The Florida Panthers are in a great position to take the next step organizationally next season after their red-hot second half.
There isn’t much flexibility to make the major moves that could put Florida over the top, since most of the best players on the roster are not going to be traded and only few others have decent value to other clubs.
Reimer’s numbers in Florida have been unspectacular, but not bad. In 87 games, Reimer has won 40 of them, with a .916 save percentage and a GAA of 2.53 in 16-17 and 2.99 last year. His even strength save percentage last year was at .914, which is also OK, but not great (Roberto Luongo’s was .932 in about 400 fewer even strength minutes).
He’s a perfectly competent goaltender who is currently a backup but has had to play more than half of Florida’s games the last two seasons due to injuries to Roberto Luongo, and has three years left on his contract with an AAV of $3.4M.
Those aren’t full-time starter quality numbers, but are better than average for most backups in the league. One issue with Reimer is age; he’ll be 31 next March and that isn’t exactly young by goalie standard, but the biggest knock on Reimer is his contract, which combined with Luongo has the Panthers spending $8 million in cap on goalies. That’s a high number, and with Florida having notable budgetary constraints, freeing that money up to use elsewhere would not be a bad idea.
Harri Sateri’s brief flash of brilliance in late January, early February last season has Florida fans wondering whether he may be a better backup for Roberto Luongo next season than James Reimer. Sateri would certainly be cheaper, and his AHL numbers were very good (2.30 GAA, .927 save percentage).
If his Springfield numbers carried over to around a 30-40 game sample next season in the NHL, he’d be a better, and cheaper backup for Roberto Luongo. But AHL-NHL goalie comparisons are hard to draw a linear path for, and Reimer has shown flashes of brilliance (and mediocrity) in his two years in Florida that would make this decision difficult.
From an asset management standpoint, the decision is an easy one for Dale Tallon to make. Freeing up the cap space to add a top six forward and an impact defenseman would be critical, and Reimer’s trade value would be comparable to that of what Scott Darling and Mike Smith fetched last year when they were traded, which would be a third round pick.
With the Panthers currently looking at having no draft picks between picks 34 and either 124 or 125, a third round pick would be welcome, especially considering the need to draft a young goalie to add to the pipeline in this draft.
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Dale Tallon’s decision to trade James Reimer however will not be a solely asset management based decision. He has to decide whether he has the confidence not just in Sateri, but Sam Montembeault as his goalie of the future. Roberto Luongo may only have one year left in him after two injury plagued seasons, and he is turning 40 next April, and with his salary being halved from 2018-19 to 2019-20, his days could be numbered.
Reimer would be a decent #1 goalie in the interim between Luongo and Montembeault if in fact Montembeault is the goalie of the future, but would be one of the poorer goalies for a playoff contender in the league based on his numbers in Florida. Sam is also turning 22 this October, so the answer to his status within this organization is coming rapidly, and perhaps faster than Dale Tallon would want it to.
Aiding the cause to trade Reimer may well be a scarcity of goalie options available to needy teams. More teams need good goalies than good goalies are available, and for a number of teams needing stability in net, Reimer could provide it. Teams like the Sabres, Hurricanes, Islanders perhaps the Canucks or even the Flyers could use a goalie like Reimer who has proven himself to be better than either what they already have, or what’s available on the free agent market.
The best free agents that are available are older goalies like Kari Lehtonen, Jaro Halak, Jonathan Bernier, etc. Teams could take fliers on goalies like Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek who likely won’t get RFA tenders from their current teams. The only young goalie a la Martin Jones who could be available is Washington’s Phillip Grubauer, and he hasn’t had the best of times lately. James Reimer could easily be a better option than most if not all of the names above for teams with needs between the pipes.
A Luongo-Reimer tandem next season would not be a liability to getting Florida back to the postseason in all likelihood. A Luongo-Sateri combination may be if Sateri is not able to handle a decent size workload like Reimer has been able to. But with the Panthers looking at an asset windfall in cap space and draft picks with a potential Reimer trade, that reward may outweigh the risk of not only putting more questions in net this year, but in the future if Sam Montembeault isn’t NHL ready by 19-20 season at the earliest.
Trading James Reimer would certainly make sense from an asset management standpoint, and would be a risk from a hockey and organizational standpoint, making Dale Tallon’s decision difficult. Reimer is one of the few roster players the Panthers could reasonably deal to gain assets elsewhere, but the other questions in net for this season and down the line might make Dale Tallon’s decision for him.
Whatever the decision is on James Reimer, it’ll tell a lot about what the Panthers think about the future of their goaltending position.