It may be the Holiday season and the Florida Panthers are finishing up their extended Christmas break so it felt like a great time for the December edition of the FHN Mailbag.
As it stands right now, the Panthers are expected to be back at the IceDen on Sunday for Covid testing and, if everything goes well, will hold a practice that afternoon.
Florida is scheduled to play Carolina on Monday night.
With the entire NHL, it seems, being a Covid hot spot we certainly do not know how this is going to play out.
But, as always, I knew our loyal FHN readers had plenty of great questions for this Mailbag.
Plenty of questions regarding Spencer Knight, Sasha Barkov and Andrew Brunette — and even a few about Jakob Chychrun.
But nothing about third jerseys or outdoor games?
Maybe next month.
What is the level of concern with Spencer Knight’s recent play? They obviously sent him down to get some playing time, but is Johansson a viable number 2 if Spencer needs more development time? — cats and leafs
I do not think there is much concern with Knight because his numbers have been fine.
Take away that crummy 8-2 loss last Tuesday and his numbers are pretty good for a 20-year-old rookie.
But with Christopher Gibson hurt, the Panthers felt it was worth taking a risk on claiming Jonas Johansson off waivers and seeing what he can do.
Is he a legit No. 2? Colorado was not sure about that and was trying to get him some work in the AHL. He probably will not get a lot of work in Florida, either.
I think we see Knight back sooner than later.
Heard anything about players coming off injured and Covid lists? Any idea what the roster will look like at Carolina (assuming we play that game)? — Bryan Geary
Well, Florida had seven players on the Covid list; Gus Forsling had a non-Covid illness and Sasha Barkov has that shoulder/arm thing going.
You have to think a large majority — if not all — of the seven Covid players will be cleared for practice on Sunday. Forsling should be fine.
And Barkov is apparently close. Perhaps the time off has been beneficial for Barkov and we may just see him in Carolina.
If, again, that game is played.
Do you see us making a run at bringing Jacob home? — @big5hole25
Jacob Trouba? He is from Michigan.
Oh, I have to assume you mean Jakob Chychrun of the Boca Raton Chychruns.
Yeah, I mean every team in the league would like to have a defenseman of his caliber but it is going to take a lot to get a deal like that done — if Arizona is willing to deal him. Which, by some accounts, could be the case.
First, it’s going to cost picks, a young roster player, prospects and probably some expiring deals of which the Panthers do not have many.
Chychrun has three years left at a cap hit of $4.2 million which is workable, although the Panthers do not have a lot of room to work with.
If Bill Zito wants to bring him back to Florida, however, he will make that part of it work. It’s the other stuff.
Arizona, if open for business as we all assume will be, are going to have a lot of offers.
Does Brunette still run the PP as head coach or has an assistant taken that role? — Jan Lapiolahti
When I asked him last — after the loss to the Senators — he said he was still running it. He has been running the power play since he got here in 2019.
Did we have the option to cancel our last game? I’m still unclear on that. — John Matthews
No, it does not appear the Panthers were ever given that option.
Due to the odd travel — Los Angeles was already here and not coming back to Florida — the league wanted to play as many games as it could.
Obviously, as more tests came back positive, postponements became the norm. As of Thursday night, that was not the case yet.
Florida also knew it was going to be able to bring some players up — four were told the night before and on a 10 a.m. flight to Fort Lauderdale.
I think if three players instead of two tested positive on Thursday morning, it would have been postponed.
Still, with seven players down (not counting Forsling or Barkov) I am still surprised they made them play that game.
Would like to see Kierstad and Priskie stay up….and will resume after Christmas? — Elaine Lynch
I assume things resume after Christmas but we will have to see what happens with the Covid testing come Monday morning. I still think we’re going to see quite a few postponements throughout the league but perhaps Florida is out of the woods with this thing.
As far as Matt Kiersted and Chase Priskie go, well, both showed they can play at this level when pressed.
Priskie had the better night Thursday although Kiersted got the goal. Florida, if healthy and Covid-free, does not have the room for any call-ups right now.
But we all know how that can go.
What are the odds of us hitting the playoffs with Johansson as backup? — Eric Gerson
We have not seen Jonas Johansson play with the Panthers yet but they felt he was worth taking a waiver flier on while Christopher Gibson is hurt.
I would say the odds are not good. I think Spencer Knight comes back and is the backup to Sergei Bobrovsky.
If you’ve got any info on how Noel Acciari is travelling, I’d be very grateful to hear it. — @cricketkay
I assume you mean “feeling.” Could be “looking.” I hate autocorrect as well. I will go with looking.
He was on the ice last week but he still has a way to go according to Andrew Brunette. He is out of his sling contraption, and that is a very good sign.
I would not expect Acciari to be back until February, however.
Hey there my friend, hope you’ve been well. Do you think Barkov will be back after this little break? I think this team is missing him right now. — Michael Anthony
Hey man, good to hear from you. Yes, this team is definitely missing Barkov.
No doubt about that. While the team has held it together in his absence, they need him in the lineup to be the hard driving team they were in the first two months of the season.
Not sure if he will be back on Monday night although he has been skating the past few days (before the shutdown) which is good news in that regard.
They want him completely healthy before he comes back. That’s why he missed eight games with the knee injury.
My question is who is healthy that was out before the Covid stuff? Status of Barkov? Nutivara? Etc — Sean Firley
Nutivaara is on long-term injured reserve and is not expected back for some time. Appears he had surgery — from the way he looked a couple weeks ago, I am thinking sports hernia — and that definitely takes time to come back from.
My question is regarding our coach position. Are we going Brunette all the way? Is Chychrun being considered for D? — Phillipe Schumaker
I think Brunette is the coach they would like to carry them through. He is learning how to be a head coach each and every day so we shall see.
The Panthers’ hot start has definitely bought him some time, but this team needs to get some wins. When this team is close to being healthy — and has Barkov back in the lineup — we will see how things go.
Check above on my answer on Chychrun.
Hey George, any concern at all on your end with playing .500 hockey under Bruno? Or can it all be chalked up to injuries, Covid, and just plain bad puck luck? Also, any murmurs on how active Zito will be at the deadline/what he’s looking to add?
Thanks to you and Colby for keeping the content rolling for us starved Panther fans — Terence Graham
Hey Terence, you are welcome. There certainly has to be a little concern on how things have turned since the red-hot start but yeah, all of those things you mentioned have played a part.
This is a long, long season. I would not get too concerned over the past few weeks because the big tests are coming up. Florida still has games against Toronto coming up. Those should be fun.
Florida is now in a three-way battle with the Leafs and Tampa Bay for first in the Atlantic and the season is just getting started.
A question on Lundell as well. He has seemed poised and plays the game at a high IQ level from what I’ve observed so far. By the type of minutes he’s getting, the club is enamored with him as well. Is it too early to project his place long-term with the organization? — cats and leafs
Anton Lundell has certainly lived up to the hype. We thought he was going to be NHL ready and he certainly has looked the part.
Yeah, I think you can look at him as a long-term piece of the Panthers — and a key piece to boot. Just wait until he gets the offense going.
Seems like there has been almost no contribution from Tippett and Vatrano guys who should get around 25 goals. Any speculation why? Also,if play continues this way, any thought to Paul Maurice? — fan4pan
Frank Vatrano is a streaky scorer. Always has been. That’s just how it goes. When he gets hot, jump on that train. What I have noticed about Vatrano’s game now is that he is doing other things when he is not scoring which is helping the team. But he needs to score, no doubt about that.
As for Tippett, I think he was about to be scratched before the Covid stuff jumped up and maybe he needs a night off here and there when he goes through some tough scoring stretches. He is still a young player with plenty of upside — and a terrific shot I certainly would like to see him use more.
As for Paul Maurice, I did not see him being available for the Panthers when Joel Quenneville left. If you are looking for a smart, veteran coach who could come in and would not rock the boat, Maurice would be a strong choice.
Unless he and Winnipeg parted ways with an agreement that he was a free agent (which may have happened), Maurice is still under contract to the Jets. And there is the situation to whether he wants to coach this season. Don’t know that either. But his is an intriguing name.
What’s going on with face offs? We’re getting killed. Same with power play. Have we overrated this team? They should be and need to be better. And how much does the loss of Q factor into the falloff? — Joel Plattor
Not having Acciari out there is not helping but Florida has not been very good with the drop.
According to statmuse.com, the Panthers are last in the league at 45.5 percent.
But look at the teams in Florida’s neighborhood: Washington, Vegas, Colorado, the Rangers. Face off percentage isn’t as overrated as plus/minus, but it is close.
The power play has gotten worse as the season has gone along. Florida has too much talent for it not to be scoring at a better clip than it has this season. I think it will get better.