The Florida Panthers face some interesting decisions during this offseason. In the wake of yet another disappointing finish, it seems clear that there will be changes made. After all, a core featuring Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Sergei Bobrovsky should, on paper, go deeper than a qualifying-round loss.
Yet that’s where the Panthers find themselves. Bobrovsky, in particular, was a major disappointment in his first year in South Florida. After inking a seven-year, $70 million deal last offseason, the Panthers felt that they had more than shored up their goaltending situation with the former Vezina Trophy winner.
In 50 games for the Panthers during the abbreviated 2019-20 regular season, Bobrovsky went 23-19-6 with a .900 save percentage and a bloated 3.23 goals-against average. To put it simply, he didn’t look anything like the same goaltender that elevated the Columbus Blue Jackets and took home personal hardware.
With Bobrovsky’s bloated $10-million cap hit, there are likely going to be changes felt throughout the organization. His deal is on the books for the foreseeable future and they can only hope that he returns to the form that earned him the deal. At 31 years old, it isn’t out of the question.
The impacts, however, will be felt throughout the lineup. One of the biggest issues the Panthers faced is that their offensive output was inconsistent and top-heavy. The problem this offseason is that two major components in that top-heavy offense need new deals.
Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman are unrestricted free agents and major cogs in the offense. Unfortunately, the cap isn’t going to go up and there appears to be only enough room for one of them.
At 31 years old, Dadonov has quietly been one of the most consistent scorers in the league over the last three years. He burst onto the scene back in 2017-18, posting 28 goals and 65 points in his first truly complete season in Florida. He had previously been in the NHL but opted to return to his native Russian to play in the KHL.
Over the next three seasons, he would be the model of consistency, playing big minutes with some of the biggest players in Florida. Dadonov hit the 28-goal mark in his first two seasons back in Florida, hitting a career-best 70 points in 2018-19.
Even with the season cut to just 69 games this year, he had 25 goals, keeping pace with his production in previous years.
The problem with Dadonov is his age coupled with the questions about the cap. He will certainly earn a raise on his current annual average value of just above $4 million. But whether or not he can get the term he and his agent will be seeking is another question.
Simply put Dadonov has managed to consistently put up at least 25 goals since returning. Bringing him back ensures a consistent, quality top-six effort that can play top-line minutes.
Also 31 years old, Hoffman has also been a model of consistency dating back to his first full season in Ottawa back in 2014-15. Over that time, he has posted between 22 and 29 goals, setting a career mark in 2018-19 with 36 tallies.
He has been a consistent point-producer over that time, falling between 48 and 61 with the 2018-19 season (and his 70-point effort) being the standout. Hoffman delivers quality, consistency, and a strong effort to the top half of the lineup.
His price tag is a bit higher already at just north of $5 million. Like Dadonov, his age and the current cap forecast may provide difficulty in securing a long-term deal. He is likely due a raise on that $5 million hit, however, making it increasingly difficult for Florida to make a decision.
Potential Impacts on the Panthers
The simple fact of the matter is that the Panthers are looking at a scenario where one or both could be out the door. They typically anchor the second-line scoring for the team while Barkov and Huberdeau play on the top line.
The Panthers have an option: keep one and hope that Bobrovsky rebounds in Year 2. They could also let both go, save the cap space, and plug in youth. Winger Owen Tippett is set to make a full-time schedule in the NHL next year and could potentially fill one of those vacancies. His ideal role may be on the third line as he gets acclimated, but the current climate may not make that possible.
Losing either would be heavily damaging for the Panthers. The team finished sixth in the league in goals per game at 3.30 and losing consistent 20-goal scorers would certainly put a damper on their attack.
Still, with the current cap climate, there is likely no way to keep both of them given that they are due substantial raises. For what it’s worth, Hoffman rates slightly ahead on some lists of pending UFAs.
Keep One: Who’s It Gonna Be?
If the Panthers decide that keeping one is the best option, they have an interesting choice to make given that the two are primarily linemates. Dadonov has been quite strong in the last two years, just behind Hoffman in goals and points by a slim margin.
Hoffman should come out of this with the higher cap-hit between the two, though the difference may end up being negligible at best. If that winds up being the case, Hoffman may be the one to keep. He scores more and plays with a higher level of skill, unafraid to get into the dirty areas of the ice.
At the end of the day, sticking with either would be a find decision. The financial reality, however, is that Florida may be looking at an opening night lineup that includes neither Hoffman nor Dadonov.