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Mailbag: Trade Rumors, Florida Panthers Roster, Ballys & More

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The Florida Panthers are back home after going 2-1 on their three-game California road trip. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

When I decided to open up the FHN Florida Panthers Mailbag for November, I did not know captain Sasha Barkov was going to get hurt later that night in Anaheim.

On Friday night, Barkov was knocked out of Florida’s 2-1 win over the Ducks when he took a knee-on-knee hit from Jackson LaCombe early in the third period.

That means a lot of the final questions for this month’s Mailbag had to do with the health of Mr. Barkov.

Unfortunately, I do not have an update for you.

UPDATE: Barkov is day-to-day, will miss Monday’s game against the Oilers. 

Barkov and the rest of the Panthers flew home from Los Angeles on Saturday and my expectation is he was either looked at by doctors in California on Friday or upon his return to Florida.

The Panthers are practicing at the arena this morning; we could have more clarity on the issue later today.

Stay tuned.

As for the remainder of the Mailbag, this was one of most active ones yet.

There are a number of great questions regarding the makeup of the team’s roster, what the trade deadline may look like and whether the Panthers could somehow, someway, get Jonathan Huberdeau back in South Florida.

There were also questions about the future of Bally Sports, how the Panthers could keep their team together what with so many free agents left to sign including scoring machine Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour and Gus Forsling.

And would the Panthers entertain trading Aaron Ekblad and/or Sergei Bobrovsky?

Read on — and thanks for all of the great questions.

What’s been most surprising about the Panthers good start so far this season? — @MrEd315

I would have to say the defensive play of this team.

It is one thing for players like Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk and Reinhart to ease right back into the way this team plays — but four new defensemen?

The Panthers being so successful in close games in these opening 17 with so many new faces has been impressive.

Do you think the Panthers will be in on Nikita Zadorov since he’s said he will not re-sign with the team? Will Bill Zito make it a Calgary reunion, since we have 3 ex-Flames? Thanks. — Tom

Sure, the Panthers always have interest in a player who could help them out. I just do not think they have what it would take to make such a move.

Aleksander Barkov’s injury at Anaheim Friday nite appeared to be a direct hit to the knee-cap. Re. the protective equipment for this exact area of the leg, can you describe the rigidity/flexibility of the piece designed expressly to protect the cap, and whether or not you think it can be improved upon? — Jari McKee

Well, I am not in the hockey equipment business but the players do wear knee protection as part of their shin guards.

Are some more rigid than others? Sure. Each player wears what is comfortable to them. I have no idea what type of knee protection Barkov wears but with his history of knee injuries — his rookie year was cut short due to two knee injuries — I would think that is something important to him.

I know it’s early, but let’s fast forward to the trade deadline. We can comfortably roll 4 solid lines on offense, even without Kane. The makeshift D has been surprisingly strong and we are getting our stars back. Bob has been solid, Knight is getting some play time and confidence. The team is acclimated and excelling in the Maurice system. Barring injuries, do we dare make a move? I can’t handle another Chiarot type trade that we may not need. — Cats and Leafs

Well, you probably will not see another Ben Chiarot deal — mainly because the Panthers do not have a first-round pick until 2026.

Could Bill Zito trade that away at the deadline? Sure. But I would think if he does move that selection, it would be for a player with term or RFA control and not a rental of which Chiarot certainly was.

As for dealing at the deadline, I agree; it’s way too early! That said, with such little draft capital — at least anything in the near future — I don’t think the Panthers will be major players. Again, it is early.

Given Huberdeau’s difficult landing in Calgary, I have to believe it’s due to team culture. He isn’t as good as his deal represents but he has definite talent when he is in the right situation. Is there any way we could broach a deal with Calgary, who definitely are feeling like the fools in that deal, to bring him back here? I know we would never take his contract. But we would have power position in negotiations. Is there ANY way you see that reunion possible? I hated how he was traded in the dark of night but love what we gained for him. I just know he could thrive again with the Panthers. Just not the money he was paid. — Kevin Hawkey

I have learned to never say never when it comes to these kind of things but I would think this is leaning that way.

At least right now.

Huberdeau has just started an eight-year deal paying him north of $10 million. Even if Calgary would trade him to the Panthers tomorrow for 50 percent retainment, there are still seven years left. I do not see that happening under any circumstance.

One reason the Panthers jumped all over Tkachuk was because Huberdeau had them sort of painted in a corner. They were not giving him anything close to eight years.

Tkachuk suddenly being on the market was a godsend for Zito and the Panthers. Zito went all-in on that trade because he really could not lose it to anyone else.

I don’t know if other teams knew how committed the Panthers were that summer. You think Calgary got a lot out of Florida? The Flames probably could have even received even more. I mean, not much more, but perhaps a little more.

Maurice has been putting the forward lines in a blender the last few games. Do you think this has to do with potentially signing Patrick Kane? For example I noticed they put Erod with Lundell and lusto- perhaps kane replaces him on the first line? — Joe Shamon

As I wrote the other day, worrying about where Patrick Kane would slot in with the Panthers is a problem they would love to have.

I don’t think the line shuffle had anything to do with the potential of a Kane signing; I think Maurice was just looking to get something going.

I have noticed a growing number of new merch with the original Leaping Cat (not the 2016 tertiary) and it makes an appearance in the new W for win on the socials.  Could it be that ownership is finally listening to the fans and starting to reincorporate the original logo back into normal rotation?  Naturally that begs the question seven years in the making, updated jerseys? — Mike Dech

Everyone loves a throwback, right? The original leaping cat certainly is making a comeback and the Panthers are smart to roll with it.

The success of that logo on the original Reverse Retros may have opened some eyes. As far as new jerseys go, do not hold your breath. With the Fanatics deal starting next year, don’t bet on any new jerseys, at least for Florida, in the near future.

Heard anything about the current health and future of Bally sports? — @AxefordSlacks

Nothing new other than what I read from their bankruptcy proceedings. It sounds like they are looking to drop two MLB teams — including my Guardians — and both the NHL and NBA are watching closely.

I know a lot of people are ticked with their app problems but Ballys does do a great job of covering this team. If they were to suddenly go away, the Panthers may just end up on free TV (and I have no idea how this is going to work) but some good folks are going to lose their jobs. 

Like the pre- and postgame shows?

Those would probably go away as well or at least be short opens as we have seen in some other markets. We are living in good times when it comes to coverage right now as much as people like to complain.

When I first started covering this team, something like 70 games were televised and the other 12 just were not. Now, every single game can be found somewhere. With high quality announcers, reporters and production values.

The Panthers get paid an estimated $20 million a year from Bally and that goes away if Bally goes away. Hopefully it all works out. I like being able to get games without worrying about it.

But the Regional Sports Network landscape is changing. While the Panthers are growing things down here, they’re not exactly in the best position if things really go south.

We have several pending key UFAs this off-season. Do you see us being able to retain Reinhart, Montour, Forsling, and re-sign RFA Lundell? — Stephen Gibilli

No, I do not see them being able to sign them all. But they could, for sure.

As I spelled out last week, if Reinhart takes somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million annually (which would be below market value) they can probably make things work.

Do not underestimate how good Zito and his team are when it comes to working contracts nor how much players like playing here.

But if Reinhart thinks he can make $12 million somewhere and the Panthers are $3-4 million back, that’s tough to turn down.

Here’s the thing: Reinhart was miserable in Buffalo and is really comfortable here.

He very well may trade cash for happiness. At least some. Or, he may want to head west, get closer to where he grew up. This is his first shot at free agency. We shall see.

How do we get productivity from the 3rd line? Lundy and Lusty do many good things that do not show up in stats. I feel Maurice is trying to juggle lines to get that one on the scoreboard. — Dale Lewis

Hey, this feels like it was asked prior to Friday night’s game in Anaheim! That line looked really good, eh?

Any reports on how Barkov looked after he dressed and headed out of the arena last night? Was he walking ok, did they put a brace on his knee? Also, what odds do you give for the Panthers to land Kane? — @BarryARothman

No reports at all. There was not much of a media presence there and, even if there was, Barkov probably was not going to be seen anyway.

The way Anaheim’s locker area is situated, he would be able to head to the bus without being spotted. Even if I was there — and I am good at spotting these kind of things — Barkov would have stayed out of public eye until the media was in the locker room working and then take off for the bus.

Question about the D-Men. Since Mahura is now out, and Balinskis can be sent to Charlotte, that will solve the problem of the roster, for now, with Ekblad and Montour coming back. Long term, if the Panthers sign Montour to a 7 year, $7M deal, do you think they’ll trade Ekblad to free up cap space? — David Forsyth

That is a really good question. I do not know. Ekblad has made it clear this is home, this is where he wants to be. He has one more season left.

I know the Panthers think the world of him and, when he is up for free agency, the salary cap could be over $90 million. I do not see him being traded.

But, Ekblad has a modified no-trade starting next season which means he would give the Panthers a list of 12 teams he would not go to. So there is always that possibility.

Do you anticipate Knight being brought up, and if so when? I think it is crucial for the Cats to see if he can be a solid NHL starter. Next season Bob’s contract becomes movable, and while he has been wracking up the Ws this season, being able to get out of the final 2 years of his $10M AAV would sure help get our UFAs resigned. — Dale Huber

I think the plan all along was the Spencer would make it back up to the Panthers at some point and I think that is still true.

He is hurt right now, so there is obviously no rush to do anything especially with the way Anthony Stolarz is playing.

As far as Bobrovsky’s deal goes, we will see. The real money being paid to him over the final two years is greatly diminished — he will have a $20 million cap hit but is owed $12.5 million in actual cash — which could make him more attractive to another team.

The Panthers could also clear about $3 million of cap space by buying out the final two years.

But they’re not thinking about any of that now — and may not think about it at all. If Bobrovsky keeps playing the way he has, they’ll keep rolling along. Happily. Bobrovsky loves playing for the Panthers and the Panthers love having him here.

George, I love this team. Hard to think of any of them as expendable…but if you had to and knowing full well you must give value to get value…could you list the players most likely to be traded? — @EdPurchaseIV

Ed, there are plenty of players you can get value out of but at what cost? This team has a short window of opportunity and when it comes to mid-season trades, it is usually teams out of the playoffs wanting draft stock and futures from teams in the playoffs.

The Panthers are a playoff team without much draft stock or internal, tradable talent.

Zito will only make trades which enhance this team and unless he thinks someone on it is dragging them down, I really don’t see anyone moving off this roster save perhaps from some near the bottom of the forward or defensive group. And you won’t get much back.

What’s the fastest animal on Earth? — Donny R

Been waiting a long time for this particular question.

The cheetah.

Next…

PANTHERS ON DECK

EDMONTON OILERS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Monday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • This Season: @Florida, Monday; @ Edmonton, Dec. 16
  • Last season: Edmonton won 2-0
  • All-time regular season series: Edmonton leads 23-14-0, 3 ties
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