Panthers’ 3 Biggest Questions to Answer in 2022-23

The Florida Panthers enter the 2022-23 season after arguably one of their craziest offseasons in franchise history. From trading away Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar for Matthew Tkachuk, to replacing their Jack Adams finalist in Andrew Brunette, it was a doozy for the team, fans, players and journalists alike. With that in mind, Florida faces a ton of uncertainty and question marks going into this upcoming season.

Will the Panthers Be Able to Replicate the Offense From Last Season?

The Panthers have always had a very strong top-six. But, they enter next season missing a couple of offensive pieces. Forwards Mason Marchment and Claude Giroux found new homes and Anthony Duclair will be out until at least the second half of next season. As previously mentioned, Huberdeau, their franchise leader in points both all-time and in a single season, is now with the Calgary Flames. Additionally, he led the team in points last season with 115 (35 goals, 80 assists). Along with him went Weegar, who was second on the team in plus/minus with a plus-40. While they did receive another 100-point player in Tkachuk, it’s extremely difficult to replace someone of Huberdeau’s caliber, considering he’s been the face of Panthers hockey for so long.

Related: Panthers’ Hornqvist Likely in Last Season with Team

However, the Cats still have enough to get the job done with their top six. Their captain Aleksander Barkov is arguably the best two-way center in the NHL and they have speed in Carter Verhaeghe on their top line. Furthermore, the top nine overall has some strong weapons such as Sam Reinhart who had the best season of his career last year with 82 points (33 goals, 49 assists) through 78 games. Also, he led the team in power play goals with 16 and was second on the team in power play points with 31.

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov led the Florida Panthers in goals last season with 39 through 67 games played. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Their bottom six has also been revamped with the speed of Colin White and Rudolfs Balcers. Balcers is coming off a career year with 11 goals and 12 assists with the San Jose Sharks last season. Along with speed, they added some extra grit in Nick Cousins to make up for the absence of Marchment.

Along with the Panthers’ strong forward core, their other defensive pieces are not afraid to join the rush such as Aaron Ekblad, who led all defensemen in goals with 15 and a whopping plus-38 rating. In addition to him, Brandon Montour has also shown his potency on offense with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) through 81 games and a plus-15 rating.

The Panthers should still be pretty solid on offense as it should be noted that they got their big lead in the Eastern Conference long before Giroux came into play and Marchment missed almost all of November and December. To the team, this is something they’ve been through before.

Can the Panthers Be Strong on Defense with the Departure of Weegar?

Weegar was arguably the Panthers’ No. 2 defenseman in the lineup as he was putting up top-pairing numbers since he was drafted. Through his six seasons, all with the Panthers, he piled up 121 points (27 goals, 94 assists) through 306 games and has a career plus/minus rating of plus-77. Unlike the Huberdeau trade, they did not get a starting defensive piece to fill the gaping hole in their defense pairings.

Related: Panthers Can Still Get Something From Veteran Eric Staal on PTO

General manager Bill Zito did go out and grab Marc Staal from the Detroit Red Wings on a one-year deal. But, it’s clear he’s trying to give the youth on the roster extra minutes and more responsibility as he gave new contracts to both Matt Kiersted and Lucas Carlsson. They did take strides in their development, but it is unknown if they can handle the extra load they may face without Weegar in the lineup.

Will the Panthers Return to the Postseason?

The Panthers still have tons of talent throughout the lineup, so getting to the playoffs should not be an issue for the franchise. However, considering how different the team is now from what they were last year with the amount of talent lost, making a deep playoff run may seem out of the question on paper. But, like last season, this team has shocked the hockey world time and time again with their crazy comebacks and ability to face adversity.

However, the Panthers will need time to adjust to new head coach Paul Maurice’s system. A lot can be done in practice, but how it pays off won’t show for a couple of months. The team will definitely experience hiccups, and they will not be at the same level as they were last year but he should be able to guide them in the right direction in his first season in South Florida.

Ultimately, the front office has done all they can to try and keep the team competitive as the entire Eastern Conference has loaded up this offseason. Getting into the playoffs may seem like a tough task, but the Panthers have the talent to get back into the fray.

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