Another NHL season has come and gone. Now that we can start moving out of this COVID-ridden world, the 2021-22 season is right around the corner, with the league pushing for an entire 82 game season, and both the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and Free Agency two weeks away. The path of a franchise could change in merely hours. While every team waits and wonders what will happen with Seattle, there is still work to do after that—seeing that the Florida Panthers are in the best place in years. Let us take a gander at some potential and reasonable Florida Panthers’ free agency targets.
Florida Panthers Free Agency Targets
As mentioned before, the Expansion Draft is less than ten days away, and who knows what will happen. While one expert has opinion A, another analyst has opinion B. At the end of the day, we won’t know until we know. So, take this with a grain of salt. While we try to be hopeful as possible for our teams, we also need to be realistic. Anything can happen at/or before the expansion draft, but these potential Florida Panthers’ free agency targets will make the team better, and they will not affect the cap too much.
The Panthers could attempt to go after some of the more prominent names, but they do not have the money. It would be incredible for Zito to sign a Phillip Danault, Dougie Hamilton, Taylor Hall. It will be quite a challenge to try and sign those guys with Florida’s current cap situation. Yet, if anyone can do it , Zito seems to be the guy.
As of mid-July, the Panthers have over $11 million in salary-cap space. Now that Anthony Duclair has signed a new contract. All that remains is to lock down Sam Bennett. Recency bias is a real thing and based on how he finished last season. Zito will surely sign him for a nice deal. Playing around with Evolving Hockey’s Contract Projections tool, Bennett will be looking for at least four million per year. Now, some will argue that is too much, and you could probably find someone saying that is enough. But, unless we are in the rooms ourselves, we will never know what happens until it does.
Who wouldbe worth it, especially at a price like that? Let’s continue to find out.
Well, this is just a no brainer. When it was announced that Hyman could go talk to other teams. Hope rose in pretty much every fan base. But upon hearing that Florida would be a place of interest. You never know what could happen. The Panthers should do whatever they can to re-aquifer Zach Hyman for next few years.
Imagine a centre group of Aleksander Barkov, Zach Hyman, Sam Bennett, and Anton Lundell.
As much as any Florida fan would love to see the Panthers re-acquire Hyman from Toronto. It would be nearly impossible to get him to leave for a flat-four million a year. So, unless Zito can work some magic to even sign. It will be an up-hill battle. Instead of that, the Panthers would be incredibly smart to chase after Montreal Canadien Tomas Tatar.
Despite his age, Tatar would be an excellent free-agent acquisition. Coming up on his 11th NHL season, Tatar has had some of his most productive years while in Montreal. During his first seven seasons in the NHL, he recorded 228 points in 407 games. Yet, once he got to Montreal, everything changed. Scoring 149 points in 198 games, Tatar joining the Habs may have been the best thing for his career. If the Panthers could bring him to Florida, he would give the team an incredible boost in the depth department. Something every team needs.
The next player, the Panthers, should target in free agency, Dallas Stars defenceman Jamie Oleksiak. Heading into his tenth NHL season, Oleksiak has been a hidden gem of a defenceman. While he is not the most productive d-man out there. He defends as well as the rest of them, which is something Florida could use. While the team did improve in the toughness ability and became a more challenging team to play against. There still is plenty of room for improvement in that department.
Predicting that the Kraken takes Chris Driedger in the Expansion Draft. The Panthers’ defencegroup has the potential to be a brick wall, you have Aaron Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar, Gustav Forsling to create offence from the back end. Imagine having to go up against those guys and then Radko Gudas, Oleksiak, and Markus Nutivaara. A significant improvement would give the ‘Cats’ a real fighting chance in a tough Atlantic division.
Another player that would be an instant boost to the Florida Panthers would be two-time Stanley Cup Champion Barclay Goodrow. Not only is this man a bull in a china shop in the opponent’s zone, he also knows how to win. Coming off his second straight Stanley Cup victory, Goodrow played significant roles in winning both cups. Playing like an absolute menace against the opposition, the Cats could tie down Goodrow for the next few years if they wanted. Again, playing around with Evolving Hockey contract projection tool, he could cost just over three million in cap space. Playing some of his best hockey, Goodrow would solidify and improve the aggression on the team. Allowing them another advantage come playoff time.
A Few Other Options
Just because these guys were not headlined doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make highly viable options even though the free agency may be more demanding than ever due to the pandemic. Guys will want to play hockey above all else. With the way the Panthers are trending, there is more and more reason to join the squad every day. Some other Florida Panthers free agency options could be forward Warren Foegele. While this will be tougher to do, considering he is a restricted free agent. There have been rumours that Foegele and the Hurricanes believe it is time to part ways. He would make another excellent offensive depth position while making your team younger as well. Coming up on his fifth season, Foegele has plenty of room to grow. Given the right atmosphere, he will blossom in no time.
Looking back at the defence again. Bill Zito should try to rekindle his relationship with former Blue Jacket David Savard. Savard would be just as good as Oleksiak in a Panthers uniform, one of the more sought-after targets during the trade deadline. Now, Savard is a much better offensive player than Oleksiak, but that is not the staple of either of their games. Playing defence is. It is hard to beat a team if you cant score on them. Savard would make the Panthers even more brutal to play against the second he throws on the jersey.
The last two players the Panthers would see an improvement from if added. Mike Reilly or Frederick Gaudreau. Reilly exploded onto the scene during this previous season. Reilly would be the critical piece to the Panther’s second power-play unit as a dominant puck-moving, offensive defenceman. While some people, like this writer, would like to see Weegar get more reps on the power-play. What he did when he was given those chances was not promising. He could improve, or he can stay with Ekblad, and that number shut down defenceman. Allowing for Reilly to come in on the second unit and put them over the edge.
Last but not least, Gaudreau would be a steal. Even though he doesn’t produce like people want all their players to. Good luck arguing with his advanced analytics. For a third or fourth line guy that wouldn’t make over a million per year. Signing Gaudreau would continue to prove that Bill Zito is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.