If the Panthers can get some stability in the front office and behind the bench, they have the young talent and depth to be competitive in 2019-20.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
It’s easy to look at what happened to the Florida Panthers in 2016-17 and write them off going forward. After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16, the Panthers fell back behind the pack to a sixth place finish.
But there were some easy-to-pinpoint reasons for the fall, injuries and off-ice turmoil the most notable.
But when we look ahead to 2019-20 the future looks pretty bright. The Panthers are building a young, exciting team and there’s more help coming. The Panthers prospects ranked fifth in Future Watch, and the team may be ready to peak three years from now.
Up front, the Panthers are very set down the middle with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, and Henrik Borgstrom, though we’re moving the youngster to the wing for the time being. To win the Stanley Cup, you need strength down the middle, and the Cats have it. Having the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, and Owen Tippett on the wing doesn’t hurt either. There’s talk Tippett might even make the team this year.
With Aaron Ekblad anchoring it, the defense looks set, too. If there is a concern, though, it’s that aging veterans on long-term deals like Keith Yandle and Jason Demers might block prospects from getting a shot at the show. We’ve got Ian McCoshen penciled into the lineup here, but Michael Downing might be ready for primetime, too.
Goaltending remains the biggest question mark. Roberto Luongo will be 40 in 2019-20, earning $4.5 million, and still have three seasons left on his contract. If he retires before then, James Reimer can step right in and presumably have a few good years left in his early 30s. Bet on Luongo playing a couple more years then riding off into the sunset, opening the door for prospect Sam Montembeault.
GOT IT: Young talent locked up long term. Huberdeau, Ekblad, Barkov, Trocheck, and Bjugstad will all be in their primes in 2019-20 and all are under contract on pretty team-friendly deals. Ekblad will be earning $7.5 million, but otherwise the others are all under $6 million. That’s a very solid core to build around.
NEED IT: Front office stability and direction. On paper, this team looks pretty good. There’s a lot of talent and depth and prospects on the way. So the Panthers front office needs to get out of its own way. The 2016-17 season was a bit of a mess with the front office playing musical chairs (Dale Tallon in and out as GM) and controversial coaching moves (firing Gerard Gallant, Tom Rowe going from GM to coach).
They’ve hired Bob Boughner as coach so he should bring some stability, and by 2019-20 no longer be an NHL coaching rookie.
CAP WATCH: We mentioned the good contracts above, but there are some anchors here, too. Yandle will be 33 and earning $6.35 million, Demers will be 32 and earning $4.5 million. Again, we’re assuming Luongo is retired and his cap-recapture penalty on Vancouver’s books – but if not, that’s another $4.5 million for a 41-year-old goalie. Plus, Michael Matheson, Alex Petrovic, Jared McCann, McCoshen, and Denis Malgin all need new deals before then. It’s a situation worth watching. There may be some buyouts in the Panthers’ future.
BOTTOM LINE: The Panthers’ stars should all be in their primes and performing at a high level by 2019-20. If they can get above-average goaltending, be it from Reimer or someone else, and Boughner lives up to the hype behind the bench, this is a sure playoff team.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers
Up next: Los Angeles Kings