With Claude Giroux acquired by the Florida Panthers, the team has to figure out how best to fit him into the lineup.
Claude Giroux is headed to South Florida. The Florida Panthers acquired the 34 year old centreman from Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Owen Tippett, a first round pick in 2024, and a third round pick in 2023. Florida also received a 2024 fifth round pick, Connor Bunnaman, and German Rubtsov in the deal.
In 57 games this year, Giroux has tallied 18 goals and 24 assists. The Claude Giroux trade opens up a world of possibilities for the Cats. The versatile forward can slide in almost anywhere in the top 6. Since Sam Reinhart has found a home on that third line, Giroux’s top 6 spot is secure. With that being said, however, head coach Andrew Brunette has options. Here are a few of the line combinations to look out for in the coming weeks.
First Line Right Wing
This choice appears to be the most obvious. Andrew Brunette’s words after Monday’s practice seem to indicate this will be the option he chooses to start with. In this scenario, Giroux replaces Maxim Mamin on the first line, and Carter Verhaeghe moves over to the left wing. This creates a top line of Verhaeghe-Barkov-Giroux while keeping the Huberdeau-Bennett-Duclair line intact.
The benefits to this are obvious. It adds a new dimension to that first line and gives Aleksander Barkov another scoring threat to set up. It also keeps the rest of the forward group together, which has found so much success thus far. It may not cover up many team weaknesses, but it enhances a formula which has worked wonderfully this season. An extremely low risk move.
Second Line Center
One underappreciated benefit of the Claude Giroux trade for the Panthers is the added center depth. Claude Giroux has been an extremely effective two-way center for over a decade in the NHL. This scenario allows the Panthers to use his rare talents to their advantage.
Here, Giroux will take over as the second line center and push Sam Bennett out to the right wing. Anthony Duclair will slide up to the first line, a combination which worked well last season. Thus, the top six will consist of a Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair first line and a Huberdeau-Giroux-Bennett second line.
This option may be slightly more risky, but it also potentially solves more problems. Claude Giroux’s responsible defensive game can cover for Sam Bennett’s lapses on that side of the ice. It also keeps Johnathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett together, as the two have found great chemistry over the past year.
The Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair line has proven to be extremely effective in the past, and should have no problem reclaiming that magic. Of course, this option may put too much pressure on Giroux out of the gate, and it is unclear if Bennett will be as effective on the wing, but it may be worth trying if the offense hits a skid.
The Scorched Earth Option
The Panthers have the firepower, and its time to show it.
This season Andrew Brunette has not been afraid to pair Barkov and Huberdeau together on the top line when things go stagnant. This scenario takes that concept to the extreme. Claude Giroux takes the right wing, Barkov takes center, and Huberdeau gets deployed on the left wing. That leaves Verhaeghe-Bennett-Duclair is as the second line here.
That combination creates quite possibly the best line in hockey today. Opposing teams would have nightmares trying to stop that line offensively, or finding a weakness defensively. No team would have any answers — if it works as well as advertised.
Of course, this does not distribute the talent equally throughout the lineup, so I would not expect for it to be the standard line. In certain situations, however, this option could give the offense a jolt and leaves opponents’ heads spinning. I would expect to see this line at least a few times this season.
The Panthers are all in on this season without a doubt. Winning the cup will take versatility and resilience. The Claude Giroux trade gives them much more of both. The line options at Andre Brunette’s disposal gives him few excuses to not put a championship-caliber team on the ice. The Panthers are a juggernaut, and hopefully the rest of their season reflects that.
The Panthers were fully healthy for the first time in over a month. Their full potential showed tonight.
When the NHL season paused over a week ago, few teams needed that break more than the Panthers. Between injuries and a COVID breakout, the team played a lineup consisting mostly of AHL regulars. The subsequent three game skid had some fans begging for a pause or postponement of games.
The fans got their wish, and after almost two weeks off, the Panthers resumed their season Wednesday against the Rangers. The Panthers vs Rangers game gave Cats fans a reminder of what they were missing, and how much fun this season has been.
Panthers vs Rangers game recap
Even with their full team playing for the first time in almost a month, the Panthers faced as difficult of a challenge as their is in this league. The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league all season, and their speed presented problems for the Cats in their last meeting on November 8.
The first period looked like more of the same. Artemi Panarin beat Bobrovsky five-hole after a beautiful deke on Aaron Ekblad. Whether it was strong defense or rust, the Panthers struggled to generate chances early on, and the first period ended with the Panthers trailing 1-0.
In the second period, Anton Lundell tied the game after Ryan Lomberg used his speed to create a chance. The Rangers responded shortly after with Panarin making a great defensive play to set up Mika Zibanejad for the goal. The Panthers finished that period with only seven shots on goal. A concerningly low total for a team trailing, and going into the third, it seemed like the Ranger Defense had their number.
In the third period, the Panthers began to play their brand of hockey. Three unanswered goals and overall dominance sealed it for the Cats. Weegar’s first goal of the season tied it up. Verhaghe’s snipe took the lead. Duclair’s great defense resulted in a much needed insurance marker.
That period showed what the team is capable of even against the best teams in the league. When the playoffs begin, the team will need to play that way for the full 60 minutes. For now, the team should enjoy being healthy and showing out against a great Rangers team
Panthers vs Rangers Takeaways
While this game was far from perfect for the Cats, this game showed that this team has the talent to beat anyone. If the team can maintain health, they can overcome most of their shortcomings through offensive firepower.
Special teams remains an issue for the Cats. The power play failed to generate much of anything in their two tries, while the Rangers generated lots of great looks. I still maintain hope that they can figure it out, but the later in the season it gets the more concerning it is.
Two preseason regulars were healthy scratches today: Frank Vatrano and Owen Tippett. Both have talent beyond a doubt, but have not delivered this year. Based on today, the team looks better with them on the outs. Look for them to be trade bait at the deadline.
Bobrovsky let in a soft one early on, but looked sharp the rest of the game, making key saves in the third period. That rough patch he had may have just been fatigue. His minutes should be managed until the playoffs begin.
The Panthers play against their rivals from the north on Thursday, as the Lightning come to town. That game will be must see TV and a great test for the Cats as the season ramps up again.
The Panthers played their in state rival on Tuesday, with plenty of takeaways to discuss.
The Panthers continue to impress, this time vs in-state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the most recent hockey battle of Florida, the Panthers pulled off one of their most decisive wins against the defending Stanley Cup champs. They improve to 3-0-0 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1.
Although Tampa was without Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning played a strong team game in both the offensive and defensive zones. They gave the Panthers all they could handle, but the Panthers still prevailed.
While it is only game three of the season, this game could mark a passing of the torch for the best team in Florida. The Lightning have dominated that matchup for the better part of last decade. If this most recent game is any indication, however, the next decade could be very different.
Panthers vs Lightning Game Recap
In the first period, both teams failed to put a puck in the back of the net. Through a combination of good defense and stellar goaltending, the teams went into the first intermission tied at 0.
In the second period, Brandon Montour broke the ice. As a Panthers power play winded down, Anton Lundell won a faceoff. He threw the puck back to Sam Reinhart who tossed it cross ice to Brandon Montour. Montour, wide open on the right side of the ice, capitalized with a beautiful wrister to beat Andrei Vasilevsky glove side. It was the first goal of the season for Montour and the first points for Lundell and Reinhart.
Early in the third period, Brayden Point evened the game for the Lightning. Not even one minute later, the Captain answered. Barkov and his line generated a lot of activity in front of the net, and Barkov tipped it in.
Later in the third, the kid had his moment. A beautiful transition two man game was only outshined by Lundell’s beautiful snipe. His first career goal game on a pass from newcomer Sam Reinhart, and put the Panthers up by two.
Anthony Duclair put in an empty net a few minutes after, extending his goal streak and icing the game for the Panthers vs the Lightning.
While Penalties are still a problem, Penalty killing is not. The Panthers took 6 penalties and killed off every single one, including an extended 5 on 3. Anton Lundell specifically has shined on the penalty kill.
The power play still needs work. The Cats failed to score on the man advantage yet again. To remedy this, Coach Q swapped Reinhart for Hornqvist on the top line. This changed seemed to help a bit, but has not bore fruit yet.
Goalie Spencer Knight continues to live up to the hype. He made 30 saves on 31 shots. That type of performance against this caliber of team at 20 years old is borderline unheard of.
Rookie Anton Lundell had his best game of his career thus far. Besides the goal and assist. He led the team with over 4 minutes of penalty kill time. He is starting to look like a future all star.
Sam Reinhart seems to have good chemistry with Lundell on that third line. Undoubtedly a fair bit of talent to keep on a third line, but if it aint broke…
After a shaky first two games, Radko Gudas had some shutdown penalty kill minutes. They will need more of that from him going forward.
The preseason is over, the final cuts have been made, and the regular season awaits us. The Florida Panthers finally kick off their most anticipated season in franchise history. Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the FLA Live Arena.
On paper, this is the deepest Panthers team I’ve ever seen. Guys who were regulars in the lineup last season will see their ice time reduced. Via off-season acquisitions and the rise of several of the Young Cats.
Patric Hornqvist, started last season on the second line and was a lock for PP1 minutes. He is now looking at a bottom six role and a role on the PP2 unit. Anthony Duclair floated between the top two lines last season, earned a contract extension in the offseason. He is projected to be a third line winger just because that’s how good this team is.
So much credit has to be given to the front office for getting the team to this point. Bill Zito and Co turned this team around from pretenders to contenders in a little over a calendar year.
But at the end of the day, roster moves do not determine who wins the Stanley Cup. The games have to be played. I know the boys are up for the challenge, and while minor I think the team’s new social media hashtag describes the energy in the locker room, it’s #TimeToHunt
This is a team that’s hungry. A team that knew they were good enough to win last year. They were just a bit unlucky with injuries and having to face the Lightning in the first round. This isn’t a group of individuals who are going to make excuses though.
It’s a team who would rather go out on the ice and show just how good they are. It’s a team filled with highly motivated players who all want to win and win together HERE. Aleksander Barkov’s comments at his extension press conference highlight this belief.
Opening Night Roster
As I mentioned before, this is the deepest Florida Panthers team we’ve ever had. The team has changed a bit since we recorded our season preview episode a few weeks ago though.
Noel Acciari received shoulder surgery and is expected to be out for a few months, while 7th Defenseman Kevin Connauton is currently on the IR with the expectation that he joins the team sooner rather than later.
On top of that, the team made a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for Olli Juolevi. Juolevi was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and has had an underwhelming start to his NHL career. The Panthers acquired him for Juho Lammiko and Noah Juulsen and the team hopes a change of scenery can help revive his career. We saw this work out for the Panthers last season with the acquisition of Sam Bennett, and it will be interesting to see how Juolevi plays with an opportunity to impress Joel Quenneville early.
The initial list is not surprising at all. Prospects Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi were cut early in camp, showing that they still have a ways to go in their development. This is a good thing for the Panthers, as they can get a full season of AHL hockey under their belts before being expected to become significant contributors for the team in the 2022-2023 season.
Of all the names on the list, all eyes will be on Anton Lundell. Lundell has been described as “Barkov Jr.” by fans and beat reporters since he was drafted, and we’ll get to see him start in the big leagues. How he plays will be a major area of focus when it comes to the personnel moves made by the team, as they may be forced to move lines around or acquire another center if he isn’t ready.
RIP the Matt Kiersted 7D hype train. Like the forwards list, the defensemen come with zero surprises as well. The team made clear who their six defenders were by their offseason moves, and Juolevi is a shot in the dark until Kevin Connauton returns.
If the Panthers are to make a big move in season, I think it’ll be to shore up their bottom four defensemen. We already know Mackenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad, and Gustav Forsling are locked in on defense. Radko Gudas plays the enforcer role, leaving Brandon Montour and Markus Nutivaara. Their play early in the season will tell Zito and Quenneville whether or not a personnel change is needed, and the front office has shown they’re willing to make moves.
With Chris Gibson heading to Charlotte, the Panthers begin the season with Sergei Bobrovsky as their starter. Rookie phenom Spencer Knight as his backup. The word all offseason has been a goalie by committee approach, similar to last season, with Bob getting the bulk of the starts. However, I believe Bob will have a shorter leash than he used to. Knight’s development and play last season has accelerated the timetable for him to become the #1. As he went from winning the World Juniors with Team USA, playing at Boston College, to starting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs within a calendar year.
If Bob can figure it out in Year 3 here, that’s a good thing for the Panthers. The goalie by committee approach worked last season and if the former Vezina winner can get back to that level. The Panthers can ease Spencer Knight into becoming a full-time starter. This will be his first full season in the league.
Opening Night Line Predictions
Take these with a grain of salt, as Q loves to throw his lines in a blender throughout games and change things up.
*Original predictions from a few weeks ago have been scratched out and replaced with those now occupying their spots*
(also shoutout the voice of the Florida Panthers Steve Goldstein for taking the guessing work out of it)
Anthony Duclair Patric Hornqvist
Noel Acciari Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton Eetu Luostarinen
Patric Hornqvist Anthony Duclair
Defensive Pairing 1
Defensive Pairing 2
Defensive Pairing 3
When the team is fully healthy, I expect the guys with their names crossed out to return to their spots.
Line 1- Verhaeghe, Barkov, Reinhart
By the end of the season, this might be the best top line in the league. I wrote earlier this offseason that the team needed another Top 6 forward, and Reinhart is exactly that. Not only that, but Reinhart offers roster flexibility with experience playing at Center. He can help the team should Lundell or Bennett miss any significant time. If that were to happen, Anthony Duclair can be elevated to the top line and we’ve seen what 23-16-10 can do together. Reinhart’s skills should mesh with Verhaeghe and Barkov nicely, and I’m excited to see what they can do throughout the year.
Line 2- Huberdeau, Bennett, Tippett
Huberdeau and Bennett are locked into this line, but it’s the RW position where the debate begins. After finding his footing last year and having a strong preseason camp, I believe 74 has earned the right to start on the 2nd line. The chemistry they showed together in the postseason brought out the best in Owen Tippett, and the franchise needs to find out whether it was a fluke or the real deal. If it doesn’t work, Anthony Duclair is still there for the return of the 9-1-1 line (although it’ll need a new name with Duclair now wearing 10)
Line 3- Vatrano, Lundell, Hornqvist // Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair
I’ll break this into two parts, one to talk about early in the season and the other about the playoff push. Vatrano, Lundell, and Hornqvist isn’t a sexy line but I think it can work. You have a proven goal scorer in Vatrano with a guy who has made a career out of parking himself in front of the net in Hornqvist. Those pieces can complement Lundell’s style of play and help him settle into the NHL. I think the Duclair/Hornqvist swap was made to add some speed to the fourth line, and should swap once Acciari comes back.
If we get to see Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair later in the season watch out. We saw how well Duke played with Barkov last season, so we can expect similar results playing alongside Barkov Jr. With Vatrano playing for a contract (and most likely his last as a Panther) he’ll be even more inclined to produce and potentially be an attractive trade chip for the team as the deadline nears.
Line 4- Thornton, Luostarinen, Duclair // Acciari, Thornton, Hornqvist
With the team shipping away Lammiko, we found out Luostarinen is the team’s preferred 4th line center. I’m interested to see how much Thornton plays this season, as Ryan Lomberg and Mason Marchment are younger and can handle the wear and tear of an 82 game season. I’d expect Hornqvist to get similar treatment too, as he and Thornton are going to be more beneficial to the team once the playoffs roll around.
Once Acciari gets back, we’ll have a true grit line. Especially if guys like Lomberg and Marchment get regular playing time. Acciari, Thornton, and Hornqvist are capable of setting the tone and will be a tough line for opposing teams to play against. They’re capable of making teams frustrated and have enough offensive power to make a play when the game is on the line. Thornton came to South Florida to chase a cup, so we know he’ll be hungry and give his all.
Power Play Units
The first Power Play unit is already out there, and it’s lethal. Barkov, Huberdeau, Reinhart, Bennett, and the return of Aaron Ekblad. Like the top line, the power play has a chance to finish on top of the league. Tampa’s power play gave them the edge in the playoffs last season, and the Panthers upgrades should level the playing field.
The second Power Play isn’t set yet, but it’s going to include players like Verhaeghe, Tippett, Duclair, Hornqvist, Montour, or Weegar. That’s an upgrade from last season and should create some good scoring chances if the first unit isn’t able to get it done (which I suspect will not be often)
Penalty Kill Units
Off all units affected by the roster changes, the Penalty Kill took the biggest hit. Alex Wennberg is no longer here and Acciari is out for a portion of the season. I’m not saying that there will be a significant decline in the PK %, just simply stating that the personnel is going to change and we don’t know how effective it will be. Will be interesting to watch how Q and his coaching staff handle the personnel decisions here as the season goes on.
Barkov leading goalscorer
Huberdeau points leader
Owen Tippett breakout season
Knight takes over as the 1 before the Olympic Break
Everyone in the Top 6 finishes with 20+ goals
Panthers win the Atlantic
As I sit here today writing this, I can see this Florida Panthers team winning it all, which has never been a thought I’ve had as a Panthers fan going into a season. The teams bond is so strong, and that’s accredited to the culture change that’s taken place inside the building since Q arrived. They’re highly motivated to win together, and they’ll play harder than most teams across the league.
While this is just year one of the team’s newly formed Cup Window, I think this may be their best shot. The Cats kept their core together, had the best offseason of any team in the NHL, and have the prospect pool and roster flexibility to be buyers at the deadline. On top of that, this is probably Joe Thornton’s last year in the league, and he chose to chase a cup here.
Personally, I’d just love to see us win one playoff series, but the expectations are higher than that. This is a team that can make and win the conference finals, and this is a team that can win the Stanley Cup.
We’ll have to see how the team navigates through the season and the moves they make at the deadline, but it’s going to be a special few years in Sunrise.
The Panthers played the lottery and won big with several players. Now the time has come to pay them. Will they regret any of it?
The Panthers resurrected an unprecedented amount of careers this past season, and rewarded most of those players with contract extensions. In many cases, these are the first large contracts handed to these players. Will these players live up to their new cap hits? Let’s dive into the best and worst case scenarios for each of the players the Panthers rewarded with new contracts this offseason.
Forsling impressed during the second half of last season with the Panthers. Offensively Forsling drove play with his speed and vision and defensively he used great anticipation and stick checking to make up for his lack of size. He went above and beyond being an injury replacement for Aaron Ekblad on that top pairing. Nothing during his season with the Panthers would suggest any precipitous drop off in play. However, Forsling did not show he could be an NHL caliber defenseman before this season. During his first four seasons in the NHL with Chicago and Carolina, he spent more than half of his time in the AHL. He had shown flashes of offensive excellence during those seasons but could not be counted on defensively. Was this sudden improvement in play a result of a change of scenery and being put in the right position, or just plain luck? Nobody can know for sure, but for only eight million dollars over three years the gamble is certainly worth it for the Panthers.
Best case: strong top 4 defensemen
Worst case: 7th defensemen, gone in 2 years
Duclair has always had strong underlying numbers, but has had issues with upper management at several of his previous stops. In hindsight, it seems those issues were largely the fault of the coaches and management, and less so on Duclair. Regardless, he seems to have found a home in South Florida. Even with his impressive play last season, his shooting percentage was only 9.6%, down from 12.4% career average. With shooting percentage being a good indicator of player luck, it could mean Duclair is in for some positive regression this upcoming season. Even if that regression never comes and Duclair maintains the level of play he had last season, this contract is an absolute win for the Panthers.
Best case: Reliable top 6 forward
Worst case: high ceiling top 9 forward
Bennett burst onto the scene with superstar level production during his short 10 game stint with the Panthers last season, registering 6 goals and 9 assists during those games. Those numbers are obviously unsustainable, especially his 15.4 shooting percentage. The former fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft left Calgary as somewhat of a disappointment. He never cracked 40 points in a season (his career high is 36 during his rookie season) and played much of his time as a bottom 6 forward. To his credit, Bennett has talked openly about how a change of scenery was necessary for him. His instant chemistry with winger Johnathan Huberdeau helped Bennett embark on the greatest stretch of his career. With that in mind, it is possible this handful of games with the Panthers could be just the start of what is to come for the 25 year old. The Panthers took a pretty big risk with this contract. His AAV of 4.425 million means he will be expected to produce like a top 6 forward regularly. It could certainly happen, but the sample size of him being an average player is much, much larger than his hot streak with the Panthers.
Best case: second line center
Worst case: bottom 6 forward, bought out in two years
Ah, Carter Vergaeghe. Talented, Beautiful, Carter Verhaeghe. The steal of last year’s free agency period exceeded all expectations last season, and is only getting better. Verhaeghe may have the most complete game on the team of any forward not named Aleksander Barkov of Johnathan Huberdeau. The undrafted phenom only had one season of NHL experience under his belt, where he impressed in a limited role with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In a larger role with the Panthers last season, he impressed again. Of course, the shooting percentage may come back to earth a bit, but I would bet against it having a major impact on his production. Strong Defense, wicked shot, and blistering speed, the man can do it all. You take his 4.167 AAV any day and pray you can meet his new number in four years time.
Best Case: Top line winger
Worst Case: really good second line winger
I’ll be honest, this one gives me pause. Montour did not play badly for the Panthers by any means. From my point of view, Montour just never stood out. He played like just another cog in the machine for a defense which was simply not good enough against Tampa. 3.5 million dollars per year for 3 years is a big commitment for someone who did not show flashes of anything extraordinary. During his last 3 years in Buffalo, Montour gained a reputation as one of the worst defenders in the league. (Granted, Buffalo is a place where careers go to die.) Montour had been a defenseman worth that amount during his tenure in Anaheim, but last played for the Ducks three years ago. Florida wanted to re-sign him even before the season ended, so maybe they see something I don’t. If I had to bet on a contract from the bunch to age poorly, however, this would be the one.
Best case: mid tier top 4 defenseman
Worst case: AHL defensemen being paid like a top 4 defenseman
Speaking of Buffalo reclamation projects, the Panthers may have snagged the best of the bunch — Jack Eichel notwithstanding. What makes Reinhart such a tantalizing player is he actually managed to be good in Buffalo. He netted 20+ goals in each of the last four seasons. The second overall pick in the 2014 draft has as much raw talent as anyone on this roster. He has not quite lived up to his lofty draft expectations — likely a product of being stuck on the Sabres — but the possibility still remains that a new team will allow for that theoretical pre draft Reinhart to become reality.
This season will show if his ordeal with Buffalo stunted his all around hockey development or just masked it in a thick layer of garbage. 6.5 million dollars per year is a steep price, and that comes with expectations, but expect Reinhart to be very productive this upcoming season.
Best case: Elite top line winger
Worst Case: Disappointing but still productive second line winger