Change can be good. Change can bring hope and promise and expectation, the latter of which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So when the Florida Panthers brought about change by installing Dale Tallon back in his post as GM and relieving coach Tom Rowe to bring Bob Bougher aboard, the moves were seen as steps forward, positive changes for an organization that needed to get back on track after a disappointing and tumultuous season both on and off the ice.
But then came the personnel changes. The loss of Jonathan Marchessault to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. The trade that also sent Reilly Smith to Sin City. Then came the decision not to bring Jaromir Jagr back this season, followed by a buyout for Jussi Jokinen and, more recently, trading Jason Demers to the desert. The organization also said goodbyes to Thomas Vanek, Shawn Thornton, Greg McKegg, Michael Sgarbossa, Shane Harper and Kyle Rau.
The argument some might make is that change to the roster was necessary. After all, this is an organization that saw a 22-point decrease from the previous season. The Panthers went from Atlantic Division champions to contenders for the first overall draft pick, from a team surrounded with hope to one searching for any positives in what many felt was a lost season. But one has to question how necessary it was to make such a breadth of changes if it strips the Panthers of much of their goal-scoring ability.
Last season, the Panthers scored 205 goals. Without context, that doesn’t sound half-bad, right? Well, the proper context certainly doesn’t offer the same perspective. Florida ranked 23rd in offense last season, barely finishing ahead of the likes of the New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche. Not exactly a who’s who of offensive brilliance. With that much difficulty scoring, though, the expectation would’ve been that the Panthers would do whatever necessary to increase their capacity to light the lamp. Instead, they stripped away nearly half of their firepower.
All told, the roster changes have seen 95 of the 205 goals the Panthers scored last season leave the lineup. Put another way, players who accounted for 46 percent of Florida’s entire offensive output last season are no longer with the organization. The notables are Marchessault, Jagr, Smith and Jokinen, who accounted for 72 total goals with individual marks 30, 16, 15, and 11 tallies, respectively. And that has left many wondering if the Panthers have done enough to replace what they’ve lost — in most cases willingly — from their attack.
The first move was to bring in Henrik Haapala, a winger fresh off winning the Finnish League’s scoring crown. What followed was Florida’s two big free agency acquisitions, moves seemingly made to mitigate the offensive losses of Marchessault and Smith: the signings Radim Vrbata and Evgeny Dadonov. And Florida’s notable off-season roster changes were capped off with the acquisition of Jamie McGinn from the Coyotes in the swap for Demers. Truthfully, though, the moves have only brought the Panthers two known quantities.
Vrabta has throughout his career been a steady scorer and his 20 goals last season on a poor Arizona club give promise he can repeat the feat in Florida. Likewike, McGinn was able to notch nine tallies for the Coyotes and with the chance for more opportunity and the possibility of some power play time, there’s reason to believe he can see an uptick. Even if Vrbata and McGinn simply meet last season’s totals, too, that does replace 29 of the 95 goals that have been lost from the lineup since last season.
So, what of Haapala and Dadonov then? Let’s start with Dadonov, who has some past NHL experience but has spent the past five seasons in the KHL. His development has been promising in the Russian League, considered by some the second-best league in the world, and his 30-goal campaign in 2016-17 is enough for some to believe he can be a 1-for-1 replacement for Marchessault. Translation factors produced by Hockey Abstract’s Rob Vollman do indicate potential for a 75-point season out of Dadonov, too, which would suggest he can produce somewhere in the 30-goal range. Combined with Vrbata and McGinn, then, the Panthers would be looking at a total replacement of somewhere in the 60-goal range.
Haapala’s numbers, however, don’t quite have the same promise. He was a tremendous producer in Finland, but, using the same factors, his 15 goals and 60 points could translate to roughly 40 points. Using the same ratio of goals to assists, Haapala would end up with just 10 tallies. Add those to the lost goal total and, with additions, Florida has only replaced only about 70 of the 95 goals that were lost in their summer transactions.
There are two X-factors for the Panthers, mind you. The first is health. Florida’s production was stunted significantly by injury last season as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad had a combined 114 games on the shelf. If healthy last season, and going solely off of their goal paces from last season, Huberdeau could’ve added an additional 16 goals, Barkov another seven, Bjugstad another three and Ekblad was on pace for two more in an 82-game slate. Together, that’s an additional 28 goals, which would put Florida above their previous season’s total by two goals.
The second X-factor is the addition of Owen Tippett. Projected to make the roster and still in training camp with the Panthers, Tippett’s pure offensive talent could make him a 30-point player using Vollman’s translation numbers. Split his goals and assists evenly and that makes Tippett a 15-goal winger, giving the Panthers an additional 17 goals. At 222 tallies, Florida would’ve finished last season square in the middle of the pack. Of course, all of this is under a presumed best-case scenario and the reality is it’s incredibly rare for everything to go according to plan.
The reality is that Florida has said goodbye to nearly half of their goal-scoring from last season in hopes that veterans and a few fresh faces who are relatively untested at the big-league level can step up to fill the void. And unless everything goes exactly right — meaning Florida stays healthy and the newcomers replicate past production — there lies potential for the Panthers’ offense to take another step back.
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