What the current Canucks can learn from the Florida Panthers’ rollercoaster half-decade
Photo credit:© Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks and the Florida Panthers teams playing today have a lot more in common than they seem at first glance. Both have undershot the big expectations they had entering the season, and have taken plenty of risks to fast-track their respective franchise re-tools.
But one of them has had a lot more success than the other on that front.
The Panthers spent years wandering the desert after their Cinderella Stanley Cup run in 1996, and after making the playoffs just twice in 18 years, the team was in desperate need of a way to get fans in the seats. That’s why in 2019, ownership committed to spending closer to the cap to build around a strong core made up of top draft picks Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad and draw more attention in the market. After replacing long-time general manager Dale Tallon with Bill Zito, the Panthers began assembling a strong supporting cast by taking flyers on cheap depth including Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair, and Ryan Lomberg.
Meanwhile, the Canucks have been trying to surround Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko with their own supporting cast. But the previous front office went about it in a different way, signing brand-name depth players to expensive contracts, leaving them no cap room to make fundamental midseason changes and plug holes in the lineup.
Under Zito, Florida has made bold trades to pick up undervalued players like Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart at the cost of long-time Panthers, but without risking too many draft picks or blue chip prospects in the long term. As the team got better, they had the AHL depth to replenish at the bottom, and it all culminated in a big 2021-22 campaign.
Last season, the Panthers came out of nowhere to win the President’s Trophy with 58 wins, thanks to a well-balanced team that utilized speed and prowess on the man advantage to take over games. The Cats ended up winning their first playoff series in over a quarter-century against the Capitals before the defending champion Lightning demolished them in a second-round sweep.
And after such an embarrassing loss to their cross-state rivals, changes were inevitable. But Florida seemed to completely change their team philosophy overnight.
Interim head coach Andrew Brunette was replaced by the more defensively-minded Paul Maurice in June, after finishing second in voting for the Jack Adams Award. Then Zito pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal that brought Matthew Tkachuk to South Florida in exchange for core pieces Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
So far, the results have been a disaster.
Halfway through the season, the Panthers have posted a 19-20-4 record, already having lost two more games in regulation than they did all of last season. Beyond Tkachuk’s 52 points, the rest of the Panthers’ lineup has struggled to find the same offensive spark that carried them last year, and the defence has fallen off considerably after the loss of Weegar.
To make matters worse, Florida’s front office had put all their eggs into one playoff basket. The 2023 first-rounder they traded to Montreal for one spring of Ben Chiarot is likely en route to becoming a lottery pick. They’re also on the hook for at least two of their next three first rounders thanks to the Claude Giroux and Tkachuk trades.
The Panthers are going to have their work cut out for them to try and return to the playoff picture this season, and if they don’t the results could be really catastrophic long term. The Canucks have taken a lot of similar risks in recent years, such as the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade and the J.T. Miller contract extension, but without the guarantee of even a single playoff round attached to it.
There’s a lot that Canucks management can learn from watching the Panthers team on the ice today. If you don’t get too attached to the players on your own roster or get sucked in to the draw of a name-brand player in free agency, it’ll leave you more cap space to gauge how strong your team is in the future. It’s also extremely crucial to not take shortcuts or overreact to a small sample size of results.
If the Canucks can put those lessons to use, maybe they’ll find themselves back in the President’s Trophy conversation someday. And as evidenced by the first and second overall picks starring for the Panthers, finding your way to the top of the draft board doesn’t hurt either.
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