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Panthers Hoping Giroux Can be the Missing Piece They Needed

The Panthers are stacked, and very well could be the team that comes out of the Eastern Conference to play a similarly deep team such as the Avalanche or Calgary Flames in the Cup Final. They're hoping Giroux makes them that much more dangerous down the line.
Giroux

On Friday, the Philadelphia Flyers did what many expected them to do when they traded captain and star center Claude Giroux to the Florida Panthers. 

As it turns out, Giroux, who had a no-trade clause to give himself a voice in the trade process, only wanted to accept a deal to the Panthers, far, far away from the prying, preening media, and to become part one of the very best lineups in the NHL today. Giroux earned the right to decide his destination and going on a stretch through the beautiful weather and relative quiet of Florida appealed to him in a way it would appeal to most people. You stay in a fancy hotel for a few weeks and hope your new teammates make it easy for you to adjust to new systems and new expectations.

Now the hard part begins. For as good as the Panthers have looked this season – and, with a 42-14-6 record and 90 points in the Eastern Conference standings, they’re the second-best team in the league – we’d be remiss if we didn’t note Florida’s post-season struggles. They haven’t won a playoff round since the 1995-96 campaign, when they made it to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Colorado Avalanche. Eighteen seasons after that, they failed to make the playoffs. Time and again, they have underwhelmed.

That may not be the case now that GM Bill Zito has added Giroux to an already stacked roster. Zito also added rugged defenseman Ben Chiarot from Montreal and depth-defender Robert Hagg from Buffalo, and though star D-man Aaron Ekblad will miss the rest of the regular season after injuring his leg Friday against Anaheim, Panthers brass expects him back once the playoffs begin. Putting Ekblad on the NHL’s Long-Term Injured Reserve means Zito has more salary-cap space to work with prior to this Monday’s trade deadline.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Panthers still have approximately $5.4 million in cap space, almost a king’s ransom at this time of year. That kind of money can go toward improving Florida’s depth in their bottom two forward lines, and/or toward their second and third defensive pairings. Zito knows as well as any NHL GM that injuries are going to occur long after the trade deadline, so it is crucial that he use whatever cap space he has left to ensure he’s got capable players fully prepared to step in after any bad luck on the injury front.

To get the Panthers where they are right now, Zito has traded away a slew of draft picks. As a result, Florida no longer has its first-round pick for the next three drafts and has just one second-rounder in that span. To say Florida is all-in is an understatement, and somewhere down the line, there will be a competitive reckoning for all the picks they’ve dealt away. However, the back-to-back, defending Cup champions down the road from them in Tampa Bay also are all-in, and the young, deep Toronto Maple Leafs and older, solid Boston Bruins are desperate for playoff success. Some organizations are going to be terribly disappointed after the first couple of rounds, and if, say, Panthers star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky wobbles for any long stretch of time, Giroux’s considerable skills with the puck, and Chiarot’s edge, may not matter.

Still, how do you say no to a talent like Giroux? If you’re the only team he’ll accept a trade to, that’s a huge compliment to your franchise. You have to find a way to make it work, and Zito has done that. The Panthers are stacked, and very well could be the team that comes out of the Eastern Conference to play a similarly deep team such as the Avalanche or Calgary Flames in the Cup Final. But it’ll be up to Florida’s current core – most notably, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Bobrovsky Giroux and Ekblad – to determine how far they go when the games really count.

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