At the beginning of the season, many people both inside and out of the Florida Panthers organization saw the cats as playoff locks. Some even thought they were possible Stanley Cup contenders. Before the season started, in an interview with The Athletic, Aaron Ekblad said that “I would say we go into this year as the team to beat.” They had elite talent up front, a new coach, and a new goalie. Talent also included both Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman.
Regardless of what any “experts” thought, the Florida Panthers currently hold the second wild-card position with 53 points. With teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning who are finally heating up and then there is the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Both with comfortable leads on their respected division, leaving no time to waste. However, looking past this season, the Panthers have some interesting choices to make.
Main Contract Issue: Mike Hoffman vs Evgenii Dadonov
By the time the 2020-21 Florida Panthers season rolls around, Dale Tallon and company will have a lot of big decisions to make. Four players will become Unrestricted Free Agents with six others listed as Restricted Free Agents. With the best roster the Panthers have had in a long time, the decisions that follow could help in deciding the fate of the organization.
The biggest issue? Both Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov contracts are up at the end of the season. Both will become unrestricted free agents with free-range to seek another suitor. According to CapFriendly.Com, the Panthers currently have just over $200,000 in projected cap space. Not much wiggle room to be signing guys who are both on pace for some of their best numbers yet.
Furthermore, Dadonov and Hoffman are third and fourth in points, respectively. It is not hard not to believe both of these guys are seeking similar if not higher contracts to keep them around. Since joining the Panthers both have contributed tremendously, in two years with the team Hoffman has scored 105 points in 127 games. While Dadonov, 191 points in 256 games played.
Option 1: Evgenii Dadonov
As one of the longer-tenured Panther, Evgenii Dadonov is playing in his sixth year with Florida. Since returning from the KHL, he has been crucial for the Panther’s offence. Finishing with 65 points in 2017-18, he’s never had time to look back. Currently, third on the team in points, Dadonov has brought more than just firepower to the Panthers locker room.
Even more important than his offensive ability, Dadonov is the missing piece to the Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau jigsaw puzzle. Dadonov has extraordinary chemistry with the Florida Panthers super-stars, something that will be hard to replace. Don’t believe it? Look at how the season has gone so far, lineups wise. Q has put the lineup into a blender countless times so far. Yet, the Panthers find themselves back to square one.
The top line of Barkov, Huberdeau, and Dadonov is one of the best in the league. When looking at the number of games played on MoneyPuck.com, this trio has the highest goals as a line with 30 combined. Along with one of the highest goals for percentages with 53.6 percent through 39 games. Not to mention, averaging 4.35 goals per 60 minutes.
Option 2: Mike Hoffman
Ever since being traded to Florida Panthers, Mike Hoffman has been a sniper. Last season Hoffman scored 36 goals contributing to his 70-point season, both career highs. Continuing with his offensive ability, Hoffman has become a world-class power-play specialist.
In the 2018-19 season, Hoffman scored 33 points on the power-play. 17 goals and 16 assists leaving him fourth in the league for power-play goals and sixth in power-play points. This season he has recorded 15 points on the power-play, seven goals and eight assists.
Year in and year out it seems that the power-play becomes more and more critical for team success, both for the regular season and post-season. The power-play ability Hoffman brings is a factor no one will overlook. Regardless of his benefits on the offensive side of things, Hoffman is a headache 5-on-5 and in the defensive zone, ranking fifth on the team in giveaways.
Other Things to Consider
Not only do the Panthers have to consider the Dadonov and Hoffman situation. They also have Brian Boyle and Mark Pysyk contracts expiring, leaving them as unrestricted free agents as well. With Pysyk’s contract coming to an end, he has been nothing but adaptable. Moving to forward under Coach Joel Quenneville, he has slowly gotten his feet wet and is starting to make a difference. On the other hand, this is most likely Boyle’s last kick at the cup. The Panthers should not lose too much sleep over this one.
On top of that, the Panthers will have six players who will be restricted, free agents at the end of the season as well. Players like MacKenzie Weegar, Sam Montembeault, and Josh Brown are on the list. Along with Dominic Toninato, who has been playing his role quite nicely since being called up.
Last, but not least, the Panthers have two up-incoming prospects in Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom in their minor league system. Tippett currently leads his team in points with 32 points in 41 games in his first season with the Springfield. While Borgstrom has been a little slower, 15 points through 33 games.
As all of these sit here, it’s hard to say what the outcome will be. Yet, at the end of the day team success equals long term success. Evgenii Dadonov brings more to the Florida Panthers than just a good shot or great passing ability. Third on the team for Corsi for 54.5 percent.
Dadonov brings certain x-factors that cannot be replaced, easily, if at all. Dadonov’s chemistry with Barkov and Huberdeau is second to none. The Panthers need to ride that wave as long as they can. Dadonov is simply more impactful on the ice 5-on-5 both in the offensive and defensive zone. Putting together a more complete game.
Both at the age of 30, its difficult to see how much longer each of these guys have. Looking at previous patterns, Dadonov’s next contract is expected to be a lower asking price than Hoffman’s. Based on the fact that Hoffman already makes more than Dadonov. Given their cap situation, this could be a huge factor too.
No matter what happens, the Panthers will have some big decisions to make.