The Florida Panthers ended their season in disappointment after being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the first round. Naturally, the team would look to improve so that history does not repeat itself. In addition, the moves will be handled by general manager Bill Zito, a nominee for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award. Even before the start of free agency, rumors are already coming Zito’s way.
According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Florida has shown a massive interest in acquiring star forward Patrik Laine. He is currently a restricted free agent, as his rights are with the Columbus Blue Jackets. This comes after a weird year for Laine that involved him getting dealt to the Blue Jackets from the Winnipeg Jets and being benched on multiple nights by former head coach John Tortorella.
Either way, Florida should not take a chance on Laine and should shift their focus.
The Panthers Need to Save Money for Their Top Priorities This Offseason
As talented as Laine is, bringing him in would make things very awkward for Florida’s current cap situation. He would come into South Florida expecting some sort of new deal, as he is currently a free agent. Furthermore, he made $6.75 million on his most recent contract and is going to expect some sort of raise. Here’s the issue – while Florida has about $8.8 million to work with right now, they need to re-sign some of their key players, such as Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett. Barkov is due for a new deal at the end of next season and Bennett is currently a restricted free agent.
Related: Panthers Need to Clear Some Cap Space This Offseason
Additionally, assuming they shed a decent amount of cap space, Florida should set their sights on bringing in a veteran defenseman to help bolster their bottom-two pairings, as they were mostly revolving doors on most nights, including the postseason. During the regular season and playoffs, defense was a huge problem that led to many defeats and ultimately their elimination. Florida is not that far away from Cup contention, and a cap casualty could potentially set them back.
He May Still Have Attitude Problems
Even before he was traded, Laine has had a history of not getting along with coaches and playing with a lack of effort on some nights. As a result, he’s been shuffled in lineups, put in bottom-nine situations, and, as talked about previously, full-on benched.
Laine’s time in Columbus was no different. Granted, his former head coach in Tortorella has a bit of a short fuse. However, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville isn’t normally one that will put up with a lot of tomfoolery, either. If a situation ever arises where the head coach and a player are butting heads, it could mean Laine’s time as a Panther could quickly become a hassle or come to an abrupt end. Although his relationship with Barkov could steer him in the right direction, it could also create massive division in the Florida locker room.
Florida Already Have Multiple Power Play Specialists in Ekblad and Hornqvist
Laine has always been a power-play specialist. It’s easy to see that, as he’s posted 56 career power-play goals and 91 career power-play points through 351 games played. Last season, he was tied for first on the Blue Jackets in power-play goals with four. With Florida’s power play struggling near the end of the season, this could be seen as a match made in heaven.
Related: Panthers Getting Scoring Depth & Cap Flexibility With Lundell Signing
However, Florida already has a triggerman on the power play in defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was third on the team in power-play goals with six. His injury in March of the regular season caused the power play to sink over time. Additionally, Florida also has a net-front presence in forward Patric Hornqvist, who led the team in power-play goals with eight. Laine could bring some help to the man-advantage, but ultimately, it seems unnecessary.
While Talented, Florida Should Skip This Sweepstakes
Laine is an extremely talented forward overall, as he has great shooting ability and can be a helpful hand on the power play. It would also be great to reunite him with his best friend in Barkov. However, his attitude history and how much salary he may demand should warrant the Panthers to look elsewhere in free agency and focus on bringing in more of what they need. In addition, bringing Laine in would simply be a luxury piece to assist on the power play when the team already has lethal pieces to get that machine running.
Speaking of depth, Florida is already loaded with up-and-coming wingers throughout their current roster in Owen Tippett and Aleksi Heponiemi. Ultimately, the Panthers should skip this free agency sweepstakes. The team will lose more than it will gain from it, and the wrong move could steer the franchise back into the wrong direction after Zito molded it into a winning squad.