Without fact-checking, I can safely say no one expected the Florida Panthers to finish atop the Atlantic Division this season. But a youthful energy carried them the whole season, with Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov and many more players emerging as stars in the NHL.
But one area that didn’t have this youthful presence was in net. While Roberto Luongo had a solid season, at 37 it’s hard to imagine he has too many seasons like that left in him. Luongo was backed up by Al Montoya this season, who at 31 isn’t exactly a spring chicken either.
Montoya is an unrestricted free agent, which gives the Panthers a unique opportunity this offseason. There are some intriguing goalies on the market this summer and if the Panthers can get one of them, they can secure the position for next season and for the future.
The young goalie could give rest to Luongo who likely won’t be able to start 62 games again next year. But more importantly, that new goalie could learn a lot from the veteran Luongo. Everything from getting ready for games, to opposing shooters tendencies, Luongo could pass on a lot of experience onto his successor.
Luongo Has Been A Mentor Before
The biggest reason the Panthers should focus on landing a talented, young, backup is because Luongo has experience being a mentor in the NHL. All you have to do is look at the play of Cory Schneider to see the effect Luongo’s mentorship can have on a young goalie.
Schneider and Luongo shared the net with the Vancouver Canucks from 2010 to 2013. While serving as backup in 2010-11, Schneider watched Luongo carry the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The next season, Schneider had his best season of his career, winning 20 of his 33 games with a 0.936 save percentage.
Luongo’s mentorship and competitive nature forced Schneider to be better. Schneider faced that challenge head on and by his final season in Vancouver, he had seemingly won the starting job away from Luongo.
While it was perceived that Luongo and Schneider didn’t get along, it is much more likely that it was each player’s competitive nature that the media saw on a daily basis.
“I don’t think it was as bad as everyone made it out to be,” Schneider said shortly after he, not Luongo, was traded at the 2013 draft. “It wasn’t like this was something that took over our team in any way. It was something Roberto and I had to deal with, but we’re both professionals and we get along and we enjoy each other, so it wasn’t as hard for us as maybe some other people.”
Now Schneider is a starter in the NHL and considered one of the best goalies in the league. But it was his relationship with Luongo at the start of his career that got him there. That relationship should be the goal of the Florida Panthers when acquiring a new goalie. But unlike Vancouver, they need to hold onto that young goalie when Luongo decides to move on.
The Goalie Market Could Be Busy
It’s easy to say that Florida should add another goalie. It’s another thing to find a trade partner that fits. Luckily for Florida, there are a few options available to them that with the right offer could bring back a really good goalie.
The biggest name seemingly on the market is Frederik Andersen in Anaheim. He has been platooning in the NHL with John Gibson for the last two seasons, but it seems Anaheim is ready to move on from Andersen, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
“You want to push that away,” Andersen told Johnston in March. “At the end of the day it’s going to take care of itself, whatever may happen. It’s out of my control right now except the way I play and I think that’s the only thing I worry about.”
Andersen had a 22-9-4 record and .919 save percentage splitting the net with Gibson. For that reason, it will take a lot to pull this trade off. The competitive market (Toronto, Carolina and Calgary are all interested according to Johnston) will make the price high. Florida doesn’t have many draft picks to offer but their deep prospect pool could be of interest to the Ducks.
Other goalies entering restricted free agency who could be available through trade are Calvin Pickard of the Colorado Avalanche and Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings. Mrazek is less likely than veteran Jimmy Howard to be traded, but Pickard will be behind Semyon Varlamov next year which could make him available. In 20 games in the NHL this season, Pickard went 7-6-1 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. And he’s only 24.
Further down the depth chart of young goalies who could be available are Kristers Gudlevskis from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Louis Domingue with the Arizona Coyotes and Jordan Binnington from the St. Louis Blues. Needless to say, if teams are looking to move a goalie, the Florida Panthers should be able to strike a deal with one of them.
There’s No Time Like the Present
Luongo isn’t getting younger. That much is obvious. In order to maximize his effect as a mentor, the new goalie needs as much time with Luongo as possible.
On top of that, there was real evidence of Luongo’s age in the first round this spring, which Florida lost to the New York Islanders in six games.
After posting a 2.35 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 62 games this season, Luongo looked tired in the playoffs. Especially in the three games that went to overtime, and after three games in four days, Luongo started showing his age. He even admitted it himself.
Roberto Luongo says he's "exhausted" after three games in four nights. Looking forward to long break before Game 4.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 18, 2016
Still, he did post a 2.05 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the playoffs, showing he can step up when called upon. But the Panthers weren’t going to start Montoya in the playoffs and if they had continued past the first round it would be hard to imagine Luongo keeping that pace up.
With a younger backup, Luongo can get more rest during the regular season. This playoff showed the need to add depth is there and isn’t going away the older Luongo gets. If Florida enters next season without any backup support for Luongo, they run the risk of him getting injured and the team losing games they deserved to win, simply because the stop gap in net can’t carry the team.
Since Florida doesn’t have a lot of draft pick depth this year (the team will make five picks but none in the second, third or seventh rounds) any trade will likely happen after free agency opens. It will be a competitive market for goalies this summer, but it could be the Florida Panthers most important need.
Not just for next season, but for many seasons to come.