The Florida Panthers are off and running amid possibly the most successful season in franchise history. They are tied for first in the Discover Central Division and one of the top five teams in the league with no signs of slowing down. The Panthers have become a force to reckon with this season. With the Trade Deadline just over a week away, the Panthers find themselves in a peculiar situation. Should they go all in and become buyers at the deadline? Or should they trust what is currently on the ice and ride them into the playoffs? No matter what the Florida Panthers do come trade deadline or beyond, all eyes will be on what the Florida Panthers should do with Chris Driedger.
Peeking Into Chris Driedger’s Future
Looking back, Chris Driedger came out of nowhere to secure an NHL spot. Driedger is another Panther player that had to battle his way up from the ECHL. Spending most of his time within the Ottawa Senators organization, Driedger signed with Florida as a free agent back in the summer of 2018. Ever since then, he has had a significant impact on Florida. Finishing his 2019-20 stint with a 7-2-1 record, Driedger was the perfect candidate to have a breakout year. Jump to this season, and he is playing even better than before. With a 10-4-2 record, on top of a .927 save percentage and 2.18 goals-against average. Driedger is something every team is looking for, especially this season. Not only is he a very steady goalie that always looks calm, cool, and collected in the net, but he comes at a bargain of a price! With financials down across the league, Driedgers $850,000 is something almost anyone could take on.
With the Spencer Knight signing the other day, Driedger’s future looks even more apparent. As a pending unrestricted free agent, Chris Driedger has hatched from his cocoon at the perfect time. While it’s unfortunate for Panthers fans, they will undoubtedly lose him before the start of the next season. The real question becomes how do they go about losing him?
The Options For Chris Driedger
Moving forward, the Florida Panthers only have two choices on what to do with Driedger. Keep him and ride him and Sergei Bobrovsky as deep into the playoffs as possible. Or move him and at least get something out of it while he is worth a lot. Let’s look at the possible options Bill Zito and the Panthers have regarding Chris Driedger.
One team that is in desperate need of a second goaltender is the Colorado Avalanche. Out of 36 plus games, Philipp Grubauer has started in 29 of those and played in 30 of them. In contrast, this would be more than sufficient a few years ago. The NHL has changed, and a good goaltending tandem is more prevalent than ever. With the ‘Avs’ a Stanley Cup contender, they are one of the teams that are all in with a win-now mindset. With a three-headed monster in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen all playing their best hockey in their primetime years. The Avalanche cannot afford to miss out on such a great opportunity.
With that, the Panthers cannot afford to move on from Driedger for nothing. With Aaron Ekblad out for the remainder of the season, the Panthers could use a defenceman. While you cannot replace Ekblad after the season he was having, you still go about trying to make as successful a playoff run as possible. If the Panthers do move on from Driedger, and he goes to Colorado, the Panthers should look to Jacob MacDonald or Ryan Graves. Of course, money would be an issue with Graves, but Zito has proved to be a Wizard of a general manager so far. If the Panthers could receive either of these two in exchange for Driedger, the trade could be well worth it.
The next option for Driedger would be to ship him off to Canada. Of course, Toronto fans believe they deserve anyone and everyone when they are even mentioned as a trade possibility. Yet, it’s the Edmonton Oilers who could use him the most. With Mike Smith turning 39-years old not too long ago and his contract ending after this season. The team needs a second goaltender. With star-studded talents in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers need to find a way to secure the crease. Even though Driedger would have to go through the seven-day quarantine, it would be worth it for the team.
With that, money would have to come out for the Oilers to add Driedger. The perfect candidate for both sides would be either Tyler Ennis or Kyle Turris. Both would be good pick-ups for the Panthers. This would allow for more centre depth at a reasonable price; both guys can still play and add a lot of value to the Panther’s forward group.
Other Team’s in Need
With the enormous rebuild going on up in Detriot, every general manager in the NHL should be at least inquiring on what they have to offer. Both Jonathan Bernier and Calvin Pickard have expiring contracts. If the Red Wings were to grab Driedger, they would get younger in the net and better. With most options available on Detriot’s side of things, the Panthers need to do their due diligence on the Wings at least to see what they have to offer.
Other teams that may require a goaltender are the Philadelphia Flyers or maybe even the Los Angeles Kings. Both teams are on the cusp of a playoff position. When we find ourselves in a season where revenue matters more than ever, an extended season in any fashion is beneficial for the fans and organizations. Whether it be through tv deals, ticket sales, merchandising, and more, the more money coming in, the better. On top of that, both of these teams have viable options to trade with.
The Expansion Draft
The last option, and one that this writer has become a big proponent on, would be to leave him available at the expansion draft. Seattle will have the ability to speak to pending UFA’s before the expansion draft and could convince Driedger to sign with their club if they select him.
If you have followed the Panthers since day one, this is by far the best team the franchise has put on the ice. With a 24-9-4 record, this season has been the best chance the Panthers have at making a run for the cup. At the same time, anything can happen between now and the end of the playoffs. The Panthers need to take what they have and ride it as long as possible. While it would be frustrating to see the Panthers lose such an asset for literally nothing. The Florida Panthers have never been this good, and Chris Driedger is a big reason for that. The Panthers should do whatever they can to improve before the trade deadline, but they must be careful not to get rid of their Stanley Cup dreams too soon.