— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) June 2, 2016
Florida Panthers: Fancy jerseys, fancy haircuts, fancy players, fancy cats, and perhaps most importantly, fancy stats.
If you haven’t noticed yet, this is an organization that’s finally figured it out, on and off the ice. Though they might not be dominating the league yet or packing the stands every night, they’ve set themselves up with one of the nicest futures in the NHL going forward.
Winning the division – especially in a four-division league – is no easy task. With the first year of an analytics department led by former Canucks Army writers Josh Weissbock and the semi-anonymous MoneyPuck, the team provided a shock to most when they placed above Tampa, Boston, Detroit, and Montreal, along with four other teams never really considered to be playoff threats at any point in the season (sorry, other teams).
Of course, there’s more than just the analytics department. From top-to-bottom (whatever that means), the entirety of the Panthers front office is full of sharp minds.
|Goals For||Goals Against||Wins||5v5 Corsi For%||5v5 Save %||5v5 Shooting%||5v5 GF%|
Florida’s got one of the few management groups in the league that when they make a move, it’s a near guarantee that they probably know what they’re doing. While this wasn’t the case for a while, recent history shows that these Panthers aren’t showing mercy, and don’t really care for your jokes about poor attendance or a bad hockey market, because quite honestly- this team can play.
A first round exit to the New York Islanders wasn’t a storybook ending to their season, but anytime you can set franchise records in points and win the division unexpectedly due to meticulous micromanagement and a string of good decisions despite not having a true “superstar” forward, I’d say you’d have to call that year a success.
Florida: Another team that uses their top liners in suprisingly defensive roles. pic.twitter.com/CFkpYZ9xfF
— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) June 8, 2016
“LOL DAVE BOLLAND” is, or at least was, what a lot of people would look at first about the Panthers for the past few seasons. And while it’s true Dave Bolland has not lived up to a contract few thought he was worth when it was signed, starting and ending your view of the South Florida franchise with judging a lone player’s contract is a narrow view of the organization’s transformation.
Alexander Barkov, who many thought was a poor choice at number two overall when names like Jonathan Drouin were still on the board, put up 59 points in just 66 games this past season. Already-a-journeyman Reilly Smith put up 25 goals and 25 assists in his first season Jonathan Huberdeau fell a point shy of the 60 point mark in 76 games, and oh yeah- Jaromir Jagr put up 66 points.
Jaromir Jagr led the team in scoring, as you likely know by now.Vincent Trocheck, of all people, had a 25 goal season. Erik Gudbranson had his struggles in Florida this year, so he was shipped off for a younger (and likely better) Jared McCann as part of a package deal.
This team is deep and cheap. While they might not have an 80 point scorer, they’re doing just fine with six guys who put up 50 or more points.
There are two sides to this coin. Dave Bolland is the joint-highest paid player on the team as of right now, which is silly. But also… every single player on this team is making as much or less than Dave Bolland. Which is really not a lot of money for your most expensive player to be making.
That trio of $5.5 million deals as the top end of their individual salaries sets up Florida with flexibility to be creative this offseason. Sticking to a mentality of signing no overly lengthy, overly expensive contracts, the Panthers come into the offseason with $25.77 million of cap space, the fifth most in the league. No team in the league has more space and also the same amount of players (16) that the Panthers. It’s hard to objectively tell which team in the league’s in the best position to be active this offseason, but if Florida’s not in first, they’ve got to be up there.
With regards to Brian Campbell, from Panthers beat writer George Richards:
#FlaPanthers feeling good about Brian Campbell returning…may add additional defenseman via trade or FA as well. Also looking for goalie.
— –George Richards– (@GeorgeRichards) June 11, 2016
Roberto Luongo, formerly of “My contract sucks” fame, posted a .922 save percentage last season at a cap hit of just over $4.5 million. Will he keep it up? Who knows, he’s 37, but he’s also one of the best statistical goaltenders of his generation. Don’t count him out to be historically good into his final few years (or not. Maybe Jagr’s Fountain of Youth rubbed off on him. Would you really be surprised?)
Aaron Ekblad will be paid nicely- but he’s still got a year left on his current deal before becoming an RFA, as does Jonathan Huberdeau.
For this year, they’ve got some freedom, but how much freedom they have really depends first on the dollar value of the Campbell deal, or if he even stays in Florida. It’s tough to project contracts for most players when there’s always the odd wildcard, but it’s usually even tougher when they’re in the twilight stages of their career. I’d expect maybe a two-three deal at a reduced rate, but when you’re still a quality defenceman like Campbell, there’s a chance his agent’s really pushing that narrative.
After that’s sorted out, the team needs to fill a few holes, but one-year contracts might be their best bet, as they’ll look to have a few bigger signings as aforementioned in the 2017 offseason.
I don’t see the team making a big name UFA signing for anything too expensive as it doesn’t really fit into the team philosophy, but maybe they’re opening their cap space up solely to land a big name. It hasn’t really been flirted as a serious option, but could you imagine if the team somehow landed Steven Stamkos from Tampa Bay? That’d be a heel turn for the ages.
The draft will be an interesting one, as it’s the first one where the analytics department (who invented the PCS system to project how draft-eligible players translate to the NHL) has a say in the team’s selections. I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d say Florida’s likely to have one of the best drafts out there.
Maybe it’s overly optimistic or overly trustworthy in this front office, but whatever they’re doing in Florida, they’re probably doing it right, as the team’s recent history shows. Every move might not be perfect, but in the grand scheme of things, Florida’s trending in the right direction, to say the least.
What a time to be a Florida Panthers fan. While nothing’s a given in the NHL, all signs point to the idea that Florida’s primed to remain competitive for years to come.
In 2016-17, we’ll see some fun in Florida. Bring up Lawson Crouse as a full-time NHL player? Why not, he’s a solid two-way player on an ELC deal. Win the division again? Sounds like a plan. Surprise run to the Cup Final? Sure, do it. Big things are going on in Florida. Don’t let the old, tired narratives about past versions of this team distract you from that.