Can the Florida Panthers stay a powerhouse subsequent season?


In hockey, as in poker, typically you possibly can play an excellent hand and nonetheless lose. The Florida Panthers had each purpose to suppose they have been holding all the fitting playing cards heading into the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, simply 10 video games after they began their quest, they’ve been left to ponder what may need been and what occurs subsequent.

The Panthers cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy with a stellar 58-18-6 document for a complete of 122 factors, the fourth highest whole of a regular-season champ within the 36-year historical past of the award. Within the course of, the Cats scored extra targets than some other crew within the wage cap period. They even bolstered their already-contending crew on the deadline with coveted acquisitions Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. The Panthers have been a stable wager to make a deep run and a front-runner to hoist the Cup.

The playoffs received off to a ok begin for the Panthers, as they managed to get by the Washington Capitals in six video games of their first-round matchup. It was a gritty efficiency however definitely not a dominant one. Their time basking within the Florida solar was short-lived, as they rapidly bumped into some darkish clouds and some flashes of lightning up the highway in Tampa. Whereas just a few gamers (most notably Carter Verhaeghe) have been stellar for the Panthers all through the 2 playoff sequence, not sufficient gamers have been capable of replicate their nice regular-season performances, and the vaunted Cats’ energy play simply by no means confirmed up. There is no such thing as a disgrace in shedding to the two-time defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, however taking place with no single victory within the sequence and having a 3.2% power-play proficiency in your complete playoffs will result in some important soul looking out this low season.

Dialogue will go on about whether or not the Panthers’ fast second-round exit was a case of a tricky opponent, an inopportune time to go chilly or a roster not constructed for playoff hockey. It is perhaps components of all these issues. Regardless, this doesn’t need to be the top of the highway for Florida. They nonetheless have an abundance of expertise and a big a part of their core signed via subsequent season. Nevertheless, if it’s nonetheless going to be #timetohunt in South Florida subsequent season, it’s going to require a masterful job by GM Invoice Zito this offseason. The Cats’ salary-cap state of affairs is about to develop into an entire lot extra sophisticated.

Vital and well-deserved extensions will kick in on July 1 for Aleksander Barkov (who will go from a $5.9 million cap hit to a $10 million cap hit) and Verhaeghe (who will go from a $1 million cap hit to $4.167 million cap hit). Florida may also need to cope with $6.575 million in lifeless cash ensuing from its earlier buyouts of Keith Yandle and Scott Darling (up from the $3.525 million in lifeless cash these two gamers value this previous season). Add to {that a} additional $637,500 in lifeless cash referring to the 2021-22 efficiency bonuses earned by rookie ahead Anton Lundell and goaltender Spencer Knight, which the Cats weren’t capable of match into their cap this season and thus want to hold over to 2022-23.

The Panthers do get some aid with cash additionally coming off the books, first within the type of Roberto Luongo’s $1.092 million cap recapture penalty lastly ending, after which with the disappearance of the $1.325 million wage retention that Florida agreed to tackle for the top of the 2021-22 common season to facilitate Max Domi’s commerce from Columbus to Carolina (a really good use of Aaron Ekblad LTIR cash to primarily purchase again a draft decide on the commerce deadline).

With the additions and subtractions famous above, the Panthers can have an incremental $8.53 million in commitments towards the cap for 2022-23 that they didn’t have this 12 months, earlier than they make a single roster transfer.

You may wager that may have an enormous affect on the offseason. 

The excellent news is that the Panthers are mainly set in purpose and on protection. The blossoming Knight remains to be on his entry-level deal for yet one more 12 months, and Sergei Bobrovsky had a stable 12 months, however he and his $10 million wage cap hit doubtless aren’t going wherever. 5 of the highest six defensemen stay beneath contract, and part-timer Lucas Carlsson could be introduced again cheaply as a restricted free agent with no actual clout in arbitration. Veteran defensemen Chiarot, Robert Hagg and Markus Nutivaara (who was restricted to only one recreation this 12 months resulting from damage) will likely be unrestricted free brokers, and it’s arduous to see the Panthers bringing any multiple of them again, and even then provided that a deal comes with a pay lower.

Up entrance, the Panthers have a stable returning group however some particular query marks. Prize deadline acquisition Giroux, in addition to pesky fourth-liner Noel Acciari, winger Maxim Mamin, late-bloomer Mason Marchment and grizzled vet Joe Thornton, are all unrestricted free brokers, and the Panthers must select who they suppose matches finest when it comes to enjoying fashion and cap hit. There may be additionally Eetu Luostarinen, whom the Panthers management as a RFA, however even he will likely be difficult to slot in, as he might benefit a slight elevate after a 26-point season and stable play as a third-line heart. They may also wish to make room for Grigori Denisenko, their high ahead prospect.

In all, the Panthers presently have $41.017 million tied up in 9 forwards, $19.417 million tied up of their defensemen and $10.925 million of their two goalies. That’s $71.36 million plus the $8.53 million of lifeless cash referred to above, totaling $79.89 in dedicated cash. For those who’re scoring at residence, that leaves $2.61 million from the $82.5 million wage cap to signal their unsigned gamers, together with the RFAs. It’s not sufficient, particularly if the Panthers hope to be wherever close to pretty much as good as they have been this 12 months.

Zito might want to get artistic and might have to maneuver the next priced participant or two with the intention to unlock some cap room and tweak the roster. One choice is perhaps to deal Patric Hornqvist, who at 35 remains to be productive however in decline but carries a cap hit of $5.Three million. The Panthers can’t afford to retain wage, so which means they may take a look at including a draft decide or prospect as an enticement for somebody to tackle the additional cap. Solely downside is that the Panthers already dealt away their first-round decide this 12 months and in every of the subsequent two seasons, their second-rounder this 12 months and in 2023-24 and their third rounder in 2022-23, plus defenseman Ty Smilanic within the Chiarot deal. Dealing any extra draft picks or prospects will set the crew’s future again dramatically, so it gained’t be Zito’s first alternative as a plan of action. 

The Panthers may need seen the cap crunch coming, however they’d what they felt was the chance to win and pushed all their chips to the center of the desk on the commerce deadline. To proceed the poker analogy (Luongo would approve), they have been holding hand, however they didn’t get flop in having to play their cross-state rivals. After which in the end, they themselves flopped. The last word dangerous beat. The query that continues to be is: will they’ve sufficient capital to purchase again in and keep within the recreation?

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