While the Florida Panthers didn’t finish in last this season, not making the playoffs leaves fans frustrated once again. In 2014-15, the Panthers were an improved team with first overall pick Aaron Ekblad and are trying to improve on the momentum of last year. So how did this team respond to make the playoffs in 2015-16?
First, the Panther made a point to re-sign Jaromir Jagr to a one-year contract. The ageless wonder makes a great mentor for the young core in Florida and can still contribute in the NHL. Therefore, this signing was a solid start to the offseason to help Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad become better hockey players. However, their remaining moves leave little hope for the fanbase.
The big move the Panthers made during free agency was trading Jimmy Hayes for Reilly Smith. Smith is the better player but adding him alone isn’t enough. Otherwise, this team stayed put in every facet. They didn’t add or lose any major free agents outside of backup goalie Dan Ellis. So if any improvement is taking place in 2015-16, that will take place through the development of the young stars in Florida.
However, the offseason for this team isn’t done yet. While the Panthers were able to re-sign John McFarland, Quinton Howden and Alex Petrovic, they have yet to re-sign one of their best players in Huberdeau. While they are being patient, signing him to a contract was the top priority for the Panthers when the offseason began. If the contract doesn’t get done then next season doesn’t look bright. Considering the cap room they have to offer, Florida has no excuses to get this contract done.
Grading a team’s free agency moves is hard when they aren’t done yet, but I give the Panthers a C+ as they improved but there wasn’t a drastic change. However, if they can’t sign Huberdeau that grade becomes a D.