The Florida Panthers have been struggling as of late and are in need of a shakeup to get back on track.
If the previous four games haven’t been an indicator of struggling life than I don’t know what is. The offense has run dry while the defense continues to worsen after each passing game. There are times where the blue line holds up and produces a sound game, but those efforts have been rare in sight.
What’s been their main issue now for countless seasons has been their defense core, which wasn’t fully addressed this past offseason. Instead, a stop-gap was signed in Anton Stralman – who provides some sort of defensive presence, but not much in defensive stability given his age and injury history.
It shouldn’t have to be said but the Florida Panthers are in need of another top-four defenseman who is stable defensively, preferably left-handed and can play on the left side, but most importantly, can handle top-pairing minutes while playing alongside Aaron Ekblad.
The Cats have looked for this type of defenseman for a couple of seasons now, but they haven’t done much to try and acquire this said player. Realistically, the farm system is too thin to even begin thinking about finding an in-house option and free agency is just too costly when players like these hit the open market. That leaves the Panthers with one option remaining: the trade market.
Florida has assets that they can part with to acquire this needed player. Whether or not they are willing to give up these assets is another story. But if they are serious about improving what’s unquestionably been their most glaring issue, while filling an area of need during the season, then Dale Tallon is going to have to be willing to roll the dice and take a chance.
His most valuable asset on the roster currently remains forward Mike Hoffman – who’s set to hit the open market this summer as a UFA. Hoffman’s value is certainly not as high as it was last season in his 36-goal campaign, but make no mistake, there’s still value for a proven power-play scorer, which many teams will covet (and are looking for) during the trade deadline.
Taking into account Florida’s current cap situation and the need to preserve space for present UFAs like Evgenii Dadonov and future extensions for both Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, it’s very unlikely that the Panthers will re-sign Hoffman this summer, considering the term and money he’s expected to ask for. With all of that considered, the Panthers are better off cashing in on his services, receiving a piece or two to help strengthen the roster.
Of course, Florida’s going to have to be creative in terms of constructing a deal for their preferred defenseman, but there are a few who fit the bill and the team’s overall need. Start with Jonas Brodin for example. He’s left-handed (plays on the left side), is 26 years of age, can log heavy minutes and handle tough defensive assignments, and has some term left on his deal. Brodin would be the ideal fit for the Cats and would pair beautifully alongside Ekblad.
How about Sami Vatanen of the New Jersey Devils? Sure, Vatanen’s play over the last couple of seasons has regressed defensively, but it’s key to note that just about any defenseman who played on a team like the Devils would regress as a whole. In a more stable situation on a better team, Vatanen’s play would surely improve.
He is right-handed which could be a problem, but that would just mean that either he or Ekblad would have to play on their opposite side. On the downside, he’s on an expiring contract, set to hit the open market this summer. The Panthers could approach him as a free agent, but it may be costly given their need to preserve cap space. Either way, they may just have to roll the dice by swapping their expiring contract (in Hoffman) for another one that would fill a hole at the back. Tallon will have to decide how urgently he needs this piece. But If you ask me, it’s crucial and worth taking the gamble!
If you wanted to get cute and think outside the box, you could turn your attention towards Hampus Lindholm of the Anaheim Ducks. While this option may present itself as too good to be true, the Panthers could pull it off if they were willing to package a pick and a prospect next to Hoffman’s name.
Lindholm would be another ideal defense partner (like Brodin) for Aaron Ekblad, but defensemen like him don’t grow on trees and the Panthers would have to be willing to part with some pieces. Considering Dale Tallon’s trajectory with trades in the past, it’s doubtful that he even considers pursuing this option, let alone picking up the phone.
If he’s serious about turning this already-sinking ship around, then he at least inquires about the prospect of acquiring Lindholm. Lindholm checks every box that Florida is looking for in a partner for Ekblad, but just as importantly, he has some term left on his deal which is fairly team-friendly. In Florida’s favor, the Ducks have sold off their key pieces over the last couple of seasons, so a trade for Lindholm isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but it would include having to give up something of worth.
Ideally, it’s up to Dale Tallon to get the final piece needed to shore up for a potential playoff run. But before we even consider the playoffs, the Panthers have to book their spot, which they haven’t been able to do. They are in a tight race for the third spot in the Atlantic with Toronto but currently sit two points behind with a game in hand.
Given their recent struggles at the back – with the offense expected to pick up again – the Panthers cannot afford to have another trade deadline where they sit on their hands and remain content with where they’re at. Tallon and co. need to be thinking about the present, and with a sizeable asset in Mike Hoffman about to walk for nothing in a few months’ time, the Panthers are better off cashing in on him while receiving something in return that will help address their biggest issue that’s been holding them back for years on end.
It’s up to management to finally take the risk by acquiring the needed piece to help bolster the roster. You can do that by parting ways with Mike Hoffman, who’s not expected to return next year and can be outright replaced by an in-house option.