There’s a simpler way to think about hockey than what the Florida Panthers have done in recent years; give up fewer goals, and they can score fewer goals to win. For this next season, new goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will have a big say on how Florida need to play.
Sergei Bobrovsky, 31, was signed on July 1st from Columbus to a seven-year, $70 million contract to replace longtime Panther Roberto Luongo in the crease. Ultimately, Luongo had run out of gas, and supposed goalie of the future James Reimer never consistently dominated the crease for the Florida Panthers.
It goes without saying that that is an expensive price, especially for someone on the wrong side of 30. Bobrovsky, along with Buffalo’s Jack Eichel and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar, is the 11th highest-paid player in the NHL, and just the fifth to be paid over $10 million while over 30.
Paying Bobrovsky wasn’t just spending money because Dale Tallon had to. This is a goalie of elite status, that can seriously push the Panthers over the limit. Bobrovsky needs to be the brick wall that he was signed to be.
Florida’s biggest issue last season was their porous defense. The Panthers gave up 273 goals last season, the fourth-most goals in the NHL last season, only behind Philadelphia, Chicago, and Ottawa. None of those teams made the playoffs last year.
To put that into reference, the playoff team that gave up the most goals in 2018-19 were the San Jose Sharks, conceding 258 times. The difference was that the Sharks had the depth to score 289 goals, while Florida, despite all-star level seasons from Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, scored just 264.
While not every goal can be blamed on the goalie or the defense, last season was a mixture of both. There hasn’t been too much of an improvement on the defense, so a lot of pressure will fall on Florida’s new #72.
For the first time in three years, the Panthers will have a legit Vezina Trophy Candidate. Back in 2016-17, Bobrovsky dominated the NHL. With 41 wins in 63 starts, 2.06 goals allowed average, .931 save percentage, and the Columbus Blue Jackets performed brilliantly on their way back to the postseason.
Doing some math, if the Florida Panthers had a goalie who gave up 2.06 goals per game in 63 games, and keeping Sam Montembeault‘s 3.05 goals-against average for the remaining 19 games, the Florida Panthers only give up 226 goals last year. That would have been 10th in the NHL, and with 3.22 goals per game last year, the Panthers wouldn’t have just made the playoffs, they would’ve done it comfortably.
Bobrovsky’s numbers have gradually dipped since that season, where Bobrovsky only saved .913% of shots faced last year, giving up 2.58 goals last season in 61 games. Even with those numbers, Florida still would’ve given up 224 goals last season.
If Bobrovsky plays up to his standard, Florida could have a lot easier of a season. In hockey, two goals usually means your team loses. Very few times can a team win 2-1 or 2-0, or even holding out 2-2 and winning in a shootout. With Bobrovsky, the Panthers have a much better chance at this.
For all this to work, one thing must happen; the Panthers cannot overwork Bob. Yes, he has the talent to start 60 or more games this season, but the Panthers should aim for him not to play above 63 games.
For a reason why, let’s cross the border and look at the Edmonton Oilers. In 2016-17, the Oilers had one of their most successful seasons in the last decade, making the playoffs behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Cam Talbot.
Talbot, a former lights-out backup for Henrik Lundqvist, had the campaign of his life. Talbot won 42 starts, recorded a career-best 2.39 GAA, and had a .919 save percentage. The only problem with this was how the Oilers managed him.
Without a proper backup, Talbot played 72 of 82 possible regular-season games and started every game for the Oilers in their playoff run against San Jose and Anaheim.
Safe to say that Talbot hasn’t been the same. In the last two seasons, his numbers have plummeted, especially last season. In 2018-19, Talbot went 10-15-3, giving up 3.36 goals per game and had a .893 save percentage, making him one of the worst goalies in the league, and now exiled to rivals Calgary.
Yes, all Panthers fans are going to want to watch Sergei Bobrovsky in as many games as he can play, and greatly improve the team. Head Coach Joel Quenneville needs to manage his goalie correctly, the Panthers cannot afford to have Bobrovsky regress due to overuse with his current contract.