Florida Panthers: Are they Buyers or Sellers at the trade deadline?

RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 3: Radim Vrbata
RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 3: Radim Vrbata /

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching in the coming weeks, the Florida Panthers must decide on which direction they will take.

As of now, the Florida Panthers are in a bit of a tricky situation come February, 26th. They must decide on whether they’re going to be ‘buyers’ or ‘sellers’ come trade deadline day. Recently, the Panthers have won their last 4/5 games, sitting 4th in the Atlantic Division, while trailing the last WC (wild card) spot by a total of seven points.

If we were to address this question at the beginning of the year, most or if not all would say that the Cats would be definite sellers come trade deadline day. But unlike the start of the year, the Panthers have managed to turn their season around, climbing out from the basement in result of winning more hockey games.

While the Panthers aren’t too far off from grabbing the last WC spot, is it really worth gambling our future picks and prospects over a couple of rentals? The answer to that would be NO, as Florida needs to continue following their blue print which is building through the drafts.

This young yet eager team is simply a joy to watch on most nights’, but we all must be honest with ourselves with this group, they just aren’t playoff material yet, neither do they hold the necessary depth to make a push in the post season. However, when it comes to what the Florida Panthers should do come Feb, 26th, it should be to unload a couple of players.

To start, we must first figure out who the Panthers are willing to offload, as well as if there is any interest from around the league. Our first and most obvious trade deadline bait (scrap) would be Radim Vrbata, who the Cats signed in the offseason on a one-year deal.

The 36-year-old, Czech winger, has been nothing short of disappointing this year. In 35 games played, Vrbata holds a weak slash line of 5G, 8A, and 13 points. Many Panthers’ fans expected more from Vrbata up front, hoping that he would’ve replicated his 55 point season with Arizona from the 2016-17 campaign.

But despite all this hope, Vrbata has been virtually non-existent throughout the majority of the games he’s suited up for. More often than not, he’s “Casper the friendly ghost,” appearing every so often during games. It’s clear that not only has Vrbata failed to adjust to the Panthers’ system, but it’s overwhelmingly clear that age has simply caught up to the veteran winger.

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Moving forward, the Panthers shouldn’t hesitate to move Vrbata, no matter how little the return may be. Realistically speaking, because Vrbata’s value is so low at the moment, don’t expect anything higher than a sixth-round draft pick. Not that there’s anything wrong with a sixth-round draft pick, but even then, that’s still pushing the envelope on Vrbata who’s been massively struggling this year.

It’s also worth noting that there is the high possibility that the Cats don’t receive any offers for Vrbata at all. Like I mentioned earlier, his value is so low that teams may not even bother pursuing his services, as they could look elsewhere for a younger/better option at the wing. There are so many other options out there that are more eye-appealing than Radim Vrbata for a trade deadline target.

When it comes to possible suitors, it’s really hard to gauge what club would be interested in a washed up, 36-year-old winger. What I can predict is that the Panthers will likely land between a sixth or seventh round draft pick at best, with the possible suitor being a question mark for the time being.

Moving on to the Panthers next and last trade bait: Jamie McGinn. Jamie McGinn was acquired last offseason in exchange for Jason Demers, via trade. McGinn, who’s been slightly better than Vrbata this season, has recorded 7G, 8A, and 15 points in 48 games played.

The 29-year-old has seen a lot of ice time on the Panthers’ second line, playing alongside the likes of Vincent Trocheck. But as we speak, McGinn is currently penciled in on the third line, playing on a line with Jared McCann. The soon to-be 30-year-old has struggled in his previous 10 games, only tallying two goals in result.

Not a whole lot was expected from McGinn coming into the season though. Many had anticipated that he would feature on the bottom two lines, where he’s been most comfortable playing on throughout his career. But instead, he got thrown onto the second line early on, receiving some significant playing time for a traditional bottom six forward.

Jamie has made the best out of his time here, doing everything that he could in the role that he was assigned of. We all know that McGinn isn’t a top six forward, who can play consistently on a team’s second line. But, he is someone who can step onto a team’s third or fourth line, giving them that energy presence nightly, which we’ve seen a bit of this year.

With his contract expiring after the 2018-19 season, it’ll be tough for the Panthers to unload his contract. Currently holding an annual salary of $3.3M, many suitors will be turned off from his salary, looking elsewhere for a cheaper power-forward. If the Cats are eager to get McGinn off the books, they could potentially offer to eat up a bit of his salary, making a trade look more appealing.

Two possible suitors that could be interested in McGinn’s services would be the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. Both those clubs are notorious for having forwards who rely solely on their big-body presence, using it to power their way to goal. If the Panthers considered eating up about a million off of McGinn’s salary, either one of those teams would likely consider purchasing Jamie McGinn.

In return however, don’t expect an awful lot. At best, Jamie would likely retrieve a fourth or fifth round draft pick, with the condition being that the Panthers would eat up some of his salary. By offloading McGinn, this would open up a valuable spot on the Panthers’ third line, giving a young prospect the opportunity to showcase his talent.

When the trade deadline approaches on February, 26th, it seems like the Panthers won’t fall necessarily under one specific category. Florida will likely try to sell off a couple of their vets (like Vrbata and McGinn) but don’t expect any key arrivals coming in. Trade deadline day will likely be a very quiet day for the Cats, barring a couple of trades to offload a few guys.

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My prediction: the Florida Panthers will be neither buyers or sellers, but will sell a bit more than they purchase. The Panthers shouldn’t trade for the sake of trading, but instead should focus on building through the draft. Grooming some of the young prospects in the minors should be the main priority moving forward, not overspending on 30-year-old rental players’. Overall though, Panthers’ fans shouldn’t expect a whole lot on trade deadline day, and should instead look forward for what’s to come from this summer’s Entry Draft and Free Agency period.