The Florida Panthers spent big in the offseason on free agents, and made their biggest move behind the bench, adding Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville. Here's everything you need to know about the the Panthers heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:
The big question: Does Joel Quenneville cure all ills?
Joel Quenneville has 890 coaching wins, second all-time to Scotty Bowman. He won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. He is, demonstrably, one of the best coaches in the history of the NHL. But what does that mean for the Florida Panthers? Can he sprinkle magic mustache dust on the roster and fix its general problems, like a defense that helped produced the second worst save percentage in the league (.891) last season and the sixth most goals against at even strength?
This Panthers team is loaded with talent up front with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman; some productive defensemen like Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad; and now they have one of the best goalies in the league after signing Sergei Bobrovsky. Can Q put it all together?
Offseason comings and goings, cap situation
Fare thee well to the legendary Roberto Luongo, who retired after an injury-filled and ineffective season. Enter Sergei Bobrovsky, two-time Vezina Trophy winner who is making $10 million against the salary cap through 2026. Which is a lot, but worth it if he solidifies the position in the short term. Also helping to that end: Anton Stralman, who signed a three-year deal after leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Up front, the Panthers did some work for their bottom six, bringing in the Capitals' Brett Connolly on a four-year deal and Bruins grinder Noel Acciari for three years. Florida has $1.48 million in cap space at the moment, but have a few contracts up next summer, including Hoffman and Dadonov. That Barkov contract ($5.9 million average annual value through 2022) might be one of the league's best values.
Bobrovsky's stats fall under last year's performance, and buyer's remorse ensues.
Breakout candidate: Henrik Borgstrom
The 22-year-old center had 18 points in 50 games as a rookie last season, including eight goals. He's looked good during the preseason, but the real question regarding the Panthers' 2016 first-rounder (No. 23 overall) is if he'll get the ice time to really break out under Quenneville. He averaged just 12 minutes per game last season.
Scoring. The Panthers were ninth in the NHL last season in goals per game (3.22). Barkov had 35 goals and 96 points. Huberdeau had 30 goals and 92 points. Mike Hoffman had 30 goals, while Dadonov had 28. Trocheck was injured for a chunk of the season, but hit 30 goals in 2017-18. That offensive pop was never more evident than on the power play, which defenseman Keith Yandle quarterbacked to second in the league (26.8).
Defense. In theory, Quenneville and Bobrovsky will help fix the Panthers' porous defense. But they have some work to do with a team that had the fourth worst goals-against average (3.33) and were 24th in expected goals against (2.59) in the NHL last season.
Panthers in NHL Rank
22. Aleksander Barkov, C
38. Sergei Bobrovsky, G
This is expected to be a team on the playoff bubble in 2019-20, and our panelists' rankings in each category fit that description: NHL roster (No. 15), prospects (No. 14), cap/contracts (No. 21) and owner/GM/coach (No. 18).
Pipeline ranking: 11
16. Grigori Denisenko, LW
22. Owen Tippett, RW
51. Spencer Knight, G
56. Serron Noel, RW
64. Aleksi Heponiemi, C/W
Fantasy facts to know
This Florida power play is deadly to its opponents and essential for its players' fantasy value. As an example, Vincent Trocheck could bounce back to 70 points this season, so long as he keeps his role on this first power-play unit. At even strength, he scored 20 points in 55 games last season.
Aaron Ekblad is coming into his prime at 23 years old, while Keith Yandle is now 33 years old. One might think a passing of the torch would be imminent, Yandle went out and turned in a career-high 62 points last season. He's the quarterback of this king-making power play until he decides he's not. Expect the minus-17 to also improve for Yandle.
Why will the plus/minus of Yandle and other Panthers improve? Because they have a goaltender now. Sergei Bobrovsky offers a massive upgrade on defense for this squad, and makes them contenders. For his part, he is one of the few goaltenders in position to challenge Andrei Vasilevskiy for the fantasy version of the Vezina Trophy. -- Sean Allen