NHL Team Preview: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers are a dark horse team to win the Stanley Cup in 2021-22. A few key additions to an already talented roster has Florida in their best position in years, though they’ll have a difficult road to get there. Sporting the longest active streak without a playoff series win, Florida has not advanced to the second round of the postseason since the 1995-96 playoffs, where they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before getting swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
Furthermore, they’ll have a difficult division with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Boston Bruins all in the playoff mix, along with last season’s runner-up the Montreal Canadiens, and improved squads in the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators standing in their way. If they can get through the division, they can certainly make it to the Finals and win their first Cup in franchise history.
The biggest addition to the roster is right-wing Sam Reinhart, who led the Buffalo Sabres in scoring last season with 25 goals and 40 points in 54 games. Reinhart is a potent scorer and should thrive on the first line with Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
In bringing in Reinhart, the Panthers now have three of the first four picks from the 2014 Draft on the roster. Florida drafted Aaron Ekblad first overall, brought in Reinhart who went second this offseason, and traded for fourth overall pick Sam Bennett at the trade deadline last year. The third overall pick was Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl.
The other big offseason arrival was Joe Thornton. Late in his career and looking to win a Cup before he retires, Thornton will bring a ton of leadership and experience to the dressing room. The first overall pick in the 1997 draft, Thornton began his career before teammates Matt Kierstad, Owen Tippett, Anton Lundell, and Spencer Knight were born.
Shortly before the season began, the Panthers took care of business and signed Aleksander Barkov to a long-term extension at eight years, $80 million. Barkov is one of the top centers in the league and is elite in all zones. He won his first career Selke Trophy last season and is a strong threat to win again this year.
While he excels defensively, Barkov is also a threat to score any time he is on the ice. He’s on track to score his 500th career point this season, and he scored at greater than a point per game pace last season.
Aaron Ekblad is back after fracturing his leg and missing the end of last season. A star defenseman, Ekblad was clearly missed down the stretch and in the playoffs. With his return, the Panthers are much stronger in their own zone, which will make life easier for Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight.
Speaking of those two, Florida has an interesting goaltending dilemma. Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner making $10 million a year for this season and each of the next four. However, the Panthers have a future star on their hands in Spencer Knight, who at 20 years old became the second-youngest goaltender in NHL history to win his playoff debut.
Knight is among the favorites to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie this season and he’ll be gunning for time in net. However, Bobrovsky isn’t likely to give it up easily. After a few down seasons, Bobrovsky living up to his contract would be a godsend for Florida.
Finally, keep an eye on Sam Bennett this season. Though it’s a small sample size, Bennett played some of the best hockey of his professional career after joining the Panthers at last season’s trade deadline, six goals and nine assists in 10 regular season games; Bennett also tallied a goal and four assists in five playoff games.
System fit can make or break a player. If Bennett continues to shine for Florida, the Panthers will be among the deepest teams in the league.
Florida Panthers Season Predictions and Odds
2021-22 Over/Under Point Total: OVER/UNDER 101.5 (both are -110) Atlantic Division Title Odds: +350 (third best) Eastern Conference Champions Odds: +800 (fourth best) Stanley Cup Odds: +1600 (tied for sixth)
* All odds provided by Action247 Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
**All views expressed are my own. My picks are my own and are not a guarantee, bet at your own risk.