Hindsight is 20/20 and when it comes to the moves the Florida Panthers made this season, there are plenty of naysayers around these parts today.
Had Florida made a deeper run in the playoffs, no one would be looking back at the many trades general manager Bill Zito made at the deadline.
But now? Yeah.
The Panthers were among the most active players at the deadline and improved their team as is Zito’s job to do.
Zito gave up some future assets as well as Owen Tippett and prospect Ty Smilanic.
Did he give up a little too much?
Maybe. Teams usually do at the trade deadline.
Florida brought in three players — Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg — who all may not be here next year as they are pending free agents.
In return, he gave up two first-round draft picks (after giving away the 2022 first-round selection for Sam Reinhart last summer) as well as some other picks for those players.
They were, even in hindsight, good moves.
Giroux helped the Panthers not only during the regular season (which, honestly, was not needed) but in the first round against the Capitals (which was).
Chiarot not only improved Florida’s top four defensively, but ended up playing on the top pair with Aaron Ekblad for a good chunk of the postseason.
Hagg was a solid depth piece who was not needed in the playoffs.
Had Florida sustained any injury on the backend, however, Hagg could have been brought in as an option along with Petteri Lindbohm and Lucas Carlsson.
In order to clear up space for Chiarot, one casualty was Frank Vatrano — who was sent to the Rangers on the cheap.
Vatrano, who was in-and-out of the Florida lineup, is a pending free agent whom the Panthers were likely going to move on from anyway.
In New York, Vatrano was given a top-six role and thrived; he’s still playing in the postseason.
Bad optics, yes, but on a stacked Florida team who knows how much Vatrano would have given the Panthers.
Florida felt it needed more defense and chose Chiarot over Vatrano.
When Aaron Ekblad was hurt four days before the trade deadline, however, he was able to be placed on long-term injury reserve and his salary cap hit was deducted.
While no one wants to see an injury, the timing of Ekblad getting hurt was both good and bad for the Panthers.
Had it happened before the Chiarot trade was completed, Vatrano would not have had to be traded.
Because it happened before the deadline, Florida was able to complete the deal for Giroux without trading another player like Noel Acciari to clear up additional space.
With the newfound cap space, the Panthers also added Hagg and took on some of Max Domi’s salary in a three-way trade between Columbus and Carolina to add a prospect.
No one, obviously, knew Ekblad was going to get hurt — and the Panthers would have much preferred that he did not. Timing, of course, plays a role in how things are looked at as well.
So, what exactly did the Panthers give up aside from Vatrano?
The big pieces folks look at is the draft picks.
The Panthers now do not have first-round picks until 2025; one went to Buffalo (Reinhart), the 2023 went to Montreal (Chiarot) and the 2024 went to Philadelphia (Giroux).
The only prospects Florida gave up was Owen Tippett — a player who may take off with a new opportunity with a new organization — and Smilanic, an unsigned college player who was likely thrown in for Montreal retaining half of Chiarot’s cap hit (remember, Ekblad was not on LTIR yet and that was needed).
The Panthers kept all of their top forward prospects, including Mackie Samsoskevich, Grigori Denisenko, Justin Sourdif, Logan Hutsko and Serron Noel.
Defensemen Matt Kiersted, Chase Priskie, John Ludvig and Michael Benning stayed as well.
So, aside from the first round draft picks, the Panthers really did not give up a whole lot.
While not having first-round selections in the next three drafts is not ideal, the Panthers plan is to be sitting pretty low in those drafts. That means they were successful.
The Panthers also do not have second round selections in two of the next three drafts. Also not ideal.
Florida plans to be more thorough in its drafting moving forward, hoping to find players in the later rounds to supplement not having picks in the first round.
It worked for the Detroit Red Wings for years. The Wings were famous for trading away first round picks during the season, winning, then finding Hall of Famers in the sixth round anyway.
The Panthers used the draft stock they had as capital to build the team they had into the best one they could.
They went all in on this year’s team in trying to win it all.
Ultimately, it did not work out.
Florida was swept out of the second round by the Lightning, its dreams of chasing the Stanley Cup dashed with only three goals against Andrei Vasilevskiy to show for it.
That does not mean it was a mistake to go for it.
Next year, with the Panthers’ likely salary cap problems, they probably will not get the chance to do so again.