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NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of the League’s 32 teams from Aug. 8-Sept. 8. Today, the Florida Panthers.
[Panthers 32 in 32: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown]
The Florida Panthers made big changes to a team that was unable to go on a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season despite finishing atop the NHL standings (58-18-6, 122 points).
The defending Presidents’ Trophy winner hired a new coach in Paul Maurice and made the blockbuster trade of the offseason, acquiring forward Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames. To get Tkachuk, the Panthers had to give up high-scoring forward Jonathan Huberdeau and top-four defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, along with forward prospect Cole Schwindt and a lottery-protected first-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft.
It was a heavy price for the Panthers to pay, but they hope Tkachuk can provide the grit they seemed to be lacking in back-to-back playoff series losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning, including a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Second Round last season.
“I bring a certain swagger,” Tkachuk said. “It’s kind of how I live my life. It’s a confidence. It’s a good confidence, it’s not cockiness. I think it will help this team. The team at the other end of the state (Tampa Bay) has that [swagger]. I have to help with that.”
Video: NHL Tonight discusses the Matthew Tkachuk trade
So will Maurice, who was hired a little more than six months after he resigned from the Winnipeg Jets in the middle of the season. He replaces Andrew Brunette, who went 51-18-6 after Joel Quenneville resigned Oct. 29.
Maurice said he was reinvigorated by the challenge of trying to get the Panthers deeper into the playoffs.
“We’re not coming in Day One and say we’re going to win the Stanley Cup, because we can’t win it that day,” Maurice said. “But what we can do is work our [rear ends] off that day and prepare for that. So, that’s our focus going forward. Certainly, there’s enough talent here that you think we can get into going in the right direction. We are a team that will be considered, right? We’re in that group.
“But look back at all of the great teams; when you just think of the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup, and they are a dominant force, we’re talking about dynasty at that point. You’ve got (Jordan) Staal, (Evgeni) Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby in their prime down the middle, and yet nothing happens for a number of years.
“It’s very, very difficult to blast through the playoffs if you just think you play your game, right? The other team is getting paid too. So, we invest every day. Every single day, we invest in our future by our work ethic that day.”
Maurice inherits a team with a strong nucleus, led by forwards Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett, defenseman Aaron Ekblad and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers scored 340 goals last season; Barkov, their captain, led the way with a career-high 39 while remaining one of the best two-way centers in the League.
The bottom line is Florida could have returned with essentially the same team and still have been considered a contender. But the Panthers chose a different, more aggressive route, adding Tkachuk and forwards Colin White and Nick Cousins, along with defensemen Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto.
Along with Huberdeau and Weegar, they lost late-season acquisitions Claude Giroux (Ottawa Senators) and Ben Chiarot (Detroit Red Wings) in free agency, and forward Mason Marchment (Dallas Stars).
“The changes we’ve made were made with the team and organization’s best interest at heart,” Florida general manager Bill Zito said. “And all for different reasons in each instance. In each instance, to be honest, we’ve acquired somebody who’s extraordinary.”
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