The Florida Panthers hired a new general manager in Bill Zito. Zito has a lot of work cut out for him, with the Panthers’ roster ageing and numerous bad contracts starting to affect plans. Zito’s been left with quite a mess to clean up. The Panthers have a lot of questions to answer this off-season. Numerous pending free agents to decide upon. The owners requesting a cut in salary, and after the organization’s biggest off-season yet they still managed to disappoint. Now that the Conference Finals are right around the corner, that means the off-season is inching closer as well. There are several approaches Zito could go with for the Florida Panthers 2020-21 season.
Problems to Face Heading into 2020-21 Season
With Dale Tallon‘s ten-year run over with, Zito now has to find a way to right the ship down in Sunrise, Florida. Given a five-year contract, Zito has some big decisions to make in the coming months. With 11 players looking for new contracts, five unrestricted and the other six restricted with a few arbitration rights. It will most likely take some time before he can pick up all the broken pieces.
The first thing Zito will have to address is whether to sign Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov. Both players are 30 and 31 years old, respectively. They are past their prime for sure. Both were extremely valuable pieces to the team offence, yet that was the extent of it. The other major issue, is the back end. They allowed the sixth-most goals against in the league during the regular season. No matter who is in the net when you face that many shots, pucks will end up behind him with goal horns blasting. The Panthers have just over $24 million locked up between Keith Yandle, Anton Stralman, Aaron Ekblad, and Mike Matheson. A very high hill to climb considering these player’s ages and productivity.
The last thing Zito will have to work to fix is arguably the most important. The Panthers development program. Besides the non-existent culture in the organization, this is one of Florida’s biggest issues. Over the years, they have screwed up on plenty of good, young, promising prospects that end up leaving Florida and doing well afterwards.
Different Approaches to Take
The Panthers’ organization only has two options moving forward. Try to edit and build off what is in place now, which has some promise to it. Or, take a step back and rebuild/retool. Either option has both its positives and negatives and only one can be chosen moving forward. Option one will equal the dream scenario. Something possible to happen and would fix the Panthers for the next five to six years. On the other hand, the second option is more realistic but not as promising for the Florida Panthers 2020-21 season and long-term.
The Dream Scenario
The first option is to rebuild and retool for the future. While this option is extremely hopeful, it is possible at the same time.
First things first, do not re-sign anyone and buyout, Keith Yandle. Turning 34 on September 9th, Yandle is great on the power-play and can make a good first pass but that is the extent of it. If the Panthers let all of their upcoming free agents walk, they would have just over $56.5 million spent to the cap. Leaving just under $25 million in cap space. With all the extra money, the Panthers can do some real damage during free agency.
The second move, send offer sheets to Anthony Cirelli for $4-5 million with a second-round pick and Mathew Barzal for $8 million. The Tampa Bay Lightning will most likely match this but worse comes to worst you just screwed up a division rival’s salary cap plans for the next few years.
After that, call up Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko, and Chase Priskie or Brady Keeper. All cheap and promising young guys who can add a lot of depth to the Panthers’ lineup. Shortly after that, you target guys like Max Domi and Jared McCann during free-agency. The Panthers should also look to even use MacKenzie Weegar as trade bait to get some good picks back for the future. As a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights, Weegar will most definitely want a bump in pay.
Finally, you use the rest of the cap to go after defensive-defencemen like Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon. Both are older defenceman who can help keep the puck out of the net. DeMelo would be the more inexpensive option, either way. They should only be signed for a max of two to three years, each. Allowing the younger guys to gain some more experience. As mentioned before, this plan of attack is most definitely for the optimists in the room. Regardless, if Zito could somehow pull this off. He would end up with a statue outside the BB&T Center.
The More Realistic Approach
Now we are going to bring things back down to Earth. Before heading into the Florida Panthers 2020-21 season, Zito needs to be careful of his first few moves. They could end up affecting his tenure as general manager forever. To start, they have to decide between Hoffman and Dadonov.
They should take the cheaper option but then again, the best thing about the Panthers is their power-play. To ensure this stays the same, re-signing Hoffman is the best option to continue to add to the Panthers scoring abilities. Also, re-sign Lucas Wallmark and Aleksi Saarela. These players are both young centres that again won’t cost too much and can help the Cats at centre depth.
After that, both Tippett and Denisenko should still receive the call-up to the big club. Two of the three most promising prospects in the organization, they need to be handled correctly or the Cats will regress even more. Last but not least, try and trade Mark Pysyk or Weegar for future draft picks. The Cats will get more value out of Weegar but then again if his asking price is not too big. He would be a good piece to keep on the back end. If that is the scenario, they use their free cap space to go after some sort of defensive-defenceman.
Which Option is Best?
At the end of the day, Bill Zito and the Panthers’ organization have plenty of decisions to make. It makes sense to go with the rebuild. With tons of expiring contracts and ageing talent. But that is much easier said than done. In the meantime, many Panthers fans will sit and watch, waiting to see if Mr. Zito is the guy who can resurrect the organization and the Florida Panthers 2020-21 season.