The Florida Panthers are a team to watch leading up to the March 3 trade deadline. General manager (GM) Bill Zito is in a very tough spot as the team currently sits six points out of Stanley Cup Playoff position in the Eastern Conference and have a number of teams to leap frog. The Panthers also have played more games than most of the teams they are chasing so all in all, not an ideal position to try and make the postseason.
Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.
After years of being buyers ahead of the trade deadline, expect to see the Panthers become sellers this season. Recently hockey insider Frank Seravalli named Florida as a team to watch and more specifically, Seravalli named Sam Bennett as a potential trade candidate for Zito and the Panthers. Let’s dive into three potential trade destinations for Bennett.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team to watch in the Bennett sweepstakes. The Leafs have a need for some more forward depth heading into the second half of the season and could use the Panthers forward in a number of different ways.
Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is expected to be busy ahead of the trade deadline as he doesn’t have a contract beyond this season and he’s trying to impress senior leadership. Dubas isn’t just keeping this season front of mind, he’s still going to manage with Toronto’s long-term success in mind. Bennett isn’t a rental, he has two seasons left on his contract, paying him a very reasonable $4.4 million against the cap.
The Maple Leafs have been using many different lineup combinations this season as injuries have played a major role. Adding Bennett would allow the team to move youngster Pontus Holmberg to the wing on the team’s third line and move David Kampf down to the fourth-line center position. Bennett brings some nasty and plays with a chip on his shoulder, this is something the Leafs could use more of heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Latest News & Highlights
The fact Bennett also plays on both sides of special teams is very appealing for Toronto. They’ve had issues all season long with their second power-play unit and adding another penalty killer to the group never hurts. Bennett’s versatility and his ability to also play the wing if needed, is something that should really stand out for the Maple Leafs and their expected interest. Dubas should try and package Pierre Engvall with one of the team’s top prospects to get Bennett out of the sunshine state. Zito is looking to save money and add for the future, so adding a pending free agent and a top prospect who is almost NHL ready is likely the kind of return he’s looking for in any trade.
The Winnipeg Jets have surprised many this season with their success as they are nicely set up to add before the trade deadline. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is likely in the market for some more depth up front and Bennett and his style of play would be a great pickup for Winnipeg.
In 43 games this season, the 26-year-old has recorded 27 points and has added 110 hits. He’s never scared to muck it up in the dirty areas of the ice and adding him to the Jets third line could do wonders for the team’s shut-down game. A trio of Adam Lowry, Bennett and Mason Appleton (once he’s healthy), would be a solid checking line and a combination who could give other teams fits.
Cheveldayoff is in a good position financially to make a splash ahead of this season’s trade deadline and Bennett should be near the top of his wish list. The Jets appear deep enough on defense, and will be getting back a couple of their blueliners healthy in the near future. Their bottom six however could use some work, and adding Bennett, who could move up the lineup if needed as well, would be a smart decision by the Jets GM.
The Penguins need to upgrade their third line and adding Bennett at center would do wonders for the lineup. Head coach Mike Sullivan has been using Jeff Carter and unfortunately Carter’s been very inconsistent this season.
The Penguins are in the market to make a deal as GM Ron Hextall is expected to be open to just about anything. Pittsburgh has an expected $19 million in cap space to work with next season so adding Bennett and his term left on his deal shouldn’t scare the Penguins executive.
Bennett plays a much different style to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and could be a wonderful compliment down the middle for the Penguins. They don’t necessarily have a shut-down line with Carter at center and need to address this heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bennett and the way he battles each and every night could be the perfect addition in Pittsburgh.
Hextall has young defensemen Ty Smith and Pierre-Olivier Joseph who could interest the Panthers, along with forward Kasperi Kapanen who has been in and out of the coach’s dog house this season. The Penguins have a number of different trade candidates among their NHL roster and throughout the organization who could interest Zito and company.
If the Panthers are looking to create financial flexibility for this upcoming offseason, moving Bennett for a ‘futures’ package is the play. Zito should look to land a top prospect or a high upcoming draft pick or a young NHL-ready defenseman on a entry level contract. This would give the Panthers a player to add to their organizational depth and take Bennett’s $4.4 million off the books for the rest of this season and through the 2024-25 season.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween