Author Archives: sam schetrittt

Spencer Knight contract extension and what it means for Florida

Florida Panthers goalie Spencer Knight signed a three-year contract extension with the team
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Florida Panthers signed goaltender Spencer Knight to a three-year contract extension with an AAV of 4.5 million dollars. Knight, now on the last year of his entry deal, is locked up through the 2025-26 NHL season. The timing of this news surprised many fans. Common practice would suggest that the team would wait until the offseason to get this deal done.

While certainly unexpected, the Spencer Knight contract extension clarifies Florida’s future plans at the position, and is a worthy gamble to take on before the season starts.

The Player

Spencer Knight, at just 21 years old, has exceeded even the most lofty expectations placed upon him. He finished his first full season in the NHL with a 19-9-3 record and .908 save percentage over 32 games.

Those numbers may not suggest that Knight is anything more than a backup goalie right now. What separates him, however, is his exponential improvement over the year. After returning from an AHL stint in February, Knight finished the season very strong. Via statmuse, his last 14 games resulted in a record of 10-3-1 with a .921 save percentage.

That stretch alone showed what Knight could be in a few short years. It’s also likely what enticed the Panthers to get a contract done sooner rather than later. Waiting until the offseason could have shot his price up significantly. If Knight plays as well this year as he did down the stretch last year, he would likely command far more than his current deal.

The Contract

At 4.5 million dollars, this is a very clear bridge deal for Knight. It is far too expensive to pay for a traditional backup, but significantly less than most starters are paid.

This deal resembles a contract signed by Jake Oettinger earlier this offseason. Oettinger, the 23 year old star goalie prospect for Dallas, signed a three-year contract with a 4 million dollar AAV.

That deal gave the framework for the Spencer Knight contract extension, but it is worth noting the higher value for Knight’s deal. Oettinger has done more at this point in his career to earn a higher contract. The figure Knight received is a bet on the future.

Since this contract starts next year, his potential jump this year factors into the price point. In addition, his pedigree as the former thirteenth overall pick and a college superstar also plays a part.

Still, if there are any concerns about his NHL play, look no further than the exponential growth he displayed in just his first season mentioned above. This may seem like a bit of an overpay as of now, but taking chances on internal improvement is how good teams become great.

The future Implications

One under-the-radar part of the Spencer Knight contract extension is the length. As mentioned earlier, his new contract ends in 2026. Florida’s other goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, also has a contract ending in 2026.

Bobrovsky’s much maligned contract has been a point of contention within the organization. He has not lived up to his ten million dollar cap hit, and his full no movement clause has made it impossible to find a suitor for him. In all likelihood, they will need to work around it until then.

Knight’s extension may be a worthy solution to the problem. In the short term, he can take over for Bob at any time as Bob’s age begins to catch up with him. In the long term, The Panthers will have the cap space give Knight a raise when this contract expires.

Of course, this plan means the Panthers may end up with the league’s most expensive backup in a couple years. This will probably hurt their depth at other positions, but the Panthers can’t do anything about that without an obvious trade partner. The team has to chalk it up to the sins of Dale Tallon and deal with the resulting consequences.

Spencer Knight represents another key piece of the Panthers’ bright future. This contract extension shows continued dedication to internal improvement and perennial contention. Paying goaltenders always comes with some risk (see Sergei Bobrovsky) but Zito and company have done a good job making smart, sensible decisions when it comes to player personnel, something most Panther fans will agree is an entirely welcome breath of fresh air.

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Matthew Tkachuk Trade: The Pros and Cons for the Panthers

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

There’s blockbuster trades, and then there’s the Matthew Tkachuk trade.

In what may be the gutsiest move in the last decade, the Florida Panthers acquired 24-year-old star Matthew Tkachuk. What they gave up certainly fit a player of Tkachuk’s caliber: Johnathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 first round pick.

Immediately, this trade becomes one of the biggest in NHL history. Per ESPN stats and info, it is only the second time in NHL history that two 100-point scorers the season prior were traded for each other. The other time? When the Oilers trade some guy named Wayne Gretzky to LA in exchange for Jimmy Carson, among others.

Obviously, a trade of this caliber is never a no-brainer for either GM. There were pros and cons and arguments to be made for why both sides won this deal. Here are some of the pros and cons for the Panthers on their side of the Matthew Tkachuk trade.

Pro: Matthew Tkachuk is Really, Really Good

This may seem incredibly simple, but its worth reiterating: the Panthers got the best player in this deal. It may not seem obvious at first glance considering Huberdeau’s 115-point (wow!) season last year, but Tkachuk is more well-rounded than Huberdeau.

Last season, Tkachuk tallied 104 points (42G, 62A) in 82 games. Fewer points than Huberdeau, but he has a much better knack for scoring goals. His career shooting percentage (13.5%) is significantly higher than Huby’s (12.6%) and he’s a much more willing shooter as well. Tkachuk finish last year with 253 shots compared to Huberdeau’s 222.

With context, these stats point to the fact that Tkachuk is a more self-sustaining player. While Huberdeau enhances the surrounding talent with his incredible play-making, Tkachuk creates the offense for himself. Tkachuk’s ability to drive play himself is inherently more valuable than Huberdeau’s skill set, even if Huby has the higher point total. Tkachuk also has the better defensive game, which always contributes to winning.

Con: The Defense Took a Huge Step Back

With Mackenzie Weegar now off to Calgary, the Panthers already thin defensive corps just got thinner. Aaron Ekblad is now the only true top pair defenseman on the roster. Guys better suited for top four roles, such as Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour, will have to play above their heads, and aging veterans like Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto will play more than expected.

We saw how the Panthers struggled last year when Ekblad went down with an injury. Players played bigger roles they weren’t suited for, and the team allowed an unseemly amount of goals. This may be the reality for this upcoming season, and the team may rely on simply outscoring their opponents yet again.

Pro: The Matthew Tkachuk Trade Clears Up the Cap Situation

Immediately after Florida acquired Tkachuk, he signed an 8-year, 76 million dollar deal (9.5M AAV) with the team. That locks up the dynamic duo of Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov for the next eight years. With Huberdeau and Weegar now gone, it also removes the threat of their expiring contracts.

Both Weegar and Huberdeau are set to be UFAs at the end of the season, and the team would likely not have had the money to re-sign both of them. This means they would have likely lost at least one of them for nothing.

In addition, the Panthers will have almost 16 million dollars of cap space to use next off-season, with only smaller contracts needing new deals internally. They could use this cap space to shore up their defense, or provide cap relief to another team experiencing a cap crunch. Regardless, the Panthers managed to avoid an upcoming cap nightmare with this move.

Con: It Uprooted a Really Good Thing

As I’ve stated before when the Panthers hired Paul Maurice, this team did not need to make any major changes. Yes, the playoff loss was incredibly disappointing, but they also had a historically good regular season. All of a sudden, this team looks drastically different from last year’s, which nobody would have predicted (nor wanted) when the season ended.

None of that is to say the Panthers will be a bad team next season. In fact, they will likely still be very good. However, in a league where success is remarkably elusive, why take such a huge risk?

It was inevitable that some players would leave for bigger roles and bigger checks, but to send out a franchise cornerstone changes the entire dynamic of the team. The team will have to answer far more questions this upcoming season than any Presidents Trophy winner in recent memory.

Pro: The fit is seamless

One overlooked facet of this trade is how much younger it made the core of the Panthers roster. At only 24 years old, Tkachuk still has lots of room to grow with this group. Sergei Bobrovsky is the only significant roster player over 26 years old. The timelines of all the major players now line up in the same way most Stanley Cup contenders do.

On the ice, Tkachuk brings a front-of-the-net presence the Panthers were missing. His physicality and strength near the crease will complement the more shot-happy players on the roster such as Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe. His willingness to shoot will bolster any line with the unselfish players like Sam Reinhart or Barkov

As to who won the trade, only time will tell. Everyone will have their opinions and discussions will be had for years afterwards. Until the season starts in October, all this will be is speculation. Either way this ends up going, however, it will be incredible to watch unfold.

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Paul Maurice Hired as Florida Panthers Head Coach

Winnipeg Jets' head coach Paul Maurice discusses Patrik Laine's concussion during a short press conference after the pre-game skate.

After weeks of searching, the Florida Panthers have landed on a coaching decision. In a somewhat surprising move, the team chose Paul Maurice to be the Florida Panthers head coach. Maurice replaces interim coach Andrew Brunette, who lead the team to a 51-18-6 record since taking over last season.

This move comes as quite a shock to the Panthers faithful, as Maurice was not a name floated around during the hiring process. Still, the organization views Maurice as someone who can take the team forward. Here is what he brings to the organization.

Paul Maurice’s coaching history

Paul Maurice has been a head coach in the NHL for 24 years. His most successful season came in 2002 where he took the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final. Most recently, Maurice spent the past nine seasons as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. In those nine seasons, Maurice made the playoffs five times. His most successful season with the Jets came in 2018, where he made the conference finals.

Since the NHL has changed drastically in the last five years, it really only makes sense to analyze his last stint in Winnipeg to see what he will offer as the Florida Panthers head coach.

Since the 2017-18 season, the Jets averaged 3.18 goals per game. That places them eighth in the league over that stretch. The team also gave up 2.79 goals per game under Maurice, a figure that places them 10th.

In that same time frame, the power play hovered around 23%, which places them fourth league wide. The Penalty kill had a success rate of around 80%, which is below league average.

The Macro numbers suggest a consistently good offensive team with defensive questions. This is exactly what those Jets teams were. Maurice does deserve credit for implementing a system which allowed his offensive talent to thrive. However, the same defensive lapses plagued his teams year after year with little adjustments from him. The Jets became predictable and it ultimately led to his ousting there.

Maurice’s fit with the Panthers

The Panthers wanted experience with their new coaching hire, and Maurice has plenty of experience. This Panthers team can also be thought of as an upgraded version of Maurice’s Jets. Both are gifted offensively and lack the lockdown defensive ability of many of the perennial cup contenders. In this sense, the learning curve shouldn’t be too steep for Maurice as he adjusts to his personnel.

Still, Maurice will need to change some things if he wants to be successful as the Florida Panthers head coach. For instance, the Penalty kill needs to be sharper. Too often in Winnipeg were the Jets caught flat footed leading to good scoring chances for their opponents.

The Panthers had similar problems last year. The virtue of a veteran coach is the ability to make adjustments quickly and seamlessly. Hopefully Maurice can provide this, but it was not apparent through many of his seasons with the Jets.

Another, and perhaps larger, problem is his handling of personnel. Specifically, his reputation as an authoritarian. Players such as Patrik Laine have been at odds with Maurice in the past, and it led to Laine demanding a trade. Much like former panther coach Gerard Gallant, Maurice tends to favor grizzled veterans over promising youngsters, which stunted the growth of many players in Winnipeg. Could the same happen to players like Anton Lundell and Spencer Knight in Florida? Only time will tell, but that could be disastrous for the franchise.

My Take

Ultimately, I do not think this was the right hire for the Panthers. Part of what made the team special last year was how much the players loved playing for Andrew Brunette. Every single one raved after the season about how much they loved him as a coach and how much they wanted him back behind the bench.

Of course, the flameout in the playoffs left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It certainly led to management’s decision to change coaches. Still, to abandon what the team had been building together after just one playoff failure is not the mark of a good organization.

Think about the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019. After a 62 win regular season, they suffered an embarrassing first round sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite this, the team made no drastic moves in the offseason. Jon Cooper returned as the coach and the core remained the same. They grew together and won the next two Stanley Cups.

Why the Panthers did not try to emulate the Lightning in this sense is beyond me. Great teams become great through continuity. Coaches, like players, are capable of growth. Bruno looked outmatched in these playoffs, no doubt, but not having the patience to stick with him and let him make mistakes portrays a palpable lack of trust that the players are certainly affected by.

Keep in mind this is not an indictment of Paul Maurice as a coach. He has a proven track record of success in numerous circumstances and his experience has value. But the damage done by uprooting the leader of this team outweighs the potential schematic improvement that Maurice can provide.

Andrew Brunette should have been the coach again. The team was absolutely dominant during the regular season due in large part to the work of Brunette. The Panthers did not need a change of direction, they just needed more time to learn. I do hope I am wrong, but I think this was the wrong decision.

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Battle of Florida Round 2: Series Preview

battle of florida
Credit: Getty Images

For the first time in 26 years, the Panthers are on to the second round. After a hard fought series with the Washington Capitals, the road only gets tougher for the Cats. The good news is that they finally got over the mental hurdle of winning a playoff series. Now, they must get over another mental hurdle: the battle of Florida.

Indeed, it is that the defending champs are waiting on the other side.

The battle of Florida, Panthers vs Lightning round two, commences this week. Both teams have a tremendous amount to prove in what will almost certainly be the premier matchup of the second round. Here’s how the teams match up.

Forward Battle

If there’s anyone out there who is unfamiliar with the embarrassment of riches the Lightning possess at forward, know this: they’re really good. Steven Stamkos is in the midst of a resurgent season in which he’s tallied a career high in points. 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov has struggled with injuries this season, but had an impressive first round of the playoffs. Scoring wingers Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, and Alex Killorn round out an experienced and talented top six.

That list even excludes Brayden Point, who may be the player the Panthers struggle to contain the most. The speedy 26 year old will likely be sidelined for the first few games with a lower body injury.

As scary as that group looks on paper, the Panthers still likely have the edge in the forward department. Many of Tampa’s forwards are on the wrong side of 30 and starting to decline. They also lost much of their bottom six depth last offseason. While they did a decent job replacing much of it, this is a watered down version of the team they lost to last year.

The biggest hurdle for the Panthers will be limiting the Tampa power play. In last year’s battle of Florida, the Lightning went 8/20 (40%) on the power play. That was the Panthers’ Achilles heel in that series. Tampa’s chemistry on the man advantage kept Florida on their toes throughout.

To mitigate their scoring chances on the power play, the focus for the Panthers should be clogging up the middle of the ice. It is vital they don’t overreact to a Stamkos or Kucherov slap shot from the outside, as that will open up passes to the slot area. As long as they stay disciplined on the penalty kill, the Panthers have the edge in the forward department.

Defense Corps

Without a doubt, the Lightning have the best defenseman in this series, and possibly the league, Victor Hedman. The 2018 Norris Trophy winner amassed 85 points (20 G 65 A) this past season, the highest of his career, while also playing shutdown defense. The Panthers will notice his presence on the ice and will need to constantly account for it.

Their number two and three defensemen, Ryan Mcdonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, do have holes. They’re incredibly talented and reliable players in their own right, but they are slow-footed. It does open some opportunities for the Panthers to get their speedy players some scoring chances against the two of them.

Their other three defensemen are solid, but nothing special. Jan Rutta, Cal Foote, and Zach Bogosian have all had their moments, but it would be unreasonable to expect for them to slow down the elite offense Florida boasts. They also do not offer enough offensively to counter their defensive limitations. It is certainly a step down from the defensive depth they saw against Washington, and it would behoove Florida to take advantage of that.

Goaltending For The Battle of Florida

The battle in net may be the most obvious advantage Tampa has in this series. Sergei Bobrovsky has been excellent for the Panthers thus far, but Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the league’s best goaltender for the past four years. He looked mortal in their first round series against Toronto, but shut the door in their closeout game seven.

On the series, Vasilevskiy said “many goals were scored because I couldn’t see anything. I’m pretty sure that was the game plan for them, to get in front.”

Screens are a goalie’s worst nightmare, regardless of their skill level. That needs to be an adjustment the Panthers make in this series. The Panthers love passing to get clean looks at the net, but Vasy is too big and too mobile for that to be a viable primary scoring option. The goals in this series need to be dirty and gritty in front of the net goals. Easier said than done of course, but the Panthers are no strangers to finding different ways to score.

Final Prediction

This will likely be the best series of the second round, and I fully expect it to go the distance. Whoever comes out of this series will likely be the favorite to make it to the cup final. The Panthers improved greatly after last year’s defeat, and are ready to win at all costs. Tampa knows how to handle any situation they find themselves in, but they will feel the absences from players who moved on in the offseason. In this year’s battle of Florida, it will be the Florida Panthers in seven games.

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What’s Wrong with the Panthers’ Special Teams?

Panthers' special teams have struggled to perform in this series
Photo Credit: @CapitalsPR

The Florida Panthers are in a dogfight of a first round. Currently up 3-2 in the series, the games have been far more competitive than many expected. The strange thing, however, is that the Panthers are dominating Washington at even strength. So far in the series, the Panthers are outscoring the Capitals 15-8 at even strength. The only thing keeping the series close thus far has been the struggles of the Panthers’ special teams.

Through the first five games of the series, the Panthers are 0-16 (not a typo) on the power play. Yes, the league’s number five power play on the year has yet to score a goal on SIXTEEN tries. Doing some quick math, that equates to a conversion rate of roughly 0 percent.

By contrast, the Washington Capitals have scored on six of their 20 chances for a success rate of 30 percent. That number is significantly higher than their regular season average of 18.8 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the Panthers performance on special teams has made winning these games significantly harder. The Panthers need to flip their special teams play around if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs. Let’s look at the play of the Panthers special teams and see what is causing this drop in performance, and how it can be fixed.

Power Play Woes

As a hockey fan, I think a disproportionate amount of hockey discourse centers around teams or players being cursed. It acts as a scapegoat for inexplicable playoff performances or uncanny strings of bad luck. Most of the time, it’s just popular pundits ignoring the obvious, or fans living in denial as to why their team lost.

With that being said, I don’t think I’ve seen evidence of a curse as compelling as this one.

I’m only half joking, of course, but this is getting absurd. The Panthers power play struggled early on in the year, but finished as the fifth best in the league. The team was so red hot towards the end of the year they sustained a league best power play percentage of 30.9 percent since February.

Then suddenly, it all vanished.

There are a few moving parts that could explain this. The biggest adjustment for the team has been trying to reincorporate Aaron Ekblad back on the first power play unit. The team found a groove with the five forward power play, and it looks to be a struggle trying to reinstall Ekblad as the quarterback.

Whether it has more to do with Ekblad shaking off some rust coming off the injury or the lack of chemistry with a group that has never played together before, there is simply not enough time to figure it out now. When deployed, the five forward power play has generated the most pressure for the Panthers this postseason. The plan should be to stick with that for now and figure out the Ekblad piece over the summer.

Besides that, better results will just come down to getting some more puck luck and playing with less fear. The Panthers are clearly the more talented team. Because of that, high-event hockey plays to their advantage. Even if they give up more shorthanded chances, the talent on the roster affords them that luxury. If they play more aggressively and with more movement, more goals will follow.

Penalty kill struggles

To their credit, the Panthers have done an excellent job limiting Alexander Ovechkin’s impact on the power play. They have over-committed to his one timer and forced him to pass out of his usual spots. He has only scored one power play goal all series, and it came on a broken play.

Obviously, over-committing to one player opens up plenty of other options for the opponent, and the Capitals are taking advantage of that. The main benefactor of this strategy has been T.J. Oshie. Oshie has scored four power play goals this series. The connection between Oshie and quarterback John Carlson has been superb. Oshie tipping and redirecting Carlson’s soft shots has made the Panthers penalty kill look silly all series.

As seen below, the Panthers pressure Ovechkin out of the zone, but some quick puck movement leads to a Capitals goal.

Fixing this one will be tricky. Washington is fortunate enough to have the greatest shooter of our lifetime on their team and three guys (Carlson, Backstrom, Kuznetsov) who excel at getting him the puck. Over-committing to him is the right call, but the defense relaxes too much when the puck isn’t in the vicinity of the Great 8.

Washington does have a fatal flaw, however, and that is predictability. Their M.O. has John Carlson setting the table for everything and everybody else at the top of the zone. Florida can counter this by putting pressure on the slow-footed Carlson and make him move the puck before he is ready.

Look how much space the Panthers give Carlson to take the shot in the clip below. The Capitals want to feed him at the point, and the Panthers let it happen, which leads to a goal.

It may seem counter-intuitive to play aggressively that high in the zone when shorthanded, but Carlson has destroyed the conservative approach. Carlson may still be an excellent power play QB, but he is not the player he used to be physically. The Panthers have excellent speed and need to use that to their advantage here. The key is to be proactive rather than reactive. The Capitals are too experienced for the Panthers to be playing catch up.

Overall, the Panthers have shown some good and some bad in this first round match-up. They’ve been the better team 5v5, but they’ve also made this series much harder than it needed to be. Hopefully it will serve as a learning experience for them and they can make the adjustments to win this round — and more rounds going forward. Only time will tell.

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