Taking Their Talents to South Beach: A Conversation with Litter Box Cats about Our Russians

How do Panthers fans feel about the trade rumors?

With it being a near certainty that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky will not be on the Columbus Blue Jackets next season - and likely traded this season - speculation has grown that the Florida Panthers may be interested in acquiring one or both players. A trade with Pittsburgh was seen as opening up future cap space to offer long term deals to those players.

Then, on Monday, New York Post writer Larry Brooks tweeted this:

With that in mind, I reached out to our colleagues at Litter Box Cats, SBNation’s Florida Panthers blog. Manager Todd Little referred me to one of his community members, Zim!, to answer my questions:

The Cannon: Do you think it’s worth paying to acquire Bob now so you can offer him an 8th year on his contract?

Zim!: I’m not so sure that Dale Tallon is valuing an eighth year as highly as he is four months of exclusive negotiating rights and an opportunity to show Bobrovsky what South Florida has to offer. Now, whether or not either of those advantages is worth paying for Bobrovsky at the deadline depends on what is actually going to be the cost.

The Panthers are, once again, well behind the pack in the Atlantic Division and Florida would need a push in the final 30-plus games similar to last year. Tallon can’t afford to give up any significant prospects that he considers future pieces of the NHL roster for what could end up being a fruitless rental scenario. He also is unlikely to move any of the established young core players that are signed to long-term contracts (Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau, Ekblad, Matheson) for just a couple of months of Bobrovsky on the ice and some extra negotiating time.

However, the Panthers goaltending has been putrid this season and it is no secret that Tallon is looking to make an upgrade. Dale is also getting long in the tooth as the top hockey operations decision maker in Sunrise and the total number of playoff series wins still sits at zero. Tallon has amassed a really talented roster that has accomplished very little. He may need to take a major risk in order to get the franchise back on the rails.

What is your cap situation this summer? Are there other players likely to be on the move to make room for these FA targets?

The Panthers cleared $6.35 million in cap space for the 2019-20 season when Tallon jettisoned Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to Pittsburgh for a pair of forwards with expiring contracts (Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan). Currently, Florida has about $21 million in cap space for the offseason with five restricted free agents, three of which will be arbitration eligible. Of those RFA players, only Frank Vatrano stands to receive a significant raise.

Defenseman Mark Pysyk and his $2.733 million cap hit has also been connected to trade rumors in the last few weeks and there is a real possibility that he could be moved before 3 p.m. on February 25. Conceivably, the Panthers could fit both Bobrovsky and Panarin under the cap with an average annual salary of $20 million combined. But… despite an increase in committed salary from ownership from 2017-18 to 2018-19, the Panthers are still struggling with attendance (21st in the NHL in capacity full) and it is certainly reasonable not to expect the Panthers to take the risk of adding massive salary players without seeing other big contracts exit.

The problem for Florida is that there are multiple players with high dollar, long-term deals. Huberdeau, Barkov and Trocheck are all inked for at least three more seasons to extremely team-friendly contracts. Yandle is on the books for another four seasons and has a full no-movement clause. Ekblad has a massive deal that will pay him for six more seasons and Matheson is in the first of an eight-year contract.

Those three defensemen (Yandle, Ekblad, Matheson) have been a source of consternation for Panthers fans this season. Right now, none of those three deals appear to be a good value for Florida, but the front office and coaching staff has remained steadfast in their support of Ekblad and Matheson, despite stretches of wretched play.

In summation, the Panthers could effectively afford both Bobrovsky and Panarin on large deals, but there would still be holes to fill and Florida would need to find a way to alleviate the roster of one or both of Reimer and Luongo’s contracts, which combine for a near $8 million cap hit. However, with the Panthers the cap is less important than the actual salary being paid.

What pieces would you be willing to give up in a trade this month? Would any of Huberdeau, Trocheck, or Borgstrom be on the table?

As mentioned previously, Trocheck and Huberdeau are on team-friendly contracts which inflate their value in relation to the numbers they are putting up. I can’t imagine Tallon risking either one of those values to acquire a rental player in the hopes they sign a long-term contract; even ones as accomplished as Panarin and Bobrovsky.

Since the Panthers appear to be compiling another season without a playoff appearance, Tallon doesn’t need to have a sense of urgency in acquiring a player with an expiring contract. If the asking price is too high, Dale can simply wait until the start of free agency and roll the dice. If there is one constant to Dale Tallon over his tenure in Sunrise, it is that he is constantly trying to stockpile assets. I don’t see him giving up any major pieces in a trade for Bobrovsky or Panarin.

I’d say that the trading of Bjugstad and McCann effectively takes Henrik Borgstrom off the table. The Panthers wouldn’t bend to trading Borgstrom last year at the deadline and Tallon simply loves his skill-oozing centers. He envisions the Panthers with Barkov, Trocheck and Borgstrom down the middle for the next half decade.

Who is on the table? Aside from the obvious names like Brassard and Sheahan, I think that Florida could deal one of the next tier of young prospects under Borgstrom. Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi are all quality prospects. All three had excellent WJC showings and subsequently each of their stock seems to have risen. If I were to guess, I’d say that Tippett and Heponiemi are more available than Denisenko. Tallon has gushed about Denisenko since drafting him last summer and even has mentioned him by name as a possible candidate to be in the NHL as early as next season.

If a deal were to be struck for Panarin, I think a dark horse trade chip could be Mike Hoffman. While adding a much needed shoot-first option to the Panthers top nine this season, Hoffman is an unrestricted free agent after next season and has a $5.1875 million cap hit that could help offset money that could be earmarked for a Panarin or Bobrovsky acquisition. Hoffman does have a modified no-trade clause that lists 10 teams to which he cannot be traded.

If you sign Bobrovsky long term, is there any concern about his history of playoff struggles?

Absolutely, there would be concern. Panthers fans have watched Luongo mostly age gracefully up until the last two seasons, but there is certainly hesitation amongst the fan base about handing out another long-term or max-term contract. If Bobrovsky gets eight years, then the first half seems manageable, but the second four years seems overly risky.

Right now, the money the team has committed to Ekblad, Matheson and Yandle is unbalanced considering the return is a defense withthe third-worst goals allowed average in the NHL. We are under no illusion that the blame falls solely on the pads of James Reimer and Roberto Luongo. Those three are supposed to be the anchors of the blueline.

As for the playoff struggles… it’d be nice to have that problem. I think right now, Panthers fans just want to see a team that can consistently reach the playoffs and we know that isn’t going to happen with the current goaltending tandem.

If you add both Russians, do you think you can compete with Tampa and Toronto for the division title?

Here is the main issue for Panthers fans. The offense is in good shape. In fact, with the return of Vincent Trocheck, the Panthers have one of the most balanced goal-scoring teams in franchise history with a lethal powerplay unit. Is Panarin necessary? Is Bobrovsky the answer in net?

The acquisition of both players would absolutely make Florida a better team. Panarin is a world class forward and the thought of Panarin, Barkov and Dadonov on the ice as a line is thrilling, but Florida has a desperate need to toughen up and strengthen the blueline. There is a serious concern that if the Panthers commit to both Panarin and Bobrovsky, that there will not be enough left over to address the porous defense that has plagued Bob Boughner’s second season as head coach.

I don’t think that Panarin and Bobrovsky alone would elevate the Panthers above the Lightning or Maple Leafs. There are still other holes that would need to be filled, but depending on what Tallon does or does not do at the deadline, there may be enough assets in the system to shift the current roster to a state where it at least challenges those two clubs. If the Panthers do get one or both of Panarin and Bobrovsky, that would send a clear message to the fans that the organization isn’t waiting any longer for this group to grow together. That the time is now. That might be a critical message for the Cats to send to a fan base that has experienced nearly 25 years of frustration, futility and a seemingly endless string of excuses.

Thanks again to Zim! for his time and his valuable insight.

It sounds like Florida would not be willing to spend the assets it would take to make a deal worth it to Columbus. This was further confirmed by this reporting today from Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic:

When it comes to Bobrovsky, it’s an intriguing situation because the veteran netminder actually might be willing to sign an extension through the trade process before Feb. 25.

A source did confirm that over the past week the Panthers inquired with the Blue Jackets on Bobrovsky but the current price is too high to justify for a player that Florida could sign as a UFA without surrendering any assets.

One source on Tuesday described the chances of Florida trading for him before the deadline as “slim.’’

Having said that, I wouldn’t totally close the door on that scenario. It may very well be that closer to Feb. 25 the price drops and the door opens up a crack. The appeal for Bobrovsky, of course, is that he could get the maximum eight years in an extension before Feb. 25.

What do you think? Will either of these players sign in Florida this summer? Do you think a trade with the Panthers is still a possibility?

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