Make the Panthers Great Again
To begin this article, I want to quickly praise the moves the Panthers have made in the off season and give credit to the Panthers’ new General Manager Tom Rowe. Following the additions and signings this off season, I truly believe they are one move away from being a real contender. Right now the Panthers have one of the best problems in the NHL—they have too many quality centers. With Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad all proven to be capable of playing at a high level, someone needs to be the odd man out. Bjugstad seems like the most likely to be the odd man out because he is the 3rd line center making $4.1 million a season on a team badly in need of a winger.
The hypothetical Targets for a Bjugstad trade:
Tomas Hertl: (21 G, 25 A for 46 points)
Hertl can play both center and wing and proved he can skate with some of the top talent in the league during his first few years with the Sharks. He possesses an all-around game and could be a great fit alongside Trocheck and Reilly Smith for years to come. With Hertl being a restricted free agent after this season and the potential risk that comes with trading for a RFA, the Panthers would probably need to receive at least a 3rd round pick in this trade to make it worthwhile. With Bjugstad already locked up long term at a reasonable $4.1 million contract, that may not be too steep of a request for the Sharks to bite at. If the Panthers were able to pull this trade off, I could see them trying to lock Hertl up a little cheaper than Bjugstad, somewhere in the ballpark of $3.5 million a season.
Cam Atkinson: (27 G, 26 A for 53 points)
I have always been very high on Cam and his style of play. He is a very skilled and fast right winger. With a $3.5 million cap hit and gradual improvement in his first three full NHL seasons, his ceiling could see him in the 65-70 point range as he heads into his prime years. For the Blue Jackets, letting go of Atkinson would be a fair tradeoff for a potential number two center in Bjugstad. After the Jackets traded away Ryan Johansen last year, they are in need of a steady center like Bjugstad. Not to mention, Atkinson has been involved in trade rumors for the last several seasons, so it is a possibility that he could be on the move sooner rather than later.
Tomas Tatar: (21 G, 24 A for 45 points)
Tatar would solve a lot of problems for the Panthers due to his versatility—a theme of the players on this list. He can play either left or right wing and is certainly capable of putting the puck in the net. In his last three years he has posted 39, 56 and 45 points. While his production dipped a little last season, that could have been caused by an overall lower quality of play from the Detroit Red Wings as a team. Tatar is great on the power play, putting 16 PPG in the last two years. He also averages about 15 minutes of ice time, the perfect TOI for a 2nd or 3rd line player. This trade not only solves issues for the Panthers, but would also help the Red Wings’ problems at center following the departure of Pavel Datsyuk. Right now the true top two centers on the team are Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm; that’s not exactly the front line you want to have when trying to go after a Stanley Cup. Adding Bjugstad to this line up would give them a solid three centers, despite not having a bonafide superstar down the middle. With Tatar’s speed, size and puck skills, a move to the Panthers would significantly improve their top-six and would make the second line a legitimate threat.
While trades are always tough to predict, these are three options that I believe are realistic and would improve both teams in each of the examples given. Please share your comments on this as I am open to talking about this topic further.