The Florida Panthers will have to spend a good chunk of this NHL offseason figuring out what went wrong. The Presidents’ Trophy Winners got ousted by the defending Stanley Cup Champions in four games and in a series where Florida’s own coach said the team needed to find a higher level of urgency. Noting the Lighting wanted it more than the Panthers, that an interim coach said that of his own team is not a good sign for an organization that has a solid young core and should be right in the thick of things again next season.
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Such a disappointing exit from the playoffs after such lofty expectations means there’s bound to be some change. The question will be, who stays and who goes? Or, what players do the Panthers go after in order to do next season what they couldn’t do this year?
While the Panthers have a number of pending depth UFAs they might move on from, here are four key players that aren’t likely to return.
Claude Giroux Will Test Free Agency
Claude Giroux did say he could see a scenario where he signs another deal with the Panthers but he’s more likely to test free agency knowing that: a) the Panthers signed him as a short-term luxury and b) there are teams that are willing to give him more than the Panthers can afford. Specifically, the Ottawa Senators will likely make a big push to sign him as a free agent, and there’s a good chance they’ll overpay him.
When asked about a potential extension in Florida, he responded, “One step at a time here. You’ve gotta take a few weeks to settle down. We’re still pretty fired up. We’ve got a lot of things to think of.” He added, “Obviously, there’s a lot to worry about and a decision has to be made. It’s a tough question.”
Giroux is at an age that he might have one big contract left in the NHL. If the Panthers can’t give it to him, it’s likely he leaves.
Don’t ask me how the Panthers will be able to trade goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but there is talk the Panthers have already tried and laid the groundwork for a potential deal out of Florida. Sportsnet NHL insider Elliotte Friedman noted during his latest 32 Thoughts Podcast that he heard the Panthers really worked on it to see if it was possible.
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Bobrovsky is a $10 million cap hit on the Panthers’ books for the next three seasons. Moving his contract will give them all sorts of space to go out and acquire a different netminder to work with Spencer Knight and some other pieces to round out their roster.
Bobrovsky did have a bounceback season and believes he’s got another level. Perhaps if the Panthers choose to retain salary, there could be a team that sees a way to get a sweetener out of the deal. Keep in mind, that he’s got a full no-move clause in his contract, so he has all sorts of control here unless he wants to avoid being bought out. It’s a risk for Florida as his cap hit on a buyout is still worth between $5.75 million and $6.75 million for the next four seasons.
The goalie said during his post-season media avail, “My mind is on one moment at a time, one day at a time. I want to build on [this season]. Get stronger, get better, and focus on the present. I see lots of potential in myself [still] and I don’t see limits.”
According to David Dwork of The Odd Man Rush podcast, Joe Thornton hasn’t made a decision about his NHL future quite yet. He was asked if he was leaning towards returning to the NHL or potentially retiring and responded, “I really have no idea. I haven’t put any thought into it at all right now…I’m sure I’ll talk with the family and see what our plan is next.”
Friedman reports that Thornton has said in the past he’d like to play his final couple of seasons in professional hockey overseas and in front of his wife’s friends a family in Switzerland. That may have to start next season as it’s not clear another NHL team will give him a shot to win the Stanely Cup that has alluded him his entire career. He wasn’t a regular NHL player this past season and his age is becoming a bigger and bigger factor each season.
The Florida Panthers gave up a 1st, 4th, and Ty Smilanic for defenseman Ben Chiarot and the trade didn’t work out at all for the team. With no first-round picks in the next few years because the Panthers chose to go for it, Chiarot is going to take a lot of the heat for the lack of success the team had in the playoffs and it might be best for both sides to simply move on.
At 5v5 the Panthers allowed a higher rate of attempts and chances with him on the ice than every other defenseman on the team. His penalty-killing stats were as bad, if not worse.