The last time we opened up the Florida Panthers mailbox to answer all your pressing questions, Bill Zito had just started on the job as the team’s new GM.
Quite a bit has happened since — although I have the feeling a lot of you don’t think enough has happened.
So, it is time for this month’s Q&A session.
As always, you can ask your pertinent Florida Panthers questions — or anything else you want to ask me, really — on Twitter using the #AskGR hashtag.
This month, I figured we could do things a little differently by allowing you to comment directly on this post.
Get your questions in by noon Friday and I will publish them early that afternoon.
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) October 29, 2020
If you want to subscribe and help support my coverage of the Panthers, you can do so here. For those of you who have already subscribed, I humbly thank you.
Here is last month’s mailbag. Let’s see how much I got wrong.
Any word on whether next season begins in a bubble? Home teams make their own calls. Dolphins are going with STH only and 20% capacity. But I’ve heard nothing from the NHL on the subject. — @FP_Superfan
Thanks for the question, Mr. Superfan. The NHL has not made any sort of announcement because they don’t know what is going to happen moving forward.
There have been rumors of setting up shop — at least at the start of the season — in a bubble but nothing official yet.
Everyone, especially a gate-driven league like the NHL, wants to be allowed to have fans in the seats.
But each market (which can vary from city-to-city, state-to-state) has different rules.
Right now, Hard Rock Stadium will be allowed more fans (not many more, but more) for Dolphins and Canes games than, say, Cleveland and Cincinnati can. That should change as things hopefully improve.
There have been rumors the NBA may push its season back even further than originally thought with the hopes that fans can come back into the building.
We’ll see what happens. At least whatever games we have will be on television.
If the Panthers ever build that facility on the War Memorial site, think they will install their own AHL affiliate there? — @lucarella_r
I would seriously doubt it. It costs a lot of money to own and operate an AHL team and you need a decent amount of fan support to keep it going.
The War Memorial setup will not be big enough for such a thing — and even if it was, minor league sports (well, major league sports) are a tough sell in this market.
I could see Tampa Bay expanding its brand perhaps by putting an AHL team in Orlando or Lakeland but I don’t think the Panthers are in that position right now. Even if they were, again, War Memorial would be too small — and would compete with the Panthers for fans.
With a team in Charlotte, the team will be able to quickly call up players whenever needed. It’s a short flight from CLT — and there are plenty of flights from there to Fort Lauderdale.
Springfield/Hartford had a direct flight as well which made it easy for the Panthers to call up players.
With Chris Pronger saying the pressure of playing in Florida needs to be greater, need to hold players accountable and Zito saying need to give 100%, 100% of the time, do you see buyouts if the country club continues? — @1panthers
No one wants to do buyouts and right now, the Panthers are not in a position to pull any out. I did see Pronger’s statement and those have been echoed by more than a few people over the years. But what is it, really? Is it the market more than the tropical weather?
I mean, players in Tampa and Los Angeles also wear shorts and sandals to practice and have found plenty of success over the years.
The Panthers have talked for years about “changing the culture” around the organization. I think some of what they were going through was as much of having minor-league style marketing and ownership that couldn’t afford to compete at this level has been gone for some time.
There is something missing here and it looked liked they were turning a corner. Then came February and everything fell apart again.
Anyways, it’s safe to say that the All-Star Weekend for the upcoming season is pretty much done for, eh? Also, this new endeavor of yours has been some pretty solid stuff & as always, wishing you the best! Keep it going, sir. — @hawk954
Thanks Hawk, appreciate you. While the All-Star Weekend has not been officially canceled as of last week (per Matt Caldwell) you have to think it will be soon enough.
We don’t even know when the next season will start — or where it will start — much less how many games will be played. I cannot see an All-Star weekend taking place unless the NHL decides to open the season with a celebration of the game. Where else would be better to do that than South Florida, am I right?
With management (Caldwell) not committing to spend to the cap, how effective can Zito be not having 100% availability of resources ($$$)? — @ChrisAGrega
At least he didn’t say they weren’t going to spend to the cap. I think the team is going to save some money just in what they lose during free agency (plus the Vincent Trocheck salary) with younger replacements.
This team spent right up to the salary cap last year, but did it feel like it? I mean, money could have been saved and the team may have been better off. I think smart spending is the key. Let’s see what happens.
What do you know about Zito? Do you think a retool is coming in the minors too? Seems like talent isn’t being properly developed once drafted. Are we going to do a total rebuild? Who is untouchable, if anyone? — @Josh_Brief
I do know that Bill Zito is going to come in and take a look at everything this team does — from development to marketing to travel.
He did a little bit of everything in Columbus and will have a great voice in the Florida organization to try and make things better. I think he is going to look at everything from coaching to development to how the draft is run.
There are going to be some changes coming — although they may not be immediate, they are coming.
Something Bill Zito will do over the next four weeks that will surprise us? — @MarkWeber1
Trade with Columbus and bring in Pierre-Luc Dubois, giving Florida a powerhouse 1-2 punch at center with Sasha Barkov. Well, that would be surprising since Columbus is not giving PLD up.
You be the GM. What transactions do you make this offseason? Who you drafting at 12? Do you see Zito being nice to Q signing Hoffman to an extension. — @Dragons_Quest
I think the only way Mike Hoffman returns is if the Panthers feel like they are getting a good deal — and Hoffman feels like he is getting what he wants as well. Perhaps the free agent market will not offer Hoff what he feels he deserves and that allows Florida to bring him back.
As far as the draft goes, Florida will be looking at the top defenseman available unless there is an underrated forward out there who they just cannot say no to. I do think there are going to be some trades on the horizon although perhaps not as big as some fans would hope.
Can you explain how an AHL relationship works? Charlotte has been great, but what parts of that success will we inherit (players, trainers, staff) and what parts will be from FLA? How does this help the team? — @Erik_M_E
Well, the hockey staff will be supplied by the Panthers. The coaches, the players, the equipment people. The Checkers’ business side is run by their people.
When Charlotte won the Calder Cup last year, it did so with Carolina’s players, coaches, equipment people. The Panthers are basically moving their hockey operations from Springfield to Charlotte.
Eric Joyce, the GM of the Thunderbirds now becomes GM of the Checkers. Geordie Kinnear, coach of the Thunderbirds, is now coach of the Checkers.
Any ‘blocked’ guys in the CBJ System you feel Zito has his eye on? A la Tallon with Skille, Kopecky, Versteeg, etc? — @EdPurchaseIV
I would think the natural name that pops up is forward Josh Anderson. He is going to be a free agent following next season and it sounds like he will be available after he had a tough season in Columbus before a shoulder injury knocked him out.
If the Jackets cannot sign him to a long-term deal, he could be on the move. He won’t come cheap, either.
What’s the status on the Dadonov and/or Hoffman contract negotiations? Do you have any idea on what they’re planing on going with or if they’re going to bring back either of them? — @ObamaBarock1
I have not heard anything as of yet. During the season, both said they had not talked to the Panthers regarding an extension.
Who does Zito consider the core? Is he willing to part with one of them to benefit the team? — @prudentia0
You have to the think the core is this (not including some of the young prospects): Barkov, Ekblad and Huberdeau. These are the players the Panthers are building around and every team in the league would love to have one of them. I do not think any of them will be moved any time soon.
Chances of Ekblad trade. What team(s) would take a chance on Matheson?— @mpmasserano
There have been a few articles recently talking about Ekblad as a possible trade target for a team like the Leafs. Is this something that actually has traction around the team/NHL? — @rmarks2112
Since both of you asked about Ekblad, we will combine. I did see a report that Ekblad would be on the list of players the Maple Leafs would like to have. Um, yeah. I don’t know where that’s coming from other than usual summertime meanderings.
The Panthers have a bonafide top-tier defenseman in Ekblad; those are not easy to acquire. I do not see the Panthers moving him because, well, they should not. You build a defense around an Aaron Ekblad you do not try to build one by trading him — although the return would be huge.
As far as Matheson goes, I do not think there is any question on his character or skill set. He is a terrific skater who is still trying to find his way it appears.
The talent is there, the development has gone backward over the past few years — although aside from the Islanders series I thought we saw some definite improvement this season.
That said, he has six years left on his contract and is making close to $5 million per season. You have to get better return on that than what they have lately. Can they trade him, will they trade him? I don’t know.
What changes will Zito make to improve prospect development? Did Zito give an indication of what moves he will make to improve the team? What organizational differences allow other teams to draft more successfully? — @VKS82
First off, I think you have to look at the players Florida has drafted over the years and perhaps put some of the blame there. It appears they have some good, young pieces coming up.
But by the way this roster has been constructed, only the top-end draft picks and a few lower-picked defensemen have made it up through the system. The Panthers have to develop their own players better and that is something we have been talking about for decades.
How do they do that? I don’t know the answer. Teams have taken risks in the draft which have paid off, some have taken the safer route. The Panthers seem to take risks when it comes to drafting and don’t always stick with it when it comes to letting them develop.
As for Henrik Borgstrom, I am certainly not ready to give up on him. I don’t think his story has been told yet.
What do you think Bill Zito’s first big move as GM should be this offseason? — @bweber7390
The Panthers have some viable pieces which could be attractive to other teams in trade. I think we will see some trades in the coming weeks. Whether they turn out to be of the blockbuster variety remains to be seen.
What is the vision for this franchise who has been spinning its wheels for a while? — @RichardLorith
I think they just need to win. It looked like this year had all the makings of a franchise turnaround and it did not happen. I still think they are closer to the top than the bottom.
Will they resign Hoffman? — @FLAMETSFAN1
I don’t think they will be able to. There isn’t going to be a great market out there for him (or many free agents) but his play with the Panthers will be attractive to a number of teams. I would not be shocked if he comes back but I would be surprised.
Will the Panthers be rebuilding (selling), retooling, (shifting money around while still trying to compete), or buying this offseason? Any specific players they want to try and find a buyer for? — @CF3234
I will go with: Retooling. This is not a broken down organization by any means. Look at the Panthers in January and they were one of the top teams in the league. They were on fire. Then things hit the skids. They have a lot of good pieces here. Now it’s up to the new GM to try and add to that and find the right mix.
What will the new GM do to address the more than obvious defensive woes the team has and what will he do to ensure talents like Borgstrom and Tippett are not lost. — @Foward44
Again, I don’t think Borgstrom is lost I just think he is taking longer to develop than many had hoped for. Including himself. Tippett had a really good season in the AHL before his injury and I think he is going to get every opportunity to play this season.
Since this question was missed last time… third jerseys? — @RedSteeg32
A few months ago someone posted some Miami Vice mockups of the Panthers jersey. I think those would look pretty good and would tie in the regional colors now adopted by the Heat and Marlins. Hey, if Pittsburgh can own the black-and-gold, the South Florida teams should take the teal-and-pink.
Is a hot dog a sandwich? — @DavidDwork
A “hoagie” more resembles a hot dog. So, is a hoagie the same thing as a sandwich? — @HockeyRobThough