As a Florida Panthers fan, this NHL season has been nothing short of demoralizing. However, if the season restarts and the Panthers thrive in the approved 24 team playoff format, my opinions may change. Yet, there will still be frustration and anger among Panthers fans nonetheless.
After last offseason, the Panthers chances for the 2019-2020 season looked super promising. General manager Dale Tallon brought former Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville to South Florida in what represented a culture shift for the Panthers organization. Additionally Tallon splashed the cash on free agents Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman, Noel Acciari, and most notably Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky, at the time age 30, signed with the Panthers on a seven year 70 million dollar contract, in order to fix the goaltending woes that the Panthers have had since Robert Luongo’s dominant days. Does anybody see any problems with that? Signing a goalie on a contract worth 10 million dollars a year, who is only going to regress in the coming future is not only a terrible idea, but an awful investment. That was the first of the Panthers many failures.
Over the season, the Panthers had a lot of success; however, none of this success was able to be strung together. Huberdeau, Barkov, Hoffman, and Dadonov were all big contributors yet their successes came in spurts.
What was nice to see was the production that Noel Acciari had. After being in Boston for four years, Accairi exploded onto the scene for 27 points in 2020, becoming one of the Panthers most clutch goal scorers and most important penalty killers. Acciari’s back to back hat tricks against the Senators and Stars were one of the Panthers highlights during the 2019-2020 season.
Other great Panthers moments this season were the two four goal comeback games that the Panthers won in Boston and at the BB&T Center against the Ducks. Yet, other than Acciari’s back to back hat tricks, the Panthers historical comeback victories, and Huberdeau’s all star game appearance, the Panthers had a lot of rough moments.
Defensively, the Panthers really struggled. Ekblad was the Panthers only consistent solid defender, while power play quarterback Keith Yandle continued his offensive success but showcased his shaky defensive skills. Mike Matheson skated really well in 2020, but played poorly at times inside his own blue line. And the same goes for Anton Stralman and Mackenzie Weegar.
Through all of the negativity that was the Panthers defense in 2020, there were a few bright spots. One of these bright spots was the breakout season that young defenseman Riley Stillman had. Stillman played well, while getting physical with opponents, playing good defense, and getting a lot of minutes on the ice.
Yet, the Panthers defensive woes were a serious problem. That’s why the moves the Panthers made over the trade deadline were really questionable. I was okay with the Panthers trading away Vincent Trocheck. To be honest, he was long gone after a 70 point season a few years ago, yet it was a sad moment when one of the most crucial players to the Panthers success over the past few seasons was traded.
However, this season Trocheck looked as if he tried to do too much with the puck, and was not looking for his teammates. The return the Panthers got for Trocheck in Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, and two prospects was impressive, but, what about the blue line?
At the time the Panthers were in the thick of the playoff race. Plus, over the season the cats had been one of the highest scoring teams in the league thanks to the star power they had on their first two lines. Therefore, when the Panthers traded for players that would contribute offensively, and not help the Panthers’ crumbling defense, Dale Tallon’s deadline day move to get rid of Vincent Trocheck did not make much sense.
To add more pain to the Trocheck situation, there were solid defenseman on the market that could have been impact players for the Panthers like Tyson Barrie, Matt Dumba, Erik Gustafsson, and Brady Skjei. The Hurricanes got Skjei for a 1st round pick. Surely Trocheck had similar value. Therefore, why didn’t the Panthers ship off Trocheck for a capable defenseman if they had wanted him out of South Florida so badly?
The thing that Panthers fans are probably most frustrated about during the 2019-2020 season was the Panthers lack of consistency. Yes, good players like Sasha Barkov, Johnathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, and even Frank Vatrano played well at times, yet their inability to continue to keep the offense firing on all cylinders let the Panthers down time and time again during the season.
Additionally, the Panthers’ inability to be capable defensively after spending a lot of money reinforcing the blue line by getting veteran Anton Stralman was disappointing.
However, there was no greater disappointment than Sergei Bobrovsky. At times Chris Dreidger appeared as a more capable goaltender than the former Vezina winner. If the Panthers have any chance of improving in the future, Bobrovsky is going to need to come out of his hibernation, and reestablish himself as one of the NHL’s premier goaltenders.
If the season restarts, and the Panthers find success in a reformatted playoff, then perhaps the 2019-2020 season will no longer seem lost. Yet, this season did show a glimpse of what the Panthers may see in the future. With loads of expiring contracts all over the roster with guys like Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Erik Haula, and Lucas Wallmark, and limited cap room to sign all of their impending free agents, how will the Panthers be able to rebound from a lackluster season next year?
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