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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Panthers ready for playoff push with Bobrovsky next season

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the July 3 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Did the Florida Panthers do enough in free agency to get back into the playoffs, either in the division or wild card? -- @themoose0221

Yes. The Panthers became a legitimate threat when they hired Joel Quenneville to be their coach April 8. They became a legitimate Stanley Cup Playoff contender Monday when they signed Sergei Bobrovsky. The goalie is coming to Florida at the right time to make a difference. They already had plenty of scoring last season, but they were vulnerable defensively, especially in net, where goalies Roberto Luongo, James Reimer, Sam Montembeault and Michael Hutchinson combined for an .896 save percentage. It's near impossible to make the playoffs when every goalie has a save percentage of worse than .900. Bobrovsky, in a down year by his two-time Vezina Trophy-winning standards, had a .913 save percentage last season and led the NHL with nine shutouts for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky's NHL save percentage is .919 in 457 games. If he gets back up to that number, the Panthers should be a playoff team in the Atlantic Division. 

I also like the additions of defenseman Anton Stralman to bring a steady, veteran presence; forward Brett Connolly to be another 20-goal scorer; and Noel Acciari to be the versatile, grinding, penalty-killing forward he proved to be during the Boston Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. But it's Bobrovsky who should put the Panthers over the top.

Video: Sergei Bobrovsky signs seven-year deal with Panthers

 

As it stands now how competitive do you see the Metropolitan Division? How would you rank each teams' offseason moves? -- @Sommertime622

It's tough to rank all the moves now because the teams likely are not finished, but the division appears more competitive today than it was at the end of last season, when the top five teams were separated by six points and all made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The three teams that missed -- the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers -- have made significant improvements to close the gap and potentially pass some of the teams that finished in the top five last season. 

The Devils, who missed the playoffs by 26 points, improved by trading for defenseman P.K. Subban, signing forward Wayne Simmonds, and selecting center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. They also have hope that goalie Cory Schneider, who had a strong showing for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, has his game back. The Rangers, who missed the playoffs by 20 points, signed forward Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract Monday, the latest move in an offseason that has included trades to acquire defensemen Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets and Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes as well as drafting right wing Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick. I also like some of what the Flyers have done, including hiring Alain Vigneault as coach and especially signing center Kevin Hayes, whose presence all but guarantees Claude Giroux will be on the wing while insulating 20-year-old center Nolan Patrick. Hayes can be either a No. 2 or No. 3 center. Vigneault gets his teams to win early in his tenure too. The Flyers, who missed the playoffs last season by 16 points, also got deeper and more experienced at defenseman by trading for Matt Niskanen (881 NHL games) and Justin Braun (607 games). 

Video: Wayne Simmonds agrees to one-year deal with Devils

I can't say that means the Devils, Rangers and Flyers will make the playoffs this season, but they're contenders and their chances look even better when you analyze some of what the playoff teams did. Are the Pittsburgh Penguins any better today with forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev and Dominik Kahun than they were last season with right wing Phil Kessel and defenseman Olli Maatta, who were traded? It's debatable. The New York Islanders haven't improved their offense, which was 22nd in the NHL at 2.72 goals per game, and we can't say their goaltending is better with Semyon Varlamov on a four-year contract instead of Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blue Jackets lost Panarin, Bobrovsky and center Matt Duchene in free agency. They signed forward Gustav Nyquist to a four-year contract, but there are question marks up front and in goal. The Hurricanes haven't made any significant moves to improve from last season, when I think they overachieved. I think they're vulnerable. The Washington Capitals should be just fine.

 

Do you believe that the additions that the Avalanche made this offseason are enough to push them to be a Stanley Cup contender next season? -- @SoCalAvsFan

I'm going to pump the brakes on the Stanley Cup contender talk for the Avalanche, but there's no disputing the track they're on or that they have a chance to step it up in the Central Division if things break right. 

I like the acquisition of center Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Avalanche were too much of a one-line team last season with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog taking on such a heavy scoring burden. Those three scored 106 of Colorado's 258 goals. Kadri should give them more balance. He was a good shutdown third-line center for the Maple Leafs but he can be a good scoring second-line center for the Avalanche. He scored 32 goals in two straight seasons before he moved to the third line when John Tavares arrived in Toronto. Getting forwards Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi helps fill out Colorado's much-needed depth. Burakovsky in particular should provide more scoring than he did with the Capitals. He scored 17 goals as a second-year forward in 2015-16 and has scored 12 in each of the past three seasons. It would be a big boost for the Avalanche if he could get closer to 20 goals. 

Video: Avalanche acquire Nazem Kadri in a four-player deal

The Avalanche had to trade Tyson Barrie for Kadri, but are in good shape at defenseman with Cale Makar, who made his NHL debut in the playoffs, projected to play a full season as a rookie, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov. Colorado selected Bowen Byram with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and he might have a chance to make the team. But though Makar, Byram and Girard are the future of their blue line, it always takes some time for defensemen to fully develop, which is another reason I'm pumping the brakes on the Cup contender talk. They're on the right track. Let the rest fall into place.

 

What do you think of Mats Zuccarello's fit with the Minnesota Wild? Is five years too much? -- @wild_4_MNhockey

I love Zuccarello as a player, the energy he brings, his playmaking and his production. He'll make the Wild better in the short term. He will push forwards Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato to be better too. He doesn't do well with mediocrity. However, a five-year contract is too long for Zuccarello, who will be 32 on Sept. 1. I thought a three-year contract would have been right for him, but clearly the Wild went longer to ensure they got him. I can't blame general manager Paul Fenton for wanting him because Zuccarello is an impact player. My concern will be what are the Wild going to get from Zuccarello in the later years of the contract? I have no doubt he'll have an instant impact, though, and they can worry about the rest later.

ideo: Mats Zuccarello, Wild agree to five-year contract

 

What do you think of Semyon Varlamov's signing with the Islanders? And do you know the reason why Lehner took a shorter contract for the same AAV? -- @moonlighthaley

I don't understand why the Islanders gave Varlamov a four-year contract instead of giving a two-year contract to Lehner. He wanted to return to the Islanders and he said they talked about a two-year contract, which would have made sense if it was with an average annual value of $5 million. That's what he got in the one-year contract with the Blackhawks. We don't know the term and dollars that were being offered by the Islanders, but clearly it rubbed Lehner the wrong way. In the short term, I would prefer having Lehner, who turns 28 on July 24, signed for the next two seasons than Varlamov, who is 31, signed for four. The only tangible advantage to having Varlamov for four years is he may be able to help bridge the gap and ease the transition for Ilya Sorokin, the 23-year-old who could be the Islanders' goalie of the future. Sorokin has one year remaining in the Kontinental Hockey League before he could play in North America. In the short term, Varlamov has big shoes to fill, because Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and a big reason the Islanders were able to make the playoffs and sweep the Penguins in the first round.

 

Do you think New Jersey is done adding up front? -- @StevenLiberman

I never think Devils general manager Ray Shero is done. There are quality players out there, but the Devils might have only two spots remaining in their top 12 forwards. They have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Hughes, Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, Miles Wood, Simmonds, Blake Coleman, Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt. It's possible they will try to leave spots open for rookies Jesper Boqvist, Joey Anderson and Michael McLeod. If that's the case, they may not dive back into the free agent market. And if they do, it could be to improve the left-side defensemen, currently Andy Greene, Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller and potential rookie Ty Smith, who is a big part of their future.

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