Last year, the Florida Panthers were the biggest player in the NHL at the Trade Deadline as general manager Bill Zito added to what was already the top team in the league in hopes of pushing them to the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
With this year’s team unable to even put together a winning streak this season and sitting six points out of the playoffs after a 5-1 loss Sunday in Dallas, the Panthers will not be buyers at the March 3 deadline but could be sellers.
What does Florida have to offer?
What would Zito want in return?
Truth is, the Panthers do not have a lot of assets to deal — or, more to the point, would be willing to part with — as this team still has high aspirations moving forward.
Forward as in next season and not necessarily this one.
While Frank Seravalli of the Daily Faceoff mentioned Zito has a “deal in his pocket” to trade Sam Reinhart and/or Sam Bennett, there is nothing in the works and how the team approaches the deadline has not been decided.
Florida’s decision on what their gameplan is for the deadline could be a month — or more — away.
The Panthers are a long way from being sellers as they are, again, six points out of the playoffs with 41 games remaining.
That is a lot of games.
The Panthers are not going to make trades just to trade — unless the team falls helplessly out of contention and veteran players such as Eric and Marc Staal or Patric Hornqvist ask out in order for one more shot at playoff glory somewhere else.
It is expected Zito would do those veterans that solid if feasable.
And, if the Panthers were going to trade an established veteran player (Reinhart) for a first-round draft pick, it would not be a ‘retool’ as some would have portrayed it but a look toward the immediate future.
With no first-round draft picks of their own until 2026, the Panthers may try and recoup one not to use in the upcoming draft, but as a trade chip for a piece that could help them next season and beyond.
Despite the disappointment of the first half to this season, the Panthers are not going to be shortsighted and deal players they believe are a big part of their future.
If they feel — using them only as an example since their names have been thrown out there anyway — that they would be better served moving forward without Bennett and/or Reinhart, well, they will move ahead.
The Panthers have most of their core players signed not only through next season but many much longer after that.
Captain Sasha Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk are in the first of eight-year deals; Aaron Ekblad has two years remaining after this one. Spencer Knight’s new four-year deal kicks in next season.
There are also questions about some of Florida’s pending free agents. What could the Panthers get for Radko Gudas?
The team appears open to moving forward with him and the feeling seems mutual.
But does Florida sign Gudas past this season or try and get something in return from him if things appear lost?
Go ahead and forget about trading the likes of Barkov, Tkachuk, Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Lundell, Gus Forsling, Knight, Sergei Bobrovsky or Ekblad. Eetu Luostarinen and Brandon Montour are also probably pretty safe.
But let’s look at what else the Panthers have — and what they may be able to procure from a contending team at the deadline:
F Sam Reinhart (1 year remaining, $6.5 million): This is potentially the only player Florida could get a first-round draft pick for as he comes with term and is coming off a career year last season. But Florida already gave up a first-round pick (2022) and goalie prospect Devon Levi to get him out of Buffalo. You do not want to move backward here. If the Panthers think he can return to form and do not get what would be a very high asking price, they are going to roll with him.
C/F Sam Bennett (2 years remaining, $4.425 million per): Florida gave up two second-round picks to Calgary in 2021 and immediately had him center its second line to immediate results. If Florida thinks it wants Lundell to move up to the second line and have Luostarinen take over the third moving forward, maybe you see what you could get here — and that should be at least a second and a decent prospect. Florida is not very deep at center, but may think something else could be had in the summer.
D Radko Gudas (UFA, $2.5 million): The Panthers got a steal when they signed Gudas as a free agent as he has exceeded many expectations both in leadership and on the ice. The feeling is Florida would like to keep Gudas around but if a first-round pick comes their way — hey, the Panthers gave Montreal an unprotected one for Ben Chiarot — maybe they are swayed to make that move and try to bring him back in the summer. Although that never really happens.
F Anthony Duclair (1 year remaining, $3 million): Duclair should be back on the ice by the time the trade deadline comes around and there were whispers Florida was looking to deal him before he sustained an Achilles tendon injury during the summer. When healthy, Duclair has great speed and a knack for scoring. He has been a success story in Florida. He wants to stay and they would like to keep him. It would be surprising if he is traded at his price point and production level especially after not playing much of the season has likely lessened anything Florida could get in return.
C Eric Staal (UFA, $750,000): After a slow start, Staal has been very good for the Panthers the past six weeks or so and has filled a big role on the fourth line. Florida would not get much back in return for Staal although teams going for it would love to have him. If he asks out, the Panthers will oblige.
D Marc Staal (UFA, $750,000): A solid bottom-pairing defenseman, the ‘junior’ Staal may get a second (at best) or third round pick from a contender. Big defenseman are always in demand at the deadline.
F Colin White (RFA, $1.2 million): After a strong start to the season, White has not produced much offensively over the past few weeks. He was bought out by the Sens allowing Florida to scoop him up on a ‘prove-it’ deal — and a third or fourth-round pick may get a deal done.
F Patric Hornqvist (UFA, $5.3 million): After sustaining his second concussion in the span of two months, Hornqvist has been on LTIR since December — which allows the Panthers to use a good portion of his substantial cap hit. We don’t see Florida activating him anytime soon what with it needing that breathing room for Duclair in the coming month. The cap hit is a huge deterrent in any trade but there’s little doubt Hornqvist would be a good addition to a true contender. IF Hornqvist gets moved, he would probably be one of the last before the deadline as Florida would have to clear salary cap space of their own to retain some of Hornqvist’s cap hit to facilitate a deal. Plus, the Panthers may have to actually have to activate him and get him into some games before a trade — although injured players have been traded before. They do not have the cap space to activate him now and may not have it moving forward. It’s a pretty big hit.
F Nick Cousins (1 year remaining, $1.1 million): The Panthers have rolled Cousins throughout the lineup and he has been effective at times. Florida would likely not get a whole lot in return here — same goes for Ryan Lomberg — but if they think they can replace Cousins for less next year, perhaps a deal is searched out. Lomberg’s low price point and intangibles keep him off this list.
F Chris Tierney (UFA, $750,000): We have not seen much of Tierney with the Panthers due to their cap space and injury issues. Tierney does have a lot of NHL experience in a bottom-6 role and could bring back a pick and/or player from a contender.
F Givani Smith (RFA, $750,000): Florida acquired Smith from Detroit and gave up veteran defenseman Michael Del Zotto in a three-team trade before Christmas. Smith is getting a chance to play right now but may end up back in Charlotte.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT COLORADO AVALANCHE
- When: Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.
- Where: Ball Arena, Denver
- Streaming ONLY: ESPN+/Hulu
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Colorado leads 26-11-5, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Vegas, 10 p.m.