Florida Panthers: Trading Trocheck Shows Short-Term Thinking with Long-Term Questions Unanswered

SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 12: Vincent Trocheck #21 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at BB&T Center on January 12, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 12: Vincent Trocheck #21 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at BB&T Center on January 12, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Since the start of February, the Florida Panthers are a team in crisis. They are 4-8-1 in the month, frittering away opportunities to seize a playoff spot from an equally disastrous Maple Leafs team and just traded away a core player in Vincent Trocheck at the trade deadline for a less than stellar return.

There are rumors the team will be slashing payroll next year. Their GM’s future is very much in doubt. It seems like the organization has no direction, no plan, and no ideas. For a team that is exactly where many thought they’d be at this time in the season, that’s a heck of an accomplishment, and not in a good way.

Greg Wyshynski of ESPN called a winner of the trade deadline “putting it on your players,” and trading Trocheck accomplishes that for the Panthers in stark terms. He was a core piece of the early 2010’s rebuild and figured to be a second-line center written in pen for years to come. But after his 75 point season two years ago and a horrific ankle injury he came back from too soon, it looks like that special season in 2017-18 is an outlier.

Trocheck is a decent offensive play driver with defensive deficiencies that are easily exploited in the wrong system, which is why his play dropped so significantly last and this year when healthy. At age 26, it’s reasonable to assume that this is his level going forward. As second-line centers go, one can certainly do worse, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that on the best teams, he’s either a third-line center or winger.

Trocheck wasn’t a gigantic part of the problem in Florida, but trading him sends a “putting it on your players” message to a dressing room that was used to him as a constant, particularly Barkov and Huberdeau. Both, as well as Aaron Ekblad, are core players having very good seasons, but they may have to single-handedly drag Florida into the playoffs on their own.

None of them were going to be traded, and neither could other players whose departure would send the same message, like Keith Yandle or Mike Matheson. Trading Trocheck sends a message not sent to the dressing room before, and after trading away other key pieces in recent years, while also changing the coach, this type of move may have been the last of these bullets left in Dale Tallon’s chamber.

In many ways, this trade resembles the Bjugstad and McCann deal from last year, with prospects instead of picks. Erik Haula has had a rough year with injuries, but can be a positive possession player at his best, and is also versatile. He’ll likely start as the 2C but can play on the wing as well. He is much more of a distributor and calmer presence on the puck than Trocheck, but his upside isn’t as high. It’s also worth asking if his peak play is already behind him.

Lucas Wallmark is a good bottom-six play driver who can also play in multiple roles and will be better on the cycle than most of the rotating cast in Florida’s bottom six this year. Both could be players that Joel Quenneville appreciates. Chase Priskie is a 23-year-old defensive prospect who has been a decent AHL defender this year but projects little NHL upside (see Brady Keeper) and Eetu Luostarinen figures to a be an Aleski Saarela type, just a little younger. Neither are futures changing prospects, which is a disappointment.

On its own, the trade is not a terrible one, but could have and should have been better for the caliber of player Trocheck is. Combine this with the inability to address years-long issues on the blue line that are still major problems, the rumors of a payroll cut next season and the latent frustration with Panthers management and you get an edgy fan base on the verge of revolt, and they have every right to be aggrieved. Every move since Dale Tallon returned as GM has been a reactionary move to another reactionary move, with no consistency, plan or approach to their moves.

Trading away Trocheck for middling prospects and to-be free agents adds “flexibility,” which has been the buzzword in Sunrise for far too long, but flexibility for what exactly? Will this money and space be used to get the defensemen the Panthers desperately need? Will there be a plan of attack to acquire those defensemen, and move away from Yandle/Matheson/Stralman in order to put that plan into motion? Does ownership trust Tallon to make these moves after the decisions he has made in recent years with the team stuck on the bubble as it has been for six years? Do they want to consistently spend money, likely good after bad, to be stuck on the bubble again?

Perhaps this trade provides a spark for the Panthers to go on a run, outlast the Leafs and make the playoffs. But do they have any chance against Boston or Tampa? Doubtful. A playoff appearance is nice, but it would do nothing to answer questions about the future of this franchise and its direction from the top on down. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are not getting younger, and their contracts are getting closer to expiring. The fanbase wants results, not another long rebuild. At some point, flexibility with no obvious plan or approach to using it means very little, and that is what the Panthers have been dealing with in the last three years.

Someone in the organization, whether it be ownership, Dale Tallon or someone else, needs to be decisive. Forging a plan and sticking to it is hard, and the Panthers haven’t done that since Tallon’s early days under previous ownership. Sending Trocheck to Carolina shows that hasn’t changed. How can the organization keep selling hope when most fans lost the ability to hope ages ago, especially when the wins aren’t coming? Questions that needed to be answered have yet to be answered and don’t look like they’re going to be any time soon.

Next. Florida Trade Vincent Trocheck to Carolina. dark

The Panthers can still make the playoffs, but that might not solve any of what ails this franchise long term or address any of those structural issues. Nothing they did at the deadline changes that outlook either.