With just under two weeks remaining until the NHL Trade Deadline (Monday, February 26th), the Florida Panthers are in limbo. The Eastern Conference wild-card race, to the Panthers’ benefit, is well behind the West in terms of points. Many of the clubs fighting for those spots are struggling mightily right now, keeping Florida’s hopes alive. To their credit, the Cats have gone 5-1-0 in their last six games, playing a much more consistent and strong style of hockey in that stretch. Plus with two to five games in hand on literally everyone ahead of them in the race, winning each of those games could theoretically allow them to leapfrog into the last wild-card spot.
Florida Panthers Trade Deadline: Buyers or Sellers?
However, it is probably a stretch to suggest that the Panthers end up being buyers this month. Despite having those games in hand, there is still too much that has to go in their favour to really contend for a playoff spot. Likewise, they probably won’t be major Trade Deadline sellers either. This is because the pieces the Cats could sell aren’t necessarily the most valuable or exciting. That isn’t to say they won’t be moved, but rather that losing these players won’t affect the team’s performance much.
The Players Staying in Sunrise
When viewing their roster, it is pretty obvious that almost all of the most valuable players are likely untouchable. Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Matheson, and Aaron Ekblad are this team’s core and will not (and should not) be considered for a trade. That goes for the Trade Deadline, off-season, and any other time. These players are all very young and will be the stars of this team for years to come.
Outside the Core, but Still not on the Trade Block
The next set of guys who will be staying in Florida are the ones with no-movement clauses. This includes goaltender Roberto Luongo, defenseman Keith Yandle, and forward Evgeni Dadonov. (Honestly, even without a no-movement clause, these are tough contracts to trade). Additionally, the Panthers are unlikely to move Colton Sceviour, who just re-upped for three more years this week, or James Reimer, who is still in line to take over the crease from Luongo whenever he decides to retire.
Then we have the players I call, “Dale Tallon‘s boys”. Drafted by Tallon while in Florida, he consistently speaks highly of these players and their futures. However, they haven’t quite lived up to the hype yet. The biggest profile forward that comes to mind here is Nick Bjugstad. Just 25 years old, he is in his fifth NHL season. He received a big raise early in his career, but has yet to replicate his 24-goal output from three seasons ago. Three others who fit in this category are defensemen Alexander Petrovic and MacKenzie Weegar, as well as forward Connor Brickley (who Tallon re-acquired this summer when he took back his role as general manager).
Unlikely to Move
The last tier of players who will likely stick around are the youngsters. Some have become regular depth players. Others are still on their entry-level contracts. All, though, should still have room to grow. However, a Trade Deadline move to improve the club now could see one or two players from this category thrown in to sweeten a deal, but they won’t be actively shopped.
This group includes both roster players and high-end prospects because the team is very unlikely to sacrifice the future for the team today. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for a team nine points behind a wild card spot, sitting 13th in the conference. Starting with players who have seen time with the big club this season, forwards Jared McCann, Maxim Mamin, and Denis Malgin; defensemen Mark Pysyk and Ian McCoshen; and goaltender Harri Sateri will most likely all be retained.
Prospects Sebastian Repo, Henrik Borgstrom, Henrik Haapala, Jayce Hawryluk, Owen Tippett, and goaltender Samuel Montembeault all figure to stay in Florida’s system. Expect some of these guys to become huge factors in the very near future for the club. It would be a massive surprise to see any of them moved.
So, Who does that Leave to Trade?
Obviously, the above groups covers just about the entire team. But, there are definitely a few players whom Dale Tallon will be working to unload to another club at the Trade Deadline.
There is a high chance Radim Vrbata finds himself in a different uniform sooner than later. He hasn’t been able to score anywhere near the pace he’s achieved in previous years. That being said, anyone who has potted multiple 30-goal seasons is likely to turn some heads. There’s definitely a market for thirrd line depth wingers, and trades have historically provided a spark to struggling players. At just $2.5 million, it is a low-risk move for a team with the cap space. The only negative is that he’s on a one-year contract and plans to retire this summer. Essentially he’s a guaranteed rental (which, realistically, is probably a plus for the low production he’s produced thus far).
Players like Jamie McGinn always seem to draw interest, as he can be used anywhere in a team’s lineup. He plays a hard, gritty game that fits on a fourth line, but also has the ability to score which makes him serviceable on a third or even second line. Now a seasoned veteran, he provides leadership in the locker room as well. While the Panthers wouldn’t mind keeping him, they could promote a prospect to spend the rest of the season in the NHL without sacrificing too much. If it means they add a draft pick, or package him with other pieces to improve the current roster, McGinn makes for the most intriguing piece the Panthers have to offer.
Verdict: Sellers, I Guess?
At the end of the day, the Panthers do not have a whole lot they’ll be looking to sell. Either way, having pieces to sell, rather than pieces to buy, makes you a seller. It is a tough position this season, in particular, considering their position well outside, but still within reach, of the playoffs. A run is unlikely though, so buying just doesn’t make sense. Obviously, any team will make a big Trade Deadline deal if it will explicitly improve their outlook. This can’t be predicted, though, and therefore I won’t try to do so.
Expect little to no movement from Florida, with maybe McGinn and Vrbata being the exceptions.
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