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.
With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.
Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.
However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.
Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.
In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.
I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.
Aleksander Barkov had three assists and Mike Hoffman had two goals in the Florida Panthers sunset cruise over the Boston Bruins in Sunrise, Florida on Tuesday night. The Panthers won, 5-0, thanks to Roberto Luongo‘s 33 save shutout– good enough for his 77th career shutout in 1,011 NHL games played.
Luongo (5-3-0, 2.71 goals against average, .914 save percentage in ten games played), stopped 33 shots against for a 1.000 SV% in the win, while Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (8-4-2, 2.55 GAA, .932 SV% in 16 GP) made 39 saves on 44 shots against (.886 SV%) in the loss.
Boston fell to 14-9-4 (32 points) on the season, but remained in 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Panthers jumped up to 7th place with a 11-10-5 record and 27 points on the season. Florida has a game in-hand on the Ottawa Senators and trails the Detroit Red Wings for 6th place by one point.
The B’s are one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and may soon be in danger of falling further in the standings with Montreal having the chance to surpass Boston on Thursday night with a Bruins loss in regulation in Tampa and a Canadiens win any fashion in Ottawa.
Torey Krug was in the lineup for Boston, despite taking a maintenance day on Monday, though his minus-three rating in Tuesday night’s action may say otherwise.
Bruce Cassidy provided an update on Charlie McAvoy, indicating the young defender will be back in the lineup soon, but not expected to play on this two-game road trip in the Sunshine State. McAvoy returned to full-contact practice this week.
Cassidy made no lineup changes, despite the poor efforts in three out of the last four games now.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Steven Kampfer were the healthy scratches for the Bruins on Tuesday, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), McAvoy (concussion) and Kevan Miller (throat) remain injured.
Joakim Nordstrom hooked Dryden Hunt late in the first period at 15:34 and gave the Panthers their first power play of the night, but the Bruins were able to kill off Nordstrom’s minor and save themselves from one of the many chances Florida’s deadly power play would have on the night.
Mark Pysyk interfered with David Krejci at 17:41 of the first period and put Boston on the power play for the first time in the game, but the Bruins were unable to convert on any of their skater advantages on the night. Boston failed to record a shot on goal on the power play while Pysyk was in the box.
After one period, the score was still tied, 0-0, with Florida outshooting Boston, 13-7. The Panthers also led in giveaways, 8-6, after 20 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (1-0) and face-off win percentage (52-48). Hits were even, 10-10, and both teams were 0/1 on the power play.
With both teams coming out of the dressing room after playing on sloppy ice and lacking effort at establishing some sort of pace, the Bruins continued to struggle to establish a zone time presence and got outrun numerous times in the second period as the Panthers came back ready to play.
First Colton Sceviour banked a shot off of the back of Halak’s leg, leading to a loose puck in the crease for Mike Hoffman (13) to just tap it in and give the Panthers the 1-0 lead. Scevious (4) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23) had the assists on Hoffman’s goal at 4:21 of the second period.
Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Almost midway in the second period, Michael Matheson (2) went 200-feet down the frozen river from one end of the ice to the other and scored an unassisted goal past Halak’s blocker side at 7:13 of the middle frame. Florida led, 2-0.
The Bruins were 0-7 when trailing by two goals entering Tuesday and they left BB&T Center 0-8 at the final horn.
Michael Haley caught Halak with a high-stick at 14:04, but the B’s power play was short-lived– 16 seconds, in fact– as David Pastrnak was penalized for holding at 14:20.
While in the midst of the 4-on-4 action, Huberdeau (7) fired one of his accurate wrist shots into the back of the twine at 15:14 of the second period. Keith Yandle (20) and Aleksander Barkov (14) were tabbed with the assists and the Panthers led, 3-0.
Hunt was charged with interference at 17:51, but Pastrnak received a matching minor penalty for embellishment, yielding no skater advantage for the Bruins.
Jake DeBrusk cut a rut to the sin bin at 19:00 of the second period for slashing Sceviour and the Panthers went on a rare 4-on-3 power play.
With seconds remaining on the clock before the second intermission, Hoffman (14) emulated Matheson’s goal, but with the help of Barkov (15) and Yandle (21) to give Florida a four-goal lead at 19:56.
As a result of Hoffman’s second goal of the game, the Panthers have now scored at least one power play goal in 16 out of the last 17 games.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Panthers led the Bruins, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 33-23, in shots on goal. Florida also dominated in blocked shots (8-4) and takeaways (6-4), while Boston led in giveaways (15-10) and face-off win% (60-40). Hits were even, 18-18.
Florida was 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 0/3 after two periods.
Nick Bjugstad was called for holding Sean Kuraly at 5:20 of the third period and the Bruins went to the power play for the fourth and final time of the night. They did not score on the ensuing advantage.
Connor Clifton launched himself into a high hit on Bjugstad with about eight minutes remaining in regulation. Bjugstad took his time getting up and had to go through concussion protocol, but Clifton was not penalized on the play.
The rookie Bruins defender filling in while blue line regulars like Chara, McAvoy and Miller are out of the lineup received an earful for the remainder of the game from unhappy Panthers players, but wasn’t challenged to fight.
Instead, while on the power play as a result of Brandon Carlo cross-checking Vatrano at 13:02 of the third period, the Panthers collected another power play goal thanks to the relentless effort of Evgenii Dadonov (13) collecting the garbage in the low slot.
Barkov (16) had the only assist on Dadonov’s goal at 14:26 and the Panthers sealed their Tuesday night victory with a 5-0 lead.
At the final horn, Florida finished the night outshooting Boston, 44-33, and leading in blocked shots (16-8). The Bruins led in giveaways (19-15), hits (26-22) and face-off win% (56-44)– two of the three don’t equal scoring prowess.
Giving the puck away is problematic and usually teams that lead in hits lacked puck control to begin with, which was evident in the lack of sustained attacking zone time from Cassidy’s crew.
Florida finished the night 2/6 on the power play and Boston went 0/4.
The Bruins head to Amalie Arena for a Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning home Saturday to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Boston has a quick turnaround back to the road on Sunday with a game in Ottawa against the Senators, before coming back home for next Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.
In fact, including Thursday night’s game in Tampa, Boston alternates between road and home games for the next seven games until their short two-game home-stand from December 20-22.
The Bruins face five opponents in the next seven games from the Atlantic Division in addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins (Eastern Conference rival) and Coyotes (inter-conference action).
Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.
44-30-8, 96 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division
Subtractions: F Chase Balisy (signed with OTT), F Connor Brickley (signed with NSH), F Gregory Chase (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), F Alexandre Grenier (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), D Linus Hulstrom (signed, SHL), G Harri Sateri (signed with DET), D Edward Wittchow (signed, Liiga), F Curtis Valk (signed, KHL), F Radim Vrbata (retired)
Still Unsigned: None
Offseason Analysis: Despite losing their leading scorers from 2016-17 after trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed in the expansion draft, the 2017-18 Florida Panthers almost made the playoffs. Almost.
The 44-30-8 Panthers earned 96 points on the regular season and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida tied the record set by the 2014-15 Boston Bruins for the team with the most regular season points to miss the postseason.
General Manager Dale Tallon replaced Marchessault’s scoring ability this offseason by acquiring Mike Hoffman and a 2018 7th round pick (207th overall, Santtu Kinnunen) from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2018 4th round pick (123rd overall, Jack Gorniak– drafted by MTL), a 2018 5th round pick (139th overall, Mikael Hakkarainen– drafted by CHI) and a 2019 2nd round pick. The Sharks subsequently flipped the fourth and fifth round picks at the draft.
Hoffman had 22-34–56 totals in 82 games for the Ottawa Senators last season– his third straight season of 50 or more points– before it was revealed that his fiancée allegedly harassed Erik and Melinda Karlsson on social media.
Ottawa General Manager Pierre Dorion specifically did not want to trade within the division, so he sent Hoffman to San Jose, where Sharks GM Doug Wilson was more than happy to flip the offensively gifted forward to the Panthers right back in– you guessed it– the Atlantic Division.
Tallon’s not concerned about any potential locker room quarrels and Hoffman’s already texted all of his new teammates asking if they’d be okay with him wearing No. 68– last worn by Jaromir Jagr in a Panthers uniform.
While Hoffman remains Tallon’s biggest prize and boost to Florida’s offense, Michael Hutchinson, 28, was brought in as a candidate for the backup goaltending job that is all but assured to be James Reimer‘s, unless Hutchinson can do anything about that.
Yes, it was Reimer’s inability to remain a stable starting goaltender (2.99 goals against average and a .913 save percentage in 44 games played last season, 22-14-6 record) that pushed 39-year-old Roberto Luongo (2.47 GAA, .929 SV% in 35 GP, 18-11-2 record) into not only saving the season, but nearly bringing the Panthers into the playoffs on his back.
The future of goaltending in Florida remains shrouded as Luongo is under contract at $4.533 million per season through 2021-22 (by then Luongo will be 43 at season’s end), Reimer, 30, is signed through 2020-21 at $3.400 million and Hutchinson (the youngest goaltender of the three) is on a one-year deal.
But Florida’s top-six forward core is stacked with Evgenii Dadonov, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad on the prospective first line and Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Hoffman filling out line two. That leaves February acquisition from the Bruins who’s looking to prove himself in a full-time role with the Panthers, Frank Vatrano on the third line.
Right about where he was on Boston’s depth chart before their youth movement– yes a youth movement, despite Vatrano only being 24– forced him out of the lineup.
Despite the existence of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle on the blue line, Tallon still has work to do in finding another legitimate top-four defender, let alone fixing the drastic drop-off in talent from Ekblad and Yandle to MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen likely on the third pair.
Then again, it’s really head coach Bob Boughner‘s job to figure out the right matchups to maximize potential and win games, so perhaps Michael Matheson or Mark Pysyk will be paired with better suitors as the season progresses.
Overall, between the defense and goaltending, the Panthers have to improve their plus-two goal differential from 2017-18 to be a lot more in the black.
Florida’s on the cusp of making the playoffs and turning a few heads, but they really aren’t built for a Cup run. They might be ahead of last season’s Eastern Conference wild card teams (the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils) in both development and talent, but they don’t have all the pieces as thing stand to go against the powerhouses in the league– including their intrastate rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Panthers didn’t yield a huge harvest in the offseason, but they certainly got the most out of filling their need for a top-six forward in Mike Hoffman on the second line.
While Tallon was rumored to have had conversations with Montreal regarding Max Pacioretty (now traded to the Golden Knights) prior to acquiring Hoffman, Florida made the better move for their organization in that they didn’t have to give up any current or future roster pieces for the services of a goal-scorer.
External factors might have driven Hoffman’s price down, but a prospective deal with the Canadiens for Pacioretty would have meant parting with a guy like Huberdeau and that cannot happen if the Panthers are serious about making a playoff run.
Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.