When you look at the top players in the NHL, a chunk of them are former Florida Panthers, who the organization let walk away. From the Tom Rowe fiasco that saw a huge roster shakeup to Dale Tallon returning to undo those moves, management’s frequent changes have led a lot of former Panthers to move on to greener pastures.
Jared McCann is holding down the second-line center spot on the Pittsburgh Penguins while Evgeni Malkin is hurt, Jacob Markstrom has become one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and Jonathan Marchessault is the all-time leading scorer in Vegas Golden Knights history. While the growth of any player can be unpredictable, the Panthers received very little or nothing for these players, who are now making a huge impact in the league, and it’s mindboggling. Here are the ones that got away.
The Expansion Draft Debacle – Losing Marchessault and Smith
In one of the most lopsided and confusing moves in NHL history, the Panthers allowed the Golden Knights to snag both Marchessault and Reilly Smith in the 2017 expansion draft. Both were immediate impact players for the new franchise. The Panthers did this to protect Alex Petrovic, who played 93 more games and scored 13 more points in Florida before he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
Marchessault and Smith are first and third in Golden Knights history in points. Marchessault leads the way with 212 points in 269 games, while Smith is not far behind with 183 points in 256 games. Those 212 points are tied for 48th in the league since Vegas’ inception alongside Mike Hoffman and Teuvo Teravainen and are ahead of names like Taylor Hall and Patrik Laine. Marchessault would also have been the third-highest point-getter for the Panthers in that span, behind Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Smith would’ve been two points behind Keith Yandle, who ranks third in points in that span.
Had management done the right thing and exposed Petrovic instead of being fleeced by Vegas, the Panthers might have been a lot more successful, especially in 2017-18, when they finished just one point out of a playoff berth. Smith and Marchessault combined for 135 points that season, including an impressive 75-point campaign from Marchessault. While their production may not have been the same, they still could’ve done enough to push them over the edge.
That 2017-18 season was also when the Golden Knights went on their magical run to the Stanley Cup Final, and both former Panthers had a lot to do with it. Smith led the team with 22 points in the playoffs, while Marchessault led them in goals with eight, finishing one point behind Smith. With those two players having that type of playoff production, or at least something close to that, alongside Barkov and Huberdeau, the Stanley Cup could’ve been in Sunrise instead of D.C. that offseason.
They Got a Couple Years of Luongo…But at What Cost?
When the Panthers sent Markstrom to the Vancouver Canucks for Roberto Luongo, the move was considered a slam dunk. Luongo got the Panthers back into the playoffs in 2016, and he had a few productive seasons. But, once Father Time crept up on him, he wasn’t the same, while Markstrom has become one of the best goaltenders in the league.
Markstrom’s emergence began in the 2015-16 season when he was backing up Ryan Miller in Vancouver. He started 30 games with a 13-14-4 record, a .915 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.73 goals-against average (GAA). He continued to put up similar numbers in the following seasons and became the Canucks’ regular starter by 2017-18.
He had the best season of his career in 2019-20 when he led the Canucks back to the postseason for the first time in five years with a 23-16-4 record with a .918 SV% and a 2.75 GAA. Markstrom performed even better in the playoffs, putting up a .919 SV% and a 2.85 GAA in 14 starts.
He signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Calgary Flames as a free agent this offseason and has seen a bit of a drop-off since his arrival. He has a 15-16-2 record with a .902 SV% and a 2.80 GAA this season which has a lot to do with the team’s struggles as a whole.
If the Panthers had kept Markstrom, they would never have had to sign Sergei Bobrovsky to his mammoth deal, but now that Spencer Knight has signed his entry-level contract, Markstrom’s departure might not be considered so bad in the long run.
The Rich Got Richer
The Penguins have a way of finding players who fly under the radar and develop them into the perfect sidekick for Sidney Crosby and Malkin. McCann is a perfect example. He was a throw-in in the trade that sent Nick Bjugstad to Pittsburgh, which has worked wonders for the Penguins.
After notching a career-high 35 points in 2019-20, McCann is having another solid campaign in 2020-21. In 32 games, he has 12 goals and 23 points and has earned enough trust from Penguins brass to fill in for Malkin as their second-line center.
McCann has been invaluable to the Penguins recently, especially over the past month. Since March 24, he has registered seven goals and 13 points in 13 games which ties him for 26th in the league in scoring during that span; he’s put up the same number of points as John Tavares and Leon Draisaitl.
While that level of production isn’t sustainable, the 24-year-old could become a solid secondary scoring option for Pittsburgh. It’s crazy that Florida gave up McCann AND Bjugstad for a 2019 second-round pick, two fourth-round picks, Derrick Brassard and Riley Sheahan. Brassard and Sheahan both had very short and unproductive tenures in Florida, making that trade a massive loss.
The Panthers have lost many other great players over the years, including Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, and Vincent Trocheck, who can prove yet again that the Panthers made a mistake by letting them go.