Deadline day is here and it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever for the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers are in the thick of the Central Division race and a surprise Stanley Cup contender, on pace for the best season in their history and they have more than $12 million in cap space to work with as the 3 p.m. trade deadline approaches.
We’ll have live updates for you on Florida’s wheeling and dealing throughout the day:
9 a.m.: The stage is set for the Panthers after making three trades earlier this month in anticipation of Monday.
First, they dealt center Vinnie Hinostroza to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear up a minuscule amount of cap room. They followed up with a bigger, five-player trade with the Blackhawks on Thursday, mostly to get off of winger Brett Connolly’s $3.5-million cap hit. On Saturday, Florida started adding, bolstering its defense by trading for Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres, then they signed winger Nikita Gusev to a one-year deal after the New Jersey Devils waived the 2018 most valuable player of Russia’s Kontintal Hockey League on Friday.
If Montour was all the Panthers were targeting, they wouldn’t have had to make the Connolly deal, though. The defenseman is making $3.85 million and would’ve fit into Florida’s existing cap space. The Connolly gave the Panthers room to add Montour and then some, and an ongoing three-game losing streak is exposing some of Florida’s flaws — issues Montour alone won’t help fix.
The Panthers offense is flailing with only three goals in their last three games. Their power play is 2 of 24 since defenseman Aaron Ekblad went down with a likely season-ending leg fracture last month. Florida has lost 5 of 6 to the Carolina Hurricanes — including two during this current skid — and might run into them in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs next month.
If the Panthers still want more defensive help, there are still options out there, including Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson. The flashier names, however, are the forwards, although the Boston Bruins traded for Sabres left wing Taylor Hall early Monday. Steady backup goaltender Chris Driedger could also be one of the most valuable trade chips any contender has, given Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract and the recent addition of fellow goaltender Spencer Knight.
All options are on the table given Florida’s cap situation and the historic season the Panthers are putting together in South Florida.