Just recently, one of the Florida Panthers’ divisional rivals beat them to the signature of a top European defenseman.
For the Florida Panthers, this isn’t only problematic because a divisional rival beat them to the signing of a player, but more importantly, they allowed yet another good opportunity to pass by to pick up a very affordable defenseman that would improve their blue line.
Lehtonen, who is currently 26 years of age, was regarded as one of the best defensemen in Europe during his stint in his own continent. A native of Turku, Finland, Lehtonen appeared in 60 KHL games for Jokerit, recording 17G, 32A, for 49 points – good for a personal high.
The season was certainly one to remember for Lehtonen himself as he not only took a big, personal leap but he also attracted the attention of many NHL clubs. To put into perspective how fantastic his year was, Lehtonen was awarded KHL Defenseman of the Month three times (November, December & January), KHL Defenseman of the Week two times (Oct. 14 & Dec. 10), led the league in goals (17), assists (32), and points (49) by a defenseman while topping it off with an appearance in the All-Star Game. Quite the feats, if you ask me…
While it’s certain that Lehtonen is no slouch, especially after the year he put together this past season, the Panthers can use all the help they can get on their back end. Before the season paused because of the current Coronavirus pandemic, the Panthers ranked fifth-highest in goals allowed (224), sitting only ahead of the Anaheim Ducks (225), San Jose Sharks (225), Ottawa Senators (238), and Detroit Red Wings (265).
To put that into perspective, the Cats were allowing an average of 3.25 goals per game, which was the third-highest figure in the league to date. Only the Ottawa Senators (3.35) and Detroit Red Wings (3.73) boasted higher totals. To put it bluntly, that’s not a good problem to have, especially when you have playoff aspirations.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Lehtonen would single-handedly solve all of Florida’s defensive problems – he certainly wouldn’t. But what I am getting at is that Lehtonen would not only come at a very reasonable price (one that Florida could afford), but he would certainly be an upgrade over any defenseman that they currently have on their bottom pair. At the very worst, he would be sent down to the minors, where he would be the Panthers’ affiliate best defenseman instantly.
It’s been reported that Lehtonen will make $925,000 in his first (and only) year of his entry-level contract, but based on the Panthers’ current cap space projections, they would need to move some money around to afford this deal – which wouldn’t take much in the grand scheme of things.
To me, this was a no-brainer and an avenue that should’ve been heavily pursued by the Panthers management team. Of course, like always, another one (defenseman) got away and ended up signing for a divisional rival, worst of all. It seems like the Panthers are currently directionless in terms of improving their blue line, evident by the players they are signing (overage College players) over the ones they are missing out on (the Mikko Lehtonens).
In the end, we will never fully know whether Dale Tallon and company attempted to sign Mikko Lehtonen. But based on how Tallon functions and operates, the odds of him landing this talent were slim from the get-go. This sort of style is what’s preventing Florida from competing for signatures with Europe’s top free agents.
Stay tuned for more relating to your Florida Panthers as we anxiously wait for a decision from the NHL pertaining to the remainder of the 2019-20 season.