Panthers’ Bobrovsky Experiment Has Gone Terribly Wrong

Sergei Bobrovsky’s performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has made something blatantly obvious to Bill Zito and the Florida Panthers’ front office: the Bobrovsky experiment in Florida has failed miserably.

Sure, this came as a surprise to almost no one, with Bobrovsky posting a 42-27-8 record in 81 games as a Panther, boasting a pedestrian .902 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.10 goals-against-average (GAA), but the way he played against Tampa proved he isn’t worth the seven-year, $70 million contract he signed on July 1, 2019.

The plug was pulled on Bobrovsky after the Panthers fell behind 0-2 in the series, however, he did notch a win in mop-up duty for Chris Driedger and finished the postseason with a 1-2-0 record and a horrid .841 SV% and a 5.31 GAA. With Spencer Knight’s performance in the last two games of the series, when he posted a 1-1-0 record with a .933 SV% and a 2.07 GAA, it may be time to move on from the former superstar, but how?

How the Panthers Can End the Bobrovsky Experiment

With Bobrovsky garnering a $10 million cap hit and a full no-movement clause until July 2026, meaning that unless Florida either buys him out or finds a team that he’s willing to be traded to, they may be out of luck with moving him. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With many fringe playoff teams being desperate for goaltending, like the Philadelphia Flyers and the recently-swept Edmonton Oilers, Zito could bait a team into taking on Bobrovsky’s huge cap hit with a first-round pick attached, but his $10 million cap hit may be too much for even those teams to bite on.

The more likely scenario, and that’s if Bobrovsky agrees to this, is if Florida sends a first-round draft pick and likely more on top of that to the Seattle Kraken for them to take on his contract. It would be something remotely similar to what the Vegas Golden Knights did when they acquired Mikhail Grabovski’s contract in exchange for the New York Islanders’ first-round pick. The player they selected with that pick, Erik Brannstrom, helped them land Mark Stone, by the way.

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The golden goose in this deal for Seattle, however, that may work in favor of them biting on this $10 million contract, is the slight chance that Bobrovsky returns to Vezina Trophy-winning form, but this is all contingent on the 32-year-old netminder agreeing to leave for Seattle in the first place.

If all else fails and the Panthers want Bobrovsky gone enough, the Panthers could buy out his contract and have a $5.8 million dead cap hit for doing so. No matter the scenario, this contract will have lasting effects on the organization for years to come, and it’s likely going to have some repercussions on the Panthers.

What’s Next for Florida?

With Bobrovsky likely rejecting a move to leave Florida, the most likely outcome is a Bobrovsky-Knight goaltending tandem. With Driedger a likely candidate to walk in free agency, he is Florida’s first casualty of the upcoming years to Bobrovsky’s bloated contract.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Driedger was Florida’s best goaltender last season, putting up a 14-6-3 record with a .929 SV% and a 2.07 GAA. Despite his severe drop-off in the playoffs, going 0-1-0 with a .871 SV% and a 3.70 GAA, Driedger has been the better goaltender to have backing up Spencer Knight just in case the 20-year-old netminder hits a road bump.

The fact that Driedger is a UFA could also give teams the Panthers would be looking to deal Bobrovsky to some huge leverage during negotiations, considering they can sign the 27-year-old Driedger to a much cheaper deal than the 32 -year-old Bobrovsky is on.

Anthony Duclair, who is a pending restricted free agent, is also likely gone. He is due a pay raise from his $1.7 million cap hit after scoring 10 goals and 32 points in 42 games last season, proving to be a viable top-six forward on a winning team.

All told, the Panthers have just $9 million in cap space to re-sign the likes of Duclair, Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour, and Nikita Gusev, and with captain Aleksander Barkov’s contract set to expire after the 2021-22 season, they’re due to lose some key contributors to the cap crunch.

With the NHL’s salary cap likely to stagnate due to COVID-19, the Florida Panthers may continue to have cap issues for years to come, and they have Dale Tallon to thank.

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