Heading into the key months of the 2019 NHL offseason, Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon should look to bring in another capable defenseman.
The reason for that is simple, there wasn’t a lot of capable defense on hand last season. Florida finished the 2018-19 season allowing 3.33 goals per game, fourth-highest in the NHL. They also faced a hair under 31 shots per game.
This was a huge step down from the 2017-18 season when the team only gave up 2.96 goals per game. Even that wasn’t great, standing at 16th worst in the NHL; middle of the pack, but not where a playoff team should be.
If the Florida Panthers plan on making it back to the postseason for the first time in four years, giving up near three goals a game is purely unacceptable. What makes matters worse is the fact that their offense could’ve kept up with this tally.
The Panthers were averaging 3.22 goals per game this season, top 10 in the NHL. If a team like the Dallas Stars can average 2.55 goals per game (3rd worst in the NHL) and finish comfortably in a wild card spot, it shows the Panthers can make the postseason as long as their defense holds up.
While you can argue that the Stars did have Ben Bishop, who put together a career season with a 27-15-2 record with a 1.98 GAA and .934%, the Panthers are looking to improve goaltending this offseason.
With that considered, the Panthers’ defense is logically the next bit to improve. The defense has struggled with inconsistencies over the past four years, with Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, and Mike Matheson all capable of more, but all liable to critical errors.
There is time, in both free agency and in trades, for the Panthers to make a big move. An interesting move, considering Joel Quenneville’s appointment as Cats Head Coach, would be Arizona defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Hjalmarsson, who has experience under Quenneville during his time in Chicago, is an odd-man-out amongst modern day NHL defensemen.
He isn’t a point-getting, two-way defenseman like some of the commodity-like P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, or Victor Hedman. With just one goal for Arizona across 130 games, he’s more of a traditional defensive-defenseman.
The Coyotes are drawn into the 31-year-old’s contract – a $5 million cap hit – for another two seasons and may want to move on from the Swede for more forward-thinking defensemen.
The Panthers could give plenty of prospects, defensemen, or depth forwards to deploy Hjalmarsson with an offensive-defenseman like Ekblad or Matheson. This would allow those two to push further forward with a reliable defender behind them.
Another team the Panthers should monitor (for both trade or free agent) is Winnipeg. The Jets are in trouble financially, with Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, Joe Morrow, Nathan Beaulieu, and Jacob Trouba all restricted free agents this offseason.
The Panthers should be shoe-ins for both of these defensemen, with both proven at the best level. Trouba is four years younger, but is more offensive-minded and is an RFA, which means that he’ll expect much more money going forward.
Myers would be the better fit for the Panthers, but is 29-years-old, and could be a big fish in free agency this summer. Either one would fit really nicely on the Panthers’ blue line.
Within the UFAs of this offseason, the list becomes a little less appealing. There is a major talent drop after San Jose’s Erik Karlsson (who would be incredible, but incredibly hard for the Panthers to fit in the grand scheme of things).
Toronto’s Jake Gardiner might be the best get of the bunch, with the Leafs most likely moving on from the defenseman after some performance issues in the playoffs, as well as cap constraints.
While Gardiner is still 29-years-old, it may not be the right fit for Florida. Yes, he’s an improvement on Mike Matheson, but he’s the same kind of two-way defenseman labeled as “error-prone.”
Outside of Gardiner, there is Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman. Stralman, like Hjalmarsson, is a defensive veteran that could fit into Florida’s team.
While Stralman would cost significantly less money, he would be 34-years-old next season. Sure, it could work short term, but how long until Father Prime catches up with him?
Whether it’s one of these names or another that I have yet to say out of free agency or a potential trade, Dale Tallon should be bringing at least one new face on defense this offseason.