With the 2020-21 NHL season nearing its end, it’s time to look back on what was arguably the Florida Panthers’ best-ever regular season. The Cats had their best point percentage in franchise history (.705), saw Aleksander Barkov become the first player in Panthers history to win the Selke Trophy, and saw both Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau finish in the top 15 in Hart Trophy voting.
While the Panthers eventually fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games, there are still a lot of positives to look back on. Florida managed to finish off the season with a 13-5-1 stretch immediately after losing franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a leg fracture, and a lot of it had to do with how deep of a group the Panthers really had. Without further ado, let’s recognize some members of the deep core the Cats have with the 2020-21 end of season awards.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Owen Tippett
While some may argue Spencer Knight deserves this award because of his spectacular performance down the stretch, posing a 4-0-0 record with a .919 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.32 goals-against-average (GAA), the sample size isn’t quite large enough to give him the nod over Owen Tippett. The 22-year-old played sparingly during the regular season, recording just 7 goals and 18 points in 45 games, but the Stanley Cup playoffs saw Tippett shine a little brighter.
By the time the postseason rolled around, Tippett earned the trust of head coach Joel Quenneville and was placed on the second line with Huberdeau and the newly acquired Sam Bennett, and the combination immediately paid off. The rookie forward registered one goal and four points in six playoff games, earning himself a hard look at returning to that same line next season.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): MacKenzie Weegar
A huge part of the reason the Panthers were so good in the absence of Ekblad is the emergence of MacKenzie Weegar. Since losing his defense partner, Weegar was fifth in the league in points from defensemen, scoring 4 goals and 13 points. He was also first in plus/minus in that same span with a plus-17. In total, Weegar scored 6 goals and 36 points, the most from a Panthers defenseman and the fourth most on the team overall.
Weegar proved his worth to the league, finishing eighth in overall Norris Trophy voting. He was just signed to a three-year, $3.25 million per year contract during the offseason, and right now, that contract is proving to be one of the best in the league.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender): Chris Driedger
With Sergei Bobrovsky having yet another down season, Chris Driedger seized the opportunity and had an absolutely stellar season. In 23 games, the 27-year-old netminder turned heads this season, registering a 14-6-3 record with a .927 SV% and a 2.07 GAA. Placing in the top 10 in both SV% and GAA, Driedger will be a hot commodity on the free-agent market this offseason. He likely will not be returning to the Panthers due to the emergence of Knight, but there is a lot for Driedger to be proud of in his time in Florida.
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player): Aleksander Barkov
Barkov is now one of the premier superstars in the NHL, making an impact on both sides of the ice. In 50 games played, he finished ninth in the league in goal scoring with 26 and 13th in points with 58. Becoming the first player in Panthers’ history to win the Selke Trophy, Barkov has played a crucial role in putting the Panthers on the map as one of the biggest contenders for the Stanley Cup.
While some may argue that Jonathan Huberdeau, who led the Panthers in points, added 20 goals, and finished 13th in Hart Trophy voting may also be deserving of the award, Barkov’s impact on the defensive end added to his impact so much so that the difference in points is insignificant. However, having two MVP caliber players on the team is a great feat for the Panthers and shouldn’t be ignored.