Starting Monday afternoon against the San Jose Sharks, the Florida Panthers will play their next five games on the road against Western Conference opponents. The road trip through California and the desert cities could make or break the season for the Panthers.
Before play began on Feb. 1, the team was third in the Atlantic Division and riding a six-game win streak. Now, after dropping six of their last seven games, the Panthers find themselves five points out of the final wild-card position in a hotly-contested Eastern Conference.
With four games on the schedule before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, the Panthers’ season may be decided over the next week. They’ve dealt with poor goaltending, recent trade rumors, and overall inconsistent play. Is there any way the Panthers can get hot and flip the script on their season?
Bobrovsky Looking for Momentum Swing
Right now, everything starts with Sergei Bobrovsky. The 31-year-old netminder was supposed to lead the Panthers to the playoffs after signing a mammoth seven-year, $70 million contract this offseason. Instead, his streaky play has resulted in a 3.32 goals-against average (GAA) and .896 save percentage this season.
It makes sense that Bobrovsky’s inconsistent play usually lines up with how the Panthers are performing as a team. Here are his numbers during the Panthers’ six-game winning streak in January compared to his last five starts:
During win streak: 4-0-0, .922 save percentage, 2.51 GAA
Last five starts: 0-4-1, .884 save percentage, 3.86 GAA
If you dig a bit deeper into Bobrovsky’s stats, things don’t look much better. The following are some of his advanced stats during 5-on-5 play and his rank among the 60 NHL goaltenders with at least 600 minutes on ice this season:
- .903 save percentage (T-55th)
- .828 high-danger save percentage (29th)
- 4.78 rebounds attempts against per 60 minutes (second-most)
- -15.73 goals-saved above average (59th)
It’s been nothing short of a disastrous first season in the Sunshine State for Bobrovsky, but one thing really stands out: his rebound control, or lack thereof. Take this goal that Bobrovsky allowed in a Feb. 13 start against the Philadelphia Flyers. He allowed a rebound off a shot that he shouldn’t have had much trouble keeping contained, the puck squeaked through his defenseman’s legs, and Bobrovsky yielded a goal on the rebound try.
If the Panthers are going to make a push for their first playoff appearance since 2016, they’re going to rely on Bobrovsky. Otherwise, a once-promising season could end up as yet another disappointment.
Could the Panthers Become Deadline Sellers?
With a week until the trade deadline, the Panthers could fall even further out of the playoff race and look to sell off some assets. At this point, considering how valuable some of their pieces could be, it may not be a bad idea.
Trade rumors surrounding Mike Hoffman have been floating around over the last couple of weeks. He’s scored 20 or more goals in each of the last six seasons and set career highs with 36 goals and 70 points last season. With 21 goals this season, the 30-year-old winger could turn in his second career 30-goal campaign.
Hoffman is a pending free agent with a cap hit just under $5.2 million. He submitted his 10-team no-trade list to the team earlier this season which will narrow the window of opportunity for the Panthers to move him. Still, if he’s officially on the block, nearly every contender in the league will come knocking at the door.
Aside from Hoffman, the Panthers also have Evgeni Dadonov and Brian Boyle on expiring deals. Dadonov scored a combined 56 goals and 135 points from 2017 to 2019 and already has 23 goals this season. His cap hit is slightly lower at $4 million, but his modified no-trade clause allows him to submit a list of just 10 teams that he can be traded to; there’s a chance that, if the Panthers strike a deal, Dadonov may be asked to waive that clause.
Boyle is a strong veteran leader that would boost any contender’s locker room. He’s tallied 15 points in 39 games this season, but he’s also a physical presence that would add some edge to a team’s bottom-six. The 35-year-old possesses a cap hit under $1 million and could be valuable to a team looking for some center depth.
In recent trades around the league, the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils each received a first-round pick and a highly-regarded prospect in their respective Jason Zucker and Blake Coleman trades. Neither of those players were rentals, but Hoffman and Dadonov should each command at least a first-round pick or strong prospect in return.
With four road games before the trade deadline, including matchups against the three worst teams in the Western Conference (San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings), the Panthers could either get back in the thick of a playoff race or fizzle out completely. If Bobrovsky continues to struggle, Florida may be forced to start dealing some of its veterans and delaying their window to compete yet again.
Tyler Bowen is a University of South Florida graduate and lifelong hockey fan. Tyler covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for thehockeywriters.com. You can usually find him obsessing over his fantasy teams and looking for his next gambling tip.