New faces join the dance as we address the biggest questions going in to the 2022-23 Florida Panthers season

I would like to give my take on some of the biggest questions and takeaways for Panthers fans from this offseason.

Goodbye Huby and Weegar

While Huberdeau is an elite player in the NHL, the Calgary Flames did the Cats a huge favor by taking Weegar and Huberdeau in exchange for a young stud in Matthew Tkachuk.

Looking at simple on ice play, we basically traded 1-for-1 in a Huberdeau for Matty T trade that also allowed the Panthers to dump the biggest orange practice cone in the league aka MacKenzie Weegar.

Weegar is not underrated. MacKenzie Weegar is absolutely horrific. He looked good because he could get points while playing with Ekblad and offensive talents like Barkov; however, he was nothing more than a younger, bigger bodied Yandle.

Does anyone want to talk about the 2 games he cost us in the Washington series or how about the 2 games he single-handily blew in the Tampa series? Did everyone suddenly get amnesia and forget how painful he was to watch in the playoffs? He is lucky that anyone would take him, let alone trade for him.

Why do you think Calgary was so quick to offer Huberdeau an extension, but not Weegar? Calgary certainly has the cap space.

While it is easy to write off an absolute pylon like Weegar, losing Huberdeau hurts a bit more. Especially when he is coming off of a career year.

This being said, everyone knew Huberdeau wanted a big ticket this offseason. And considering he put up more points than Barkov, he was expected (and signed) for a bigger deal.

But who in their right mind gives a 29-year-old player an 8-year deal worth $10.5 per? Do you think Huby will still be a $10.5 player in 3 or 4 years, let alone at the age of 37?

Short answer: no. Long answer: HELL NO! Especially with the abuse he puts on his body off the ice.

Huberdeau made his bread-and-butter with the highlight reel and Sports Center Top 10 plays. While that is great for padding your stats in the regular season, it does not translate well to the playoffs. He plays a very soft game and it got exposed badly the last few attempts the Cats have made to go deep.

Matthew Tkachuk brings the same highlight reel playmaking ability, but also brings his father’s, Big Walt, punch them in the face level of toughness. Can you see Huby squaring up with a guy like Kassian? Not a chance.

This was a good trade, especially when it comes to playoff time, because we got rid of two guys who heavily contributed to a losing locker room culture and add a goal scorer with a sense of grit.

While the rest of the world may hate you for this trade, I give it a solid A.

The Unwelcomed Addition of Paul Maurice

I have been a big proponent for the moves Zito has made despite him having to work some cap magic thanks to the mess Dale Tallon left; however, this is where I tend to disagree.

Was Brunette the right man for this job? No, and it really showed by his ability to change the gameplan during playoffs.

People say that Maurice was the best option out there; however, that is total bullshit. Look at the mess he left in Winnipeg. The Jets stripped Wheeler of the captaincy and then it has been leaked that there is a total lack of leadership within the Jets locker room.

A team takes after its coach and clearly Paul Maurice was not the right voice or leader to keep that team together. Many people thought they should have been a playoff contender last year; however, they continued to underperform with or without him there.

Even worse, I hate the argument I have heard around here stating “well he has never had a team with this much talent before”. It makes no sense. In 2017, didn’t he have a team with Vezina winning goalie Connor Helleybuyck, NYR captain Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, and Patrik Laine. How is that team not talented?

Maurice does not believe in utilizing superstar talent and never utilized Laine to his true potential. Do you think he will use key guys like Bennett or Tkachuk to their full potential? Even when he was in Carolina, he made a lot of enemies with players like Eric Staal. He is going to waste the current playoff window the Cats have going.

Which Sergei Bobrovsky will we get

A lot of people have bashed Sergei Bobrovsky for underperforming early in his 8 x $10 contract; however, the closer I watch the Panthers, the more I believe it stems from team defense than his actual play.

I say this because watching Weegar and Ekblad last year was beyond frustrating. Ekblad is an offensive talent who simply does not know how to play defense. He is basically the 4th forward on the ice.

While I understand that the game is getting more offensive than ever before, being able to play the position is still pretty critical.

Then you have Weegar who is a much less talented player who tried to duplicate Ekblad’s style of play.

There were times I would watch Ekblad and Weegar jump in to the rush and then not even be the first ones back to cover in the defensive zone. This is not beer league hockey and you are both well paid defensemen. It is ok to jump in the play, but GET YOUR ASS BACK!

The defense is still a bit shaky as the projected pairings are:

Forsling – Ekblad

Carlsson – Gudas

Staal – Montour

While it is not awful, the Panthers are lacking the one big-bodied defenseman who can eat a lot of minutes and be a game changer. I know there is only one Victor Hedman, but that is what the Cats should focus on again throughout the year.

They do not need a guy like Jakob Chychrun or another offensive minded d-man, but instead they should be on the hunt for a shutdown guy. The type of player who you are confident will not make the Weegar-like mistakes!

How does this relate to goaltending and Sergei Bobrovsky?

Truthfully, it has a lot to do with Bob. If the Cats cannot defend their zone and try to play a run-and-gun style of offense, of course the goalie will be the whipping boy.

A lack of defense and an offense first mentality has chased 2 very good goalies out of Toronto alone. Look at Anderson and now Campbell. Both are very good, if not top tier, NHL net minders; however, they looked underwhelming when the team does not cover or support them.

You cannot have Ekblad pinching and giving up multiple odd man rushes and expect Bob to stop them all. Then when he gives up a goal the fanbase turns on Bobrovsky? What about Ekblad or Weegar who decided to jump all the time?

In summary, I think Bobrovsky played great throughout the year last season and while having shown weakness from time to time, you do have to consider the fact that he played in 54 of the 82 regular season games last year.

The Cats will need to tighten up their defensive zone play and get away from the run-and-gun offense first mentality if they want to continue the success moving forward.

Season Prediction: I think the Panthers will battle hard but ultimately finish behind Toronto and Boston in the Division. The Leafs will have a good regular season and choke in the playoffs like always. I foresee the Panthers battling the Lightning for the 3rd sport in the division and will definitely be a playoff team.

As always Panthers fans, in Zito we trust!

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