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Panthers Improve Future Without Hurting Present After 'Hat Trick' Trade

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers made their first big roster move of the season on Friday afternoon, sending Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and three valuable picks in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft.

On the surface, the move not only provides the team with a lot more flexibility to improve and make necessary transactions in the future, but also replenishes the club with enough depth to continue making a late push towards the playoffs in the second half of the 2018-19 campaign.

In short: it's a big splash that will likely lead to numerous exciting ripples down the road.

"We're going to win," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said of the team's outlook during the post-trade conference call. "We're going to use all the tools available to us to be successful. Today is going to help us to achieve some of those goals with the moves that we made to free up some space, add some assets and also give us some help here in the present. I like what happened today… It checked off a lot of boxes for us to be successful moving forward."

When asked about the deal, Tallon referred to the move as the front office equivalent of a hat trick, as it succeeded in improving the team in three specific areas. In addition to bringing in a pair of veteran forwards and three 2019 draft picks, the deal also alleviated a lot of cap pressure moving forward.

According to CapFriendly.com, the move freed up $5.35 million in cap space in 2019-20 alone.

"We got two good players that can help us in the run here, that have experience and have talent and fit a need for us," Tallon said. "We [added to our] draft situation for the next two seasons, which is a wonderful thing, and also we freed up a lot of space for an aggressive summer in free agency. It was kind of like a hat trick for us, and that's what made this so appealing."

As for newcomers Brassard and Sheahan, Tallon expects both veterans to add a lot of value to Florida's lineup immediately. Brassard, 31, had posted 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 40 games this season, while Sheahan, 27, had chipped in nine (seven goals, two assists) in 49.

Brassard and Sheahan could make their debuts as early as Saturday's game against Vegas.

"Derick is a very good face-off guy," Tallon said. "He's a very good power-play guy. He's a good skilled guy. He moves the puck really well and he's got good hockey sense. Riley is hard-nosed, a good penalty killer, good checker and good contributor, 200-foot game, and can contribute some offense as well. I don't think we've seen the best of him yet as far as his offense, but his compete level is very high and he's a physical player that we can use."

The sixth-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Brassard comes in with the most-notable pedigree of the team's two new additions, having registered 443 points (171 goals, 272 assists) over 756 career regular-season games with Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Columbus and the New York Rangers.

If the Panthers fall out of the playoff race, however, Tallon said that both players like Brassard and Sheahan, who are both on expiring contracts and set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, could potentially be dealt before the Feb. 25 trade deadline for even more assets.

With 34 games left to play, the Panthers currently sit at 20-20-8 on the season, which places them 11 points behind Columbus for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. Of their next 12 games, 11 will come at home, where they have gone 10-6-5.

Following last season's all-star break, Florida went on an incredible run, posting a 25-8-2 record to finish one point out of the playoffs with 96 points - the third-best finish in franchise history.

"If we can continue that and get on a hot streak like we did last year, then they'll stay," Tallon said. "If it looks like we're going to fall out… we can't start to fall back anymore, so we've got to stay on top of it and go game-by-game, week-by-week. Then we'll decided before the deadline what we're going to do. Performance will dictate what we do with these players."

Of all the assets acquired in this trade, however, the draft picks could be the most intriguing.

Whether the are used as future trade pieces or held on to and cashed in, the Panthers now find themselves with a wealth of selections in the upcoming draft. If you add the second-round pick and two fourth-round picks (one belonging to Minnesota) they acquired from Pittsburgh today, they now hold a total of eight picks in 2019, with at least one in each round from one to seven.

While the jury is still out on some of their prospects, Florida appears to have hit on many picks in recent years, such as Grigori Denisenko (15th overall, 2018), Serron Noel (34th overall, 2018), Owen Tippett (10th overall, 2017), Aleksi Heponiemi (40th overall, 2017), Henrik Borgstrom (23rd overall, 2016), Sam Montembeault (77th overall, 2015) and Denis Malgin (102nd overall, 2015).

"We gave a second and a third away last year. Then we acquired a third earlier in the year in a deal with Edmonton. Getting a second and two fourths, it fills out the grid a lot better for us," Tallon said. "Now we've got a first, a second, a third and three fourths moving forward, plus five, six and seven. We've got a full complement plus two this draft, and we've got a fifth the following year. Who knows what happens here in the next month at the deadline? We're excited. Our amateur scouts are really happy."

As he continues to re-tool the roster, Tallon hopes today's trade sent a strong message.

"We need everyone to commit to this moving forward," he said.

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