The Florida Panthers have great depth when it is healthy. Most players can come in and easily play at a decent level for their team at a moment’s notice and is the reason they sit third in the Atlantic Division. However, because of the amount of backup Florida has both on the active roster and in the AHL pipeline, they may have to shed some extra space and cut their losses on some of these skaters. It could be ultimately due to age, expiring contracts, or weighted deals, but at the end of the day, the NHL is a business.
From the day he stepped foot in Florida, Joe Thornton’s role was to be a veteran presence for the young core and was probably not going to be here long-term.
During the offseason, “Jumbo” was signed to a one-year deal worth $750,000. So far this season, he’s suited up for 17 games and has a total of five points (three goals, two assists). With Florida having issues in the faceoff circle, Thornton was one of the best in the business, so he could pass his skills down to younger forwards.
Ultimately, at 42 years of age, it is unknown how much Joe has left in the tank. In addition, he hasn’t played in every single game this season as he was healthy scratched when the team was completely healthy. For him to not come back next season is extremely likely. However, the impact he’s left on the NHL has been massive since he started back in 1997 for the Boston Bruins. Hopefully, he left a massive impression on the young ones down in Sunrise, Florida.
Noel Acciari might be the odd man out due to the performance of the other bottom 6 centers in Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen.
Three years ago, Acciari was signed to a three-year, roughly $1.7 million per year contract by then-general manager Dale Talon. Through his time as a Panther, he’s been an excellent bottom-six forward by taking big faceoffs and playing great on the penalty kill.
However, he was injured in a preseason matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 5 and has yet to play a game this season. As a result, he was put on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). As previously mentioned, some of the newer centers have come in and played great for the Panthers. In addition, “Cookie” is in the final year of his current contract. With players like forward Jonathan Huberdeau needing a new deal soon, he might be the odd one out if Zito has to make a tough decision.
With the amount of depth in the pipeline for wingers, such as Grigori Denisenko, Zito may not see a reason to resign Frank Vatrano if they continue to develop properly.
Acquired back in 2018 via trade, Frankie V is a good bottom-six winger for the Panthers, appearing in many regular-season games and scoring clutch goals. Because of his good talents, he was signed to a three-year, $7.59 million deal in 2019 by Talon. He is currently on the final year of that contract.
During the offseason, there were rumblings about Vatrano being dealt elsewhere and was rumored to be an extra asset for a trade for forward Sam Reinhart. As a result, it’s clear that Florida is planning to not keep him around by the end of this season. However, it is unknown if he will be traded this upcoming deadline, or not be pursued come free agency.
A veteran leader who wears the “A”, Patric Hornqvist was acquired last season from one of Zito’s first trades as a general manager back in 2020. From that season, it paid dividends with Hornqvist finding ways to get in the back of the net and helped fuel a great run for the team to a playoff berth. In addition, his ability to get dirty in front of the net is evident as he is on the top power-play unit for the Cats.
However, with the amount of talent the Panthers have brought in, Hornqvist was ultimately sent down to the fourth line. Furthermore, he’s currently 34 years old and carries a cap hit of $5.3 million. As mentioned, Zito may find himself needing some extra cap space to resign his key stars and potentially bring in new personnel. Unfortunately, Patric could be on that chopping block to shore up some cash.
Acquired via trade in the offseason in 2020, Zito brought in Markus Nutivaara as a familiar face from his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. Unfortunately, he has been rather disappointing for his team. He would be a healthy scratch on multiple nights and it seems like he can never stay healthy. Last season he played 30 games and piled up 10 assists. In addition, he was featured in five playoff games last season against Tampa but finished with a minus-4 rating.
This season, he only was featured in one game on Oct. 29 against the Detroit Red Wings, where he tallied an assist. As of now, he is currently on LTIR. Much like his teammates in Thornton, Vatrano and Acciari, he is on the final year of his $2.7 million deal. With the amount of time he’s missed, whether he was healthy or not, it may be an easy choice for Zito to let Nutivaara go in some fashion.
Will They Actually Go?
Of course, nothing is set in stone for anything in the unpredictable NHL. But with all the variables presented for each of these players, it’s extremely likely that they will not be a Panther during the offseason. However, crazy things have happened across the league. But only time will tell what Zito and company actually do with their current roster at hand.
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My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!