It was easy for a team like the Florida Panthers to get overlooked in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals tore through the regular season, en route to a whopping 120 point season. The Pittsburgh Penguins turned on the proverbial jets in 2016, finishing with the second highest point total in the conference (104 points), upsetting the Capitals, and winning the Stanley Cup. Even in-state rival Tampa Bay, who finished with less points than the Panthers, made bigger headlines by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals (before losing to Pittsburgh).
But with the bevy of moves that the Panthers made this offseason, they might very well have gotten the spotlight to shine brightest on them.
Florida General Manager Tom Rowe stayed very busy this offseason, extending current players and adding on new one in the arms race that is the east. He signed forward Reilly Smith to a five-year, $25 million contract extension, locking up a player who is only 25 years old yet became an assistant captain for the team after recording 25 goals and 25 assists last season. Rowe valued the two-way play that Smith brought to the team, and recognized the value of keeping such talent on his team.
Similarly, Rowe re-upped another talented forward in Vincent Trocheck, locking him up with a six-year deal worth $28.5 million. The 22-year-old forward registered 25 goals and 28 assists for 53 points in 76 games last season, and was an integral part of the Panthers success from last season.
Then, Rowe went shopping in free agency to improve the team’s defensive unit, signing Keith Yandle (formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers) to a seven-year, $44.5 million contract, and Jason Demers (formerly of the Dallas Stars) to a five-year, $22.5 million deal. Both players bring element of solid offensive play to a team that was ranked 8th in the NHL in goals scored last season. Rowe further bolstered his defensive group by acquiring defenseman Mark Pysyk from the Buffalo Sabres, in exchange for Dmitry Kulikov. Pysyk’s passing ability and penchant for slowing opponent zone entries provides him the flexibility to pair with a number of defensive guys the Panthers currently have (or recently added).
Florida also rebounded nicely from losing “rental” forwards like Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell by grabbing three quality depth forwards who could make up a big chunk of the difference.
By rounding out their group of deep, young, and talented forwards with the inexpensive additions of Colton Sceviour from Dallas, Jonathan Marchessault from Tampa Bay, and former first-round pick Jared McCann from Vancouver on the wings, the Panthers are counting on the infusion of experience and talent to help the development of their other young centerpieces like
center Aleksander Barkov and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. They’re aiming to build a team that has four lines consistently capable of scoring goals, and having a truly elite center and defenseman.
Guess which team they’re borrowing those concepts from? The Pittsburgh Penguins, better known as the team that just won the Stanley Cup.