Panthers Mini Mailbag: Taylor Hall, Aleksander Barkov & Stanley Cup

The Florida Panthers have continued their consistency, and with their next five games being against teams outside of the playoff picture, I wouldn’t expect them to slow down.

That being said, I had some followers on Instagram send some of their questions regarding the Panthers, so I have decided to answer them in this piece.

Note that the questions have been edited for clarity, length and spelling errors.

What Package for Taylor Hall do You Think Buffalo Would Say Yes To?

This is an interesting question, and a pretty hard one to answer to be honest. I think if this was a year ago, we could say without hesitation that Taylor Hall, a top rental at the trade deadline, would fetch a first-round pick and even a good prospect. However, with the pandemic shaking things up, along with his abysmal performance in Buffalo so far, it is pretty hard to gauge his trade value.

I wouldn’t assume that Hall fetches a first-round pick, although Buffalo would ask, so let’s throw that out of the window. The 2021 second-round draft selection has to be there. I’d assume a decent prospect would also have to be included — a player like Emil Heineman, who is currently having a modest season in the Swedish Hockey League, with six goals and 12 points through 42 games, or big-bodied defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok, who was chosen in the second round in 2019, and currently plays in the KHL. Also, a minor NHL piece, like Vinny Hinostroza, or Juho Lammikko would probably go as well, for the roster spot swap. None of this works if Buffalo doesn’t retain some of Hall’s salary, by the way.

Taylor Hall, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images)

So, as you can see, there are lots of factors and “what ifs” revolving around this trade, but it can be done if general manager Bill Zito decides that he wants it. The more important question is, is it worth trading for Hall? I would say yes, in the Panthers’ case. While it is true that he has struggled this season production wise — just two goals and 17 points through 33 games — the underlying numbers show he hasn’t been as bad as his stats show. He possesses a 2.30 goals above replacement (GAR), and has actually been above replacement level everywhere except defensively even strength. He’s been useful at offense at even strength, and on the power play, and has been very good at drawing penalties.

So, to answer your question, a second-round pick, decent prospect and NHL piece would be what I think Hall’s value currently sits at, and I do think he would immediately make the Panthers an even harder team to stop offensively.

Is Aleksander Barkov a Top-10 Player?

Before this year, I would have said no. I was not as high on Aleksander Barkov as others, but after this season, he has for sure earned himself a spot on my top-10 list. Realistically, who can you even put over him? Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby are locks. After that, Nikita Kucherov, despite missing the entirety of this season so far, Leon Draisaitl and maybe Mark Stone. After that, I can’t think of anybody that I would put ahead of him.

My reason for this is because of how much Barkov has improved his two-way game. He has been the best defensive forward in the NHL this season, and has also tapped into another level offensively, with 37 points, sitting tied for 10th in the league. The team has also struggled a lot without him, going 1-2-0 with the lone win in overtime against the second worst team in their division. They have also been outscored 6-9 in this span.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, yes, I would say Barkov has earned himself top-10 status, and if he keeps up this production when he returns from his injury, he will be in contention for multiple awards.

Cup Contenders or Just False Hope?

This is a hard question to answer. I do think the team are Cup contenders, as I wrote in a recent piece, but the hard part is playing in the same division as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. I still think that when fully healthy, the Panthers are one of the hardest teams in the league to beat.

However, with all this being said, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you’re expecting a Stanley Cup win right away from a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996. Just enjoy the ride from the best Panthers team we have seen in a very long time. They are extremely talented, but also very young, which means there will be growing pains, mistakes and unfortunate losses.

Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

However, I think that if the Panthers can escape the Lightning that they can very well beat the other teams that they face. Tampa Bay is the beast to beat.

What Is the Difference Between the Panthers This Season and Last Season

Skill and speed, easy. This Panthers team has so much of this compared to last season. Sure, you might argue that losing guys like Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov actually made the team less skilled, but this isn’t the case. Adding guys who weren’t seen as valuable by their teams, like Alexander Wennberg and Anthony Duclair, and turning them into what no one ever expected them to be.

This team is much faster and offensively dominant, they beat you on the rush due to the skilled passing plays and aren’t weak on the puck, which weren’t traits in their game last season. This comes useful especially in the postseason, as we have seen in the past.

That’s All… For Now

Well, that’s all I am going to answer for now, since this was just a mini-mailbag. However, I plan to do more of these in the future for sure. Make sure to follow me on Instagram at @puckempire, so you don’t miss the next question submission period.

Sign up for our free ‘Panthers Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.