After a long season filled with lots of defensive mishaps, the Florida Panthers desperately need to rebuild their defense core over the summer.
With that being the case, the Panthers essentially need two, top-four pairing defensemen who can step into the lineup immediately and make a sudden impact. Draft picks and/or overseas signings won’t do the trick in this situation.
There are two routes the Cats can go to address their top four concerns at the back: 1). scope out the UFA market and see if you can bring in an experienced defenseman who can play alongside Aaron Ekblad (ex. Anton Stralman).
There’s no reason why Hoffman can’t fetch a legit, top-four defenseman, especially after his 36-goal season.
In terms of Mike Matheson and what to do with him next season, you could realistically start him on the top pair with Ekblad. But after his poor performance this past season, would placing him on the top pair even make sense?
With Yandle taking the second pair spot without hesitation, that would only leave Matheson with a left-handed spot on the bottom pair. Perhaps starting the year off on the bottom line would do him some wonders, seeing he wasn’t exactly high on confidence to start and end the season.
Mark Pysyk, on the other hand – who played the majority of the season on the second pair – needs to be dealt at all costs. The “Pysyk experiment,” as some referred to it as, needs to officially come to an end.
As solid as Pysyk may be in a bottom pairing role, he just doesn’t cut it in a top-four position and would be better off in a new environment.
Luckily for the Panthers, Pysyk has some value left in him and there are teams around the league that could offer a third, maybe even a second-round pick in exchange for his services.
Either way, if the Panthers are serious about upgrading that spot in their top four at the back, they need to deal Pysyk and replace him with a better option who can step in and play right away.
Heading into the offseason, here’s how the defense lines up. An “X” marks an open spot that needs to be filled in and replaced.
X – Ekblad
Yandle – X
Matheson – Weegar
So, this is essentially what you have. By no means is what you see here on screen bad, but nor it good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup.
As I mentioned earlier, you have to split Yandle and Ekblad heading into the new season. You just can’t have two offensive-minded defensemen on the same line together.
Bringing in two competent, top-four pairing defensemen to pair with Ekblad and Yandle is the ideal scenario to ensure that both are operating at full capacity.
Whether that means trading a guy like Hoffman or even packaging Pysyk with a couple of picks or a prospect, you do whatever it takes to acquire those two players who you would play next to the aforementioned two.
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The bottom line you could leave as is and continue rotating different defensemen from the minors as you see fit based on certain situations and circumstances.
Matheson is likely going to have to bite the bullet to start the year off on the bottom pair if he isn’t placed next to Ekblad on the first.
Either way, there’s really no harm placing Matheson on the bottom line to start the year off and it would only increase his confidence that he so desperately lacks. Essentially, he would benefit from easy matchups.
Weegar, on the flip side, can continue to develop on the bottom pair, while providing Matheson with a reliable defense partner.
Not that Weegar wasn’t good this past season (he was, in fact), but he’s better off continuing his development on the bottom line where he rightfully belongs.
At this stage in his career, Weegar isn’t a top-four defenseman; and that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. He serves a purpose on the third pair and offers the team a reliable presence.
No matter where you may stand on this issue, I think we can all admit that the Panthers have a lot of work to do this summer, which includes fixing their defense core.