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Merry New Year! The final Florida Panthers mailbag of 2020



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The ice at BB&T Center looks ready to go as the Florida Panthers exit 2020. // @FlaPanthers

It has been a long, strange year but thankfully, 2020 is about to come to a close. For the Florida Panthers, 2020 was at least filled with a lot of news.

Success, not so much. But plenty of news.

As usual.

The Panthers plan on opening training camp on Monday morning and there is some reason for optimism in 2021.

Are the new-look Panthers a playoff team? I don’t know just yet. No one does. I think they’ll compete for a playoff spot in the new NHL Central. That’s all we can hope for right now.

As we ride out 2020 and run into the New Year, I would once again like to thank you all who have supported me and my coverage of the Panthers not only over the years — but especially this one.

This is my first year covering the team with my own site (some of you may remember I used to cover the Panthers for the Miami Herald and then The Athletic) and your support has meant the world to me.

It’s going to be a fun year I think. Different. But it should be fun.

I will be there covering this team with everything I’ve got. Thanks for joining me.

Let’s ride.

Now, for the final time in 2020, it is time for the monthly Florida Panthers Mailbag!

See you next year!

Is Zito done with player signings for the moment, or should we be expecting another surprise or two within the remaining cap space? Or trades perhaps? You hearing any names? — Mark Weber via FHN Facebook page

It does appear that new GM Bill Zito is done at least for the moment. We do not know if any injury concerns will pop up during the quickie training camp and that could lead to some trades and/or hitting up what is left of the free agent market. I have not heard any names linked to the Panthers other than the PTOs offered up to goalie Scott Darling and defenseman Kevin Connauton. There could be some other minor stuff coming with an eye toward the AHL season in the coming weeks. We’ll see.

Will we see Lundell, Saarela or Borgstrom in the training camp? What about later, during the season? — @JariJarvinen1

It does not appear so. I was told the Panthers are going to let Lundell finish his season in Finland and we all expect to see him in training camp next September (or whenever the 2021-22 camp opens). Same, probably, goes for Saarela and Borgstrom. Both seem very comfortable playing in Finland right now and the Panthers really cannot compel them to leave just to battle for a spot. Next season is a different story. Eetu Luostarinen is also thought to be staying overseas this season. We’ll see how everything works out.

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Which players have been missing from the workouts in Coral Springs? — @1panthers

The ones who have been playing in Europe for starters. That’s about it. Everyone else has made their way back to South Florida as far as I can tell.

What’s your honest opinion on Tippett’s shot to make roster? And of the new additions, who do you think will surprise the Panthers the most? — @DLoLobo

Oh, Tippett has a great chance to not only make the roster but play a big role for the Panthers this season. Tippett is going to be here. Where he plays will be determined. I think the biggest surprise this season will be the play of Alexander Wennberg. This is a great opportunity for him here and I think he’s going to take full advantage of it.

The Panthers made a lot of moves this off season. What move did they not make that you feel should have been done? — @yodiwan1

I think they are going to regret not making a deal with Mike Hoffman. He was a big part of the team last year and his big shot was something opposing teams had to deal with every time he was on the ice. Hoffman isn’t going to break the bank in St. Louis and I really think something could have been done to keep him at least for another season. I get the idea that you would move on if there wasn’t going to be a long-term deal forthcoming on both sides, but hey. He was out there and could have stayed.

What are the chances we see Lundell with the Panthers this year? And what is the latest on Borgstrom? — Joel Plattor via FHN Facebook page

I don’t think we will see Lundell here this season only because of the strange season we are having and the fact that he is playing so well in Finland. Let him finish that season and come here ready to go next season. As I have written before, I don’t think the Panthers ever had Borgstrom in their plans for this season. That’s not to say he isn’t a player in their future plans. I just think once he went to Finland, they knew it was going to take a lot to get him back over here with the pandemic and all. Borgstrom’s play has not warranted any sort of promises to persuade him to come back. I think he’s going to play the season in his homeland, hopefully improve his game a bit and come back next season.

How has Borgy gone from being a first round pick and teams trying to nab him at the deadline a few years back to not wanting to play for the Cats? — @tjhawk13

Same burning question as always: What’s up with Borgstrom. Can you get any insider info on timeline or likelihood to sign from management? If they don’t sign him, as an RFA, what happens next?  When does he free up to other NHL teams? — @ggood19

I don’t think he doesn’t want to play for the Cats but he doesn’t know what his role is on this particular team. Is it top six? No. He would be battling for a bottom six spot or a place on the taxi squad or even be sent back to the AHL. He would rather bank some money by playing at home than play in the AHL. The Panthers are cool with him playing in Finland. They think it will be good for him. We’ll see him next season. Borgstrom’s contract status with the Panthers does not change. He remains part of the Panthers whether he’s here or not. If he wants to play in the NHL down the road, unless Florida trades him, they keep him.

Any idea the percentage of STH that opted in versus out of going to games? — @FLAMETSFAN1

I was told by someone within the Panthers that the opt-out has been very low yet the STHs I have been talking to tell me a very different story. I only know of two or three who plan on opting in with a lot more telling me they’re going to opt out and just watch the games on television this season.

Are we expecting any more additions to the roster before we start? Are there any trades that may be possible to help with the defense? — @FLPanthers24

I do not expect any more additions to the roster before training camp but there could always be some moves before the Jan. 14 opener against Dallas.

Where is the scoring going to come from this season? How do the Panthers replace Hoffman on the power play? — @CraigMirek

Replacing Hoffman on the power play is going to be very tricky. That shot from the right circle was deadly when it opened up. I would not be surprised to see someone like Anthony Duclair slide in there or even Owen Tippett. I know the Panthers coaching staff is working on a lot of different power play options (I would think Patric Hornqvist will be on PP1) with a lot of different pieces. I will be very interested in watching power play practice once camp opens.

Who do you expect Q to put on the wing with Huberdeau and Barkov? — @BGNLordHelmut

I think there are quite a few options for that spot including Duclair, Hornqvist and Tippett. Frank Vatrano had that slot when Summer Camp opened only for the Panthers to put Evgenii Dadonov back when things got going in Toronto so perhaps they give him another look there. Grigori Denisenko may even get a look there during camp.

Any news on Saarela contract, will he be in camp? Also where does Zito see Borgstrom on this team? Does Borgstrom still have a future with us or will he be traded? — @Dragons_Quest

Nothing new on Saarela. It sounds like he may just stay at home and play this season in Finland. Nothing settled yet, I don’t think. He can still come over and play later on. I don’t know if that will happen or not. Doesn’t sound like it will. As far as Borgstrom goes, Bill Zito is a fan of his and there is no animosity on the Florida side of things. They are happy he is playing in Finland and hope it helps his game develop a little bit. I don’t think he is the concern to the team that he is to the fan base. I think he still has a future here. He is still a young player with a lot of upside.

My question is I guess twofold when it comes to training camp. 1. I assume they should be pulling back any signed prospects from Europe. 2. Any other potential ptos? — @cbrolund

Yeah, the players who are in Europe right now are probably staying there. We’ll see. As far as more PTOs coming, I think they’re done. They have two veteran players in already and that’s probably it.

Over/Under on Tippett goals in 56 games — @andrewrubin24

That’s a good little proposition. I think if he gets steady time on the top line, he would clean up and hit 20 goals. I have him penciled in for 15 this season.

There’s a lot of variables and new additions to this team and very little time for Q to get everyone on the same page. What are the realistic expectations for this team this year? — @SerBronn227

This is going to be a strange year for everyone and every coach has similar challenges. This team has been working out for months so the new guys are well acclimated to their surroundings and their teammates. I don’t know that getting on the same page will be the problem some think it could be. As far as expectations go, I think the Panthers have to be thinking about being a playoff team. This is not an easy division, but it’s not the monster it could have been. The Panthers should be able to compete for a top-four spot in the Central.

Is there more balance in this team than in previous years? — @prudentia0

They certainly hope so. I think you lost a lot in the top six with the subtractions of Dadonov and Hoffman but the team feels confident that they’re going to get that production collectively and throughout the lineup. I think Q is definitely going to have an easier time rolling four more equal lines than he had in the past.

Do you feel like Bob can have a better year after being used to the new team? — @teeschneids

Yeah, I think Bob is definitely more comfortable in his surroundings and with his team than he was last season. Look at how he played in Toronto; he looked locked in and in synch with his teammates. The Panthers need a better performance out of him, sure, but he needs help as well. I think they are all more in step with that thought process this season.

Will you miss having Buffalo in the division this season? — @BuffaloVogl

You know I will. I love Buffalo. It is one of my favorite road trips. I always have a good time in Buffalo. Going to miss the wings, the Friday fish fry, the trips to Orchard Park. Going to miss the pizza logs in the media room and the elevator guy yelling that my credential isn’t properly hanging outside my jacket. Tim Hortons. Miss going to Buffalo. See you in the summer.

Top vice to get you through the #FlaPanthers season? Mine is heroin. — @mikecostan

My vice has been binge watching Miami Vice.

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