When the Florida Panthers signed Spencer Knight to his entry-level deal to join the team in March, the expectation was that he would spend the season learning behind goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger. However, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville gave Knight his chance to show the team that he was ready, and Knight proved him right.
During his NHL debut, he silenced every critic he had. The kid who just turned 20 on Monday stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced in his first start. He earned the respect of his teammates and his coaching staff in the process.
“I thought [Knight] looked very cool and calm in the net,” Quenneville said to the media following the game. “The way he came out and handled pucks and assessed all his options, you could see an understanding of where everybody is around the rink. … He tracks the puck extremely well, looks big in the net. He’s positionally aware. It was a great start for his career.”
Knight simply looked like he belonged. His positioning was spectacular, as the only goal he gave up was a rebound off of a pad save that Jack Roslovic was able to pot home during a Blue Jackets power play. He looked like he had the confidence to play at this level, and even Jonathan Huberdeau had high praises for him.
“He might have been nervous, but it didn’t show out there,” Huberdeau said of Knight. “The way he moves the puck, like when he gets out of the net, it’s pretty incredible. Very happy for him to get that first win.”
With Knight earning the respect of the locker room, it may be time for the Panthers to give him more playing time, but it may be hard given the fact that they have two solid goaltenders on top of Knight.
What’s Next for the Panthers in Net?
With Knight asserting himself as a viable option in net, the Panthers have a problem: they have too many goalies. Yes, this is a good problem to have, especially with injuries possibly coming into play, but at some point, they have to move one of the three for assets.
The odd man out in particular is Driedger, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He’s been one of the best goaltenders in the league this season, registering a 12-5-3 record with a .927 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.09 goals-against-average (GAA). He ranks third in the league in SV% and fourth in the league in GAA out of all goaltenders who played in at least 20 games.
For most teams, a loss like Driedger would be a huge loss, but with Bobrovsky and Knight in the fold, the Cats can get away with letting him go, especially with the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft coming up.
If the Seattle Kraken look past Driedger’s expiring contract, the Panthers could leave the Expansion Draft without losing an important piece of their roster. If they don’t, then it’s likely that Driedger signs with another team in the offseason.
The most interesting part of this equation is what happens going forward with Bobrovsky’s five years and $50 million left on his contract. If he is usurped of his starting job by Knight in the coming years, would the Panthers be willing to pay $10 million per year for a backup?
Bobrovsky’s contract also contains a full no-movement clause, so it may be hard to get rid of him unless he agrees to it. Unless he waives it, the clause requires the Panthers to protect him in the upcoming expansion draft, and all trades involving Bobrovsky have to be approved by him.
The only way to get out of that contract without those two things happening is through a buyout, so Bobrovsky and Knight would likely be the Panthers’ goaltending tandem for several years starting in the 2021-22 season.