After many years of hope and struggle, it’s time for Nick Bjugstad to find a new home and leave South Florida for good.
Once he was drafted by the Panthers 19th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, the plan for Florida’s future was now in effect. This followed with other picks like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and more.
This plan was simple for Panthers GM Dale Tallon: enter an eight-year rebuild and establish a core to build pieces around, a formula that helped him propel the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup back in 2010 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The intention was to use this same method for Florida, starting with Bjugstad.
As his career started with the Panthers, Big Nick was already showing what he was capable of. In his rookie season, he posted 16 goals, 22 assists, for 38 points.
Although, his breakout year occurred during the 2014-15 season, where he posted 24G, 19A, and 43 points, further proving that he was a piece that needed to stay.
Following that amazing year, the front office thought he deserved a reward for his remarkable play.
During the season, the Cats inked Bjugstad to a six-year, $24.6 million dollar deal, solidifying his place on the roster. It was clear that the Panthers were ready to cruise into the future with Nick as a big part of their core.
After the contract was signed, something seemed to happen to the American forward as he became inconsistent as the years passed.
In 2015-16, he had a decent year, posting 15 goals and 34 points. A mediocre season to say the least, but after that, everything seemed to go downhill.
In the next season (2016-17), the injuries started to pile up for Bjugstad. While he only played a little more than half the season, he had the worst campaign of his career.
Even playing with the best of the best that the Cats had to offer, Nick put up underwhelming numbers in comparison to years past. Most thought this was just a bump in the road for him, but this was unfortunately not the case.
To jump a year (2017-18), the numbers started to show signs of life for Bjugstad, but it’s not the statistics that proved his signs of slowing down.
Yes, he did have a great year in his first 82-game season with career highs in assists (30) and points (49). But, it’s what his play style and work ethic developed into, which presents the same issue that many have with him today.
To quickly assess the 2017-18 campaign, where yes, even though the numbers were there, that still wasn’t the way the Panthers expected Bjugstad to play.
Unlike previous years, Big Nick played a good portion of the season on a line with superstar Aleksander Barkov and Evgeni Dadonov.
Those two did the majority of the work, something that is referred to as the ‘grit’ part of the game. Nick (at times) went through the motions, waiting for his teammates to set him up.
While I can go on forever on how Bjugstad put up such magnificent numbers that year, it’s time to get to the current season.
Heading into this season, the pressure was on more than ever for the now 26-year-old. He was making the big bucks and needed to show that the previous year wasn’t a fluke, while also showing that he is still a talented, proven player.
He started on a line once again with Barkov and Dadonov to start the year, almost bound for success. So far, this has not been the case.
Even though he suffered through some injury trouble, the numbers have been anything but there for Bjugstad.
In 32 games, he has 5 goals and 12 points, good for a cheap fourth line player, but for someone being paid the big bucks to play in the top-six for the Cats, this is clearly disappointing.
Plus, his overall play has not improved, at all. The time has come, it’s time for Big Nick to go and get a change of scenery. More importantly, though, it’s time to transition into why he just isn’t a good fit for this team.
For starters, Bjugstad is not what he used to be when it comes to using his body. In the past, he would protect the puck, skate circles around defenders, and end up with countless amounts of goals by using his size.
He would throw down defenders that were in his way and would always find a way to get open. After a few years of success, he suddenly abandoned this technique.
Nowadays, instead of having the will to win and grit he once had, he sits back and plays like a passenger, leaving everyone else to do the work for him.
Possibly, it may have to do with the fact that the NHL is all about speed instead of using the body, something the Los Angeles Kings are used to hearing, but I think it’s more than that when it comes to Bjugstad.
Additionally, Nick just doesn’t seem to fit into the culture the Panthers are trying to build. I know that sounds a bit vague but it’s true if you hear me out.
Now, what the Panthers established when they shipped out Gerard Gallant is that they wanted to develop a fast, counter-attacking team. This has come to fruition when it comes to the speedy skaters that consist of Florida’s top-six.
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When it comes to Nick, he simply doesn’t fall into that category. He’s developed into a slow, sluggish player that takes up cap space with his barley mediocre play.
If anything, the Panthers waste a spot in their lineup with this ineffective forward that doesn’t quite fit into what the organization thinks is the best way to create a winning atmosphere.
Finally, while there are many other reasons to list, the possibly most important issue with keeping Bjugstad on the squad has to be where it may matter the most: what he contributes to the team’s salary cap.
Like I said before, Bjugstad signed a six-year deal that gives him an AAV of $4.1M. That’s a decent amount of space to the cap, and it could only be justified if Nick was putting up the numbers.
Statistically speaking, he’s not been so hot as of late and his play has continued to decline, along with his numbers.
Even with the fluke of last season, Bjugstad has been brutal as of late, anything but someone who should be making almost as much as Panthers star Vincent Trocheck. It’s clear that he just isn’t worth what he’s paid.
To summarize, for plenty of reasons that a simple list could not hold, Bjugstad is just not what the Panthers need for the future.
He is not in any way, shape, or form what the Cats have described as something that will lead them to a championship.
As a burden to the team (as some may say), it’s time to get something for him while he’s still worth *something*.