The Florida Panthers saw their season end to the pesky New York Islanders last season in the play-in round. The Islanders showed the league that they are here to stay after having an impressively surprising season in 2018-19. Barry Trotz’ players have completely bought into the system and even though they aren’t the greatest on paper, this team has shown on multiple occasions that hard work can beat talent on any given day. Many thought this was a fluke for the franchise, but they continue to show they belong with the best in the 2019-20 season.
Before the series started, I’d argue that the Panthers had the better team on paper. I thought Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were the two best players on the ice. Aaron Ekblad was the most talented defender in the series. Sergei Bobrovsky, even though he struggled all season long, is still the better goalie on paper. So, maybe they could finally figure it out on the ice and get through the Islanders and into the playoffs. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Their defensive woes continued through the playoffs and the Isles’ speed and tenacity were too much for the Panthers to handle.
The team’s defense struggled all year long. They finished 27th in goals against in the league with 224, which averages to 3.25 goals against. Pretty hard to find success when you’re consistently allowing three goals a game. Many people such as Matt Lichtenstadter will look at the newly signed Bobrovsky who signed a monster deal at around $10 million per season and say he’s underperforming. But this boils down to team defense as well. The six blueliners and 12 forwards in front of him need to do their part as well. Defense takes five players and a goalie in order to work well. Sure, Bobrovsky does deserve some of the blame, but the team also was allowing too many quality scoring chances and shots on goal as well.
So, what have they done to address this issue during the offseason?
The first move they made was quite a splash, acquiring Patric Hornqvist from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour. This should help the power play as he dominates the front of the net. That’s his bread and butter. Picking up the trash and looking for loose change.
But he also brings a physical side to his game. Adding toughness is something the Panthers will need and they’ve done just that with Hornqvist.
The next move they made was acquiring defenseman Markus Nutivaara from the Columbus Blue Jackets. This was a solid defensive depth move for the roster and can help with their struggles on the back end. Nutivaara only played 37 games last season for the Blue Jackets as their defensive unit is stacked with great players. He should see a bigger role here in Sunrise as a consistent sixth defenseman. He also played in two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the play-in round and impressed me during his time on the ice.
Another move to help with the defensive unit was signing Radko Gudas. Radko brings more toughness in front of his own net just as Hornqvist does on offense as Todd Little explained in his article. The Panthers have addressed the need to dominate net front presence on both sides of the puck with this move.
He played as a rotating sixth defenseman last season with the Washington Capitals and looks to have an important role with the Panthers. He may also help with the penalty kill as that was another struggle for the team last season.
Vinnie Hinostroza is a pick-up that will most likely be a bottom-six role. But he adds a tremendous amount of speed to this team and is a hard-working, relentless forechecker. He’s a great depth pick-up for a team that is looking for a little more toughness. He’s gritty, physical, and a hound on the puck. I can’t wait to see what this kid brings to the team.
Carter Verhaeghe will also see bottom-six minutes as he just signed with the team as well. The Stanley Cup Winner played in eight games in the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning and 52 games in the regular season. Another physical player with speed to add to the roster will help add toughness to the team.
Lastly, the Panthers signed Alexander Wennberg. He was drafted by the Blue Jackets and has been there for his entire career. His best season was in 2016-17 where he put up 59 points. He has the talent to sneak his way into the top six, but will most likely being playing a third-line role. He brings a ton of speed to the team and is a tough grinder in the corners. Once again, new general manager Bill Zito has made his vision clear with this signing. He continues to add more physicality to the team with each of these signings, which addresses a big issue they had last year.
Zito has made his mark on the team, quickly making it understood that he wants his team to be filled with speed and toughness. He addressed these issues with the pick-ups he has made since he started with the organization.
One of the most important parts of a team is their identity. Zito made it clear what the identity of the team will be. According to Jameson Olive’s article, he wants everybody to compete every day. Players, scouts, coaches, you name it. He’s building a team that will compete hard and will be tough to get through every night. Zito is starting to create their identity through these pick-ups with speed and physicality, and something tells me he’s not done making moves just yet. We’ll see what the rest of the offseason has in store for the Panthers.