What has become clear after the Florida Panthers shipped Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to Pittsburgh for expiring contracts and draft picks is not that the Panthers are sellers or even buyers for 2019.
Their 2019 fate was settled long ago. What’s now clear is that the Florida Panthers are betting on themselves this summer to be an attractive option for the league’s biggest stars.
GM Dale Tallon is now in a mad dash to acquire assets for future use, whatever that use may be. It’s a franchise-defining gamble.
Their destination certainly was, and in many ways, so was the return. But as the Panthers came into this season asset poor; low on draft picks (5), depth in the farm system and cap space, with the way the season had gone, getting assets for the future was critical.
Trading away Petrovic, Bjugstad, and McCann, none of whom were essential to Florida’s future and getting four draft picks plus cap space and other players who could be flipped for draft picks or prospects for them is good business.
But that cannot be judged on its own merits because this move is the first of many.
Florida’s interest in these players stems back a lot further, and most of the league would be interested in them too. But this summer isn’t only about these two.
It could be about Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, offer sheets and more moving parts than ever. Whoever Dale Tallon’s major targets are, he needs to be dealing from a place of strength in terms of assets, and this trade is the first move to get to that position.
Assuming a flat cap next year, Florida has over $21 million in cap space without doing anything more. The cap is projected to be at $83 million next season, meaning the Cats would go up to $24.5 million.
With nine draft picks and the potential for more to come, that’s a strong hand to deal from whether it be at the trade deadline, on the draft floor in Vancouver or on July 1.
But much like how the New York Knicks are betting on themselves to sell a superstar to come there via free agency, the Panthers are doing the same.
The trades they made to position themselves for that sales job are different (one is far better and it’s obvious which one), but the comparison is apt.
It’s now on Dale Tallon and ownership to sell these targets on what the Florida Panthers could be, and do it better than anyone else. Whether they can do that is up for debate.
Positioning yourself for an offseason like this puts extreme importance on having not just a plan A, but plans B, C, and D just in case. That cap space is a weapon, but only if it’s used properly.
Draft picks are worthwhile only to a point. This core is not getting any younger, and with their best salary years winding down, the window to win is not getting any more open.
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Dale Tallon and ownership are in make or break territory, setting up this offseason to be the most important in the history of the franchise.
What’s done then will judge how successful trades like Tallon’s first big in-season move since re-acquiring Roberto Luongo actually were.
This first trade of presumably many doesn’t signal anything for this current season that wasn’t already known.
It heightens the importance of this summer at a critical time for the franchise, and it may ultimately come down to Dale Tallon, Vincent Viola, and their sales skills to take this franchise to the next and needed level.
Those questions will not be answered until the summer, but the clock is ticking. In many ways, the front office has played its hand. Now, they need to have a better hand than anyone else, because folding isn’t an option anymore.