The Florida Panthers are off to a disappointing start to the 2022-23 season. They currently sit with a record of 13-12-4 after their first 29 games and head coach Paul Maurice is trying to get his team back to playing an aggressive style on the ice. Off the ice, general manager (GM) Bill Zito is likely going to hold still until the team’s injury troubles work themselves out and after a busy offseason last summer, don’t expect a ton of movement from the Panthers any time soon.
However, when it comes to after this season, I’d expect to see a number of changes in the Sunshine State as the Panthers will look much different come the 2023-24 season. Here are three players you shouldn’t expect back.
It took him 22 games as a Panther, but Eric Staal finally lit the lamp with his first goal. The 38-year-old veteran forward signed a one-year deal and so far in his short tenure, has recorded five points.
Staal has been contributing to the team’s penalty kill, averaging just under three minutes a game shorthanded, meanwhile, he’s certainly not the offensive weapon he once was as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Staal and coach Maurice go way back, so this connection wasn’t a huge surprise throughout the league when Staal decided to sign a one-year deal in October.
Unfortunately, Staal has looked a step behind with the Panthers and even though his hockey IQ is off the charts and his positional play is always sound, Florida can’t necessarily rely on him to have a huge impact night in and night out.
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While it’s likely he’ll ride out this season and see how the chips fall in Florida, this may be the end for the veteran forward. Considering his age, production, career achievements, and current roster makeup, my expectation is that it will be a one-and-done situation for Staal in a Panthers uniform.
Speaking of one-and-done in Florida, I’d expect this will be the exact same scenario for Eric’s younger brother Marc, who also signed a one-year contract with the Panthers this season.
The 35-year-old defenseman spent the past two seasons as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, after spending over a decade with the New York Rangers. Known for being a shut-down defenseman, the younger of the two Staals has appeared in 29 games so far for the Panthers and has recorded four assists.
Marc has been a big piece on Florida’s penalty kill, leading the team in ice-time while shorthanded. He’s also chipped in with 57 hits and 36 blocked shots, as he’s never been shy to use his body to have an impact on the game.
Staal’s game has slowed down throughout the later parts of his career and there have been times throughout this season when Panthers fans have grown frustrated and disappointed in his production. While I don’t think there will be any mid-season retirement announcements, I could certainly see both Staal brothers enjoying the Sunshine State together and making this season their last in the league, as they finish out their careers chasing sunsets in Florida. Not a bad way to go if you ask me.
One of the most expensive goaltenders in the entire NHL, Sergei Bobrovsky is someone the Panthers would likely love to move off their salary cap next summer. The 34-year-old is signed through the 2025-26 season at a $10 million average annual value.
Bobrovsky’s contract holds a full no-movement clause at the moment, which does change to a 16-team modified no-trade clause starting July 1, 2024. If Zito and company can convince a team to take him at 50 percent of the cost and get the Russian netminder to agree to depart, they’d likely make the move in a heartbeat.
The Panthers are Spencer Knight’s team for the foreseeable future as the young netminder has come into his own in the league. Knight comes off his entry-level salary of $925,000 after this season and next season his ticket goes way up to $4.5 million AAV. There’s no doubt in my mind Zito will be doing everything in his power to try and move Bobrovsky next summer before Knight’s price tag increases, as having $14 million tied up in the crease is not a good business decision for any GM.
As for Bobrovsky’s game, he’s struggled this season to a 5-8-1 record and a 3.58 goals against average and .884 save percentage. Frankly not good enough for the amount of money he makes. In fact, if he was putting up those types of numbers on a two-way contract, he would have been sent to the minors by now.
My expectation is the Panthers will sweeten the trade pot this summer and do whatever they can to get the expensive goaltender off their books and let Knight take the crease, and then sign an inexpensive veteran backup to help push the Panthers’ starter. Bobrovsky and the Staal brothers, three Panthers who aren’t expected to be back next season as Florida sits fifth in the Atlantic Division and is still trying to find their stride in 2022-23.