The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.
To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for the Florida Panthers:
2022-23 Fantasy Outlook: Florida Panthers
Last season: 58-18-6, 1st Atlantic, 1st overall. GF: 1st, GA: 12th, PP: 5th, PK: 16th.
It’s that old adage again: defense wins championships. After blitzing through the regular season with a juggernaut offense, the Panthers looked unprepared and outmatched in the playoffs, barely squeaking by the Capitals, whom they should’ve dominated, and then getting swept by their in-state rival after being held to just three goals the entire series. A last-ditch effort in Game 4 bore no fruit with Andrei Vasilevskiy making 49 saves for the shutout victory, but the truth is, the series was probably over even before that when Ross Colton scored with 3.8 seconds remaining in Game 2 to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead as the series moved to Tampa Bay.
The season was no fluke; the Panthers ranked first in 5v5 CF% and second in 5v5 xGF%, according to naturalstattrick.com, and had just one losing streak that lasted longer than three games. They started off 8-0-0 and never looked back, and the biggest question mark going into the season – Sergei Bobrovsky – led the league with 39 wins and had his best season ever in a Panthers uniform. They did the same the previous season, staying unbeaten in regulation until their ninth game (6-0-2), only to lose to the Lightning in six games in Round 1.
But regular-season success doesn’t matter much – just ask the Avs or Lightning, who learned how to pace themselves and flip the switch in the playoffs. (The winner of the Presidents’ Trophy has only won the Cup eight times in NHL history). The disappointing showing spurred GM Bill Zito, who had inherited a bit of a mess in 2020 and made shrewd moves to vault the Panthers into the elite tier, to make bold moves. Trading Jonathan Huberdeau and Mac Weegar to the Flames for Matthew Tkachuk was a massive bombshell trade, and in doing so had swapped two of the Panthers’ lacklustre playoff performers for a player who often kicked and dragged his teams into battle.
Best fantasy option: Aleksander Barkov, C
For the third time in four seasons, Barkov finished top-five in Selke voting as a two-way force. He registered a career-high 1.31 P/GP with big thanks to Huberdeau’s 115-point season, and at a deep position still warrants a first-round pick in most standard fantasy leagues. There’s an argument to be made for Tkachuk in banger leagues, but the big advantages are in PIM and shots, both of which can be easily filled in the later rounds with checking-line players or one-dimensional scorers. Barkov is projected to score more points than Tkachuk in THN’s Pool Guide, if only slightly, but if faceoffs won is a category, Barkov has the potential to win 1,000 faceoffs. It would place him easily in the top 10 – he ranked 16th despite missing 15 games last season – and note that their projected No. 2 and 3 centers, Sam Bennett and Anton Lundell, won only roughly 45 percent of their faceoffs. Barkov was tied-eighth at 57 percent, which means that in any pressure situation, he is practically their only choice.
Hidden gem: Colin White, C/RW
White was bought out three years into a six-year contract that carried a modest $4.75 million cap hit, which actually looked like a bargain when he signed the contract because he was projected to be a sure-fire top-six center. Injuries and inconsistency have robbed him of that role in Ottawa, but at just 25 years old, there’s a chance he could really revive his career. The raw stats hint White is merely an average offensive player (career 0.44 P/GP) with poor finishing ability (career 10.4 S%), but his possession metrics also indicate a player who had been improving. A small sample size of 24 games skews things, but note he finished third on the Sens in 5v5 CF% and second in 5v5 xGF%. The buyout wasn’t totally reflective of White’s play, but it was a cheaper than normal buyout due to his young age and the Sens opted to allocate their cap dollars elsewhere. He’s a reach in most fantasy leagues, but if White can win a spot on the top two lines, there should be some untapped upside, not to mention he comes with dual-position eligibility.
The Panthers’ insistence on starting Bobrovsky during the entire playoffs was a curious decision. He wasn’t bad, but he also showed (again) that he wasn’t worth the $10-million price tag. Spencer Knight finished the season with a very good winning record (19-9-3) as well, and he’s in the final year of his entry-level contract. Sooner or later, the Panthers have to make a decision. For now, as the incumbent starter, Bobrovsky is the one to target in fantasy leagues, but note that due to the uncertain future in their net, should rank at the bottom of top-10 lists. The departure of Weegar, which wasn’t adequately addressed on a team that already lacked quality depth on the blue line, means the GAA and save percentages won’t be pretty, but their supreme offense should make it just as easy for Bobrovsky to win 35-plus games again. Draft Bobrovsky and leave Knight on the waiver wire until it’s obvious that he needs be added to your roster.
There are no shortage of quality options on the Panthers, starting with Barkov, Tkachuk and Aaron Ekblad at the top. When healthy, Ekblad ranks among the best fantasy defensemen with his ability to score double-digit goals and fire 200-plus shots on net. Sam Reinhart is a sneaky point-per-game player who may be available in the middle rounds, and don’t forget about useful depth scorers Bennett, Lundell and Carter Verhaeghe. Brandon Montour and Gustav Forsling provide some more offense from the back end, but neither are projected to score more than 30 points in THN’s Pool Guide.