Florida Panthers Can’t Forget To Address Blue Line

As we head into the “dog days” of the regular season, there’s been a lot of hype regarding the Florida Panthers and their interest in forward Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Both players are UFA’s at the end of the season, and both have indicated that they will test the market. For Panarin, it will be a chance for him to land a 7 year deal for big money. He can get 8 years if he’s acquired by the deadline or before July 1, and that team signs him. “Bob” (not our coach), besides indicating that he’s going to market, isn’t returning to Lumbus. Similar situation, yet at 31 years of age this September, I would be cautious of an 8 year deal if he’s acquired in a trade.

That being said, the Panthers cannot forget that the blue line needs to be addressed. The current roster is loaded with puck moving defencemen with the exception of rookie Josh Brown, who is more of a stay at home defender. The Panthers have had a problem in this area since, well, you know. I’ll call it the “post Gallant” era. Or maybe it’s the “post Guddy” era. That being said, analytics told them that going with faster skating, puck moving defenders was the way to go. What the analytics forgot, or don’t show is leadership and physicality. Among some other attributes. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Breaking up Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle is a must. They are too similar in the way that they play, and it’s counter productive to any success. It worked Thursday night against the Flames, but will it last? Even if it does, it still doesn’t mask the overall issues at hand.

Therefore, let’s take a look at some upcoming free agents that could possibly fill the role that the Panthers could consider.

And remember, these are upcoming UFA’s. It doesn’t mean that I’m promoting one or another, yet wanted to at least list the one’s to consider. I also stayed away from anyone who’s north of 32 years old at this time.

Jay Bouwmeester: I’m joking. Plus he’s 34.

Jake Gardiner: Currently with the Toronto Maple Leafs earning $4,050,000. A former first round pick by Anaheim (17th overall) in 2008, Jake is a left handed shot, and while he doesn’t put up great offensive numbers, he’s good a moving the puck, and is reliable. He’s also consistent in the fact that he stays healthy, not missing any games this year, or the previous two. Likely the result of his style of play. Could the Panthers use him? Sure. Do we have defencemen similar to him? Yes. Is he an improvement? Yep. However at what cost?

Alexander Edler: Edler is with Vancouver, the team that drafted him originally in the 3rd round in 2004. He’s a defensive defenceman. Just what happens to be on the shopping list. He blocks shots. He hits and is physical. He’s also injury prone because of that style. He’s a veteran with some mileage on him. But when he’s healthy, he can eat minutes. Playing in the West has taken a toll on his body. Transitioning to the East might benefit him if he’s not too worn down.

Anton Stralman: Currently with Tampa Bay, the former 7th round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs was a bit of a late bloomer. Reliable and steady, he’s not flashy, and isn’t overly physical. Has shot blocking capability, and has been a fairly consistent player. Not entirely sure of how much of an upgrade he would be, however,he could be a veteran version (and improved) of Mark Pysyk.

Michael Del Zotto: Another former first round pick in 2010, by the New York Rangers, the much traveled Del Zotto is likely a third pairing player at this point in his career. Another player who’s style has potentially caught up with him. Shot blocker, and hitter, the common theme among many defenders in this list, is that it takes it’s toll over a career. His best season was 2011-2012 when he played for the New York Rangers. Likely on the wrong side of his his age, and likely won’t get more than what he’s earning now, which is $3 mil. I don’t know if this is any better than what is currently here or not.

Jordie Benn: The brother of Dallas’ Jamie Benn, Jordie plays for Montreal and has a nice beard. That being said, nothing flashy here either. Stay at home guy who can block shots and isn’t afraid to hit. He would come relatively cheap, but you get what you pay for sometimes. Or he could end up being the hidden bargain in the group. His analytics numbers aren’t too bad either. Or maybe they aren’t so good. Someone will have to help me on that. You’ll get to see him Sunday night when the Panthers host Montreal.

Tyler Myers: Former first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres and former Calder Trophy winner in 2009-2010. His first couple seasons in Buffalo were outstanding for a player his age. Then, he seemed to regress a bit. After spending 5 seasons in Buffalo, he’s spent the last 6 in Winnipeg. He’s a huge specimen. 6′-8″ and 229 lbs, yet doesn’t necessarily play the big game that you would think. Now that he’s matured and stayed healthy, he’s been much more consistent.

As you can tell, there really isn’t a must have player in this bunch. Obviously Erik Karlsson who’s currently with San Jose is out there, but extremely unlikely the Panthers go that route. This is where scouting comes into play and paying close attention to what the Panthers needs on defence are. Toss out the charts and graphs and %’s. Can any of these players skate well enough to at least keep up positionally? Can these players be physical enough to make the Panthers harder to play against? Can any of these players be reliable enough to be put into key situations during a game? Finally, will they be inspired enough to play 100% on each and every shift? The days of this area being a retirement community for hockey players needs to be over.

The right fit for the system has to be considered as well. In choosing the right player, who will he be paired up with, and how will that affect the rest of the pairings? This isn’t an easy decision, and let’s not just grab the first guy who agrees. This is one move this summer that will dictate whether next season is a success or a failure.

If none of these work out, the Panthers are going to have to trade for someone that can add some immediate help. Those to consider will come at another time.

Thanks for reading.

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