The NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and the Panthers made no shortage of moves in order to prepare for this year’s playoff push. In case you missed anything, here’s a recap of everything the Panthers did in the last week, along with some thoughts on each trade.
To NYR: Frank Vatrano
To FLA: 2022 4th Round Pick
This trade may hurt for sentimental reasons, but it’s one that the Panthers had to make. It was no secret that the Panthers were interested in making big acquisitions this deadline, and in order to do that, they needed to free up cap space. Bill Zito’s solution? Offload Frank Vatrano to the New York Rangers in exchange for a mid-round pick. Despite Vatrano having a decent season, with 19 points in 49 games, and posting a 52.2% Expected Goals % (xGF%), he had been pushed down the lineup on a stacked Panthers team. While Vatrano has the opportunity to succeed in an enhanced role with the Rangers, the Panthers won’t miss him much. With Vatrano being a pending unrestricted free agent likely to leave in the offseason, it made sense for Florida to cash in on whatever return they could get in order to clear cap going into the deadline and open the door for bigger moves.
My Trade Grade: B
To MTL: 2023 1st Round Pick, 2022 4th Round Pick, Ty Smilanic
To FLA: Ben Chiarot
Ben Chiarot had been linked to the Panthers, among other teams, for months prior to the trade deadline. Despite being one of the most coveted players on the trade market this year, Chiarot has his fair share of skeptics, and for good reason: He has a league worst Goals Above Replacement (GAR) this season, and despite his reputation of being a valuable defensive defenseman, his Expected Goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) of 3.01 ranks in the bottom 20 among defensemen league wide. He has had suspect underlying numbers throughout his career, and they’ve gotten even worse this season. The good news: given sheltered minutes in Florida, Chiarot will undoubtedly see improvement in his play. Despite his league worst GAR, he isn’t the worst player in the league; in fact, I do think he’ll be a valuable depth piece on the blueline, especially come playoff time. Furthermore, Chiarot saw improvement in his play as of late before the trade, which should give Panthers fans more reason to believe he can be a solid piece on the backend. While Chiarot can find ways to be effective on the Cats’ bottom two pairs, I’m not yet convinced that he is worth the price that Florida paid to get him, especially considering that many defensemen with better metrics went for a lower price than Chiarot did. The bottom line is, Chiarot will provide value to the Panthers’ blue line and make the team better come playoff time, but the Cats overpaid significantly to acquire him.
My Trade Grade: C
To PHI: Owen Tippett, 2023 3rd Round Pick, 2024 1st Round Pick
To FLA: Claude Giroux, Connor Bunnaman, German Rubtsov, 2024 5th Round Pick
This trade was Bill Zito’s slam dunk, and arguably the best deal of the entire deadline. If you told me five years ago that Claude Giroux would be chasing a Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers, I would have thought you crazy (and I wouldn’t be the only one). But this year, he became the most coveted name on the trade market, and the fifteen year veteran is taking his talents to South Beach. Not only does Giroux bring incredible leadership to the Cats’ locker room, having served as Phladelphia’s captain for ten years, but he’s also a legitimate game changer on the ice. Don’t let his age fool you: Giroux is still elite at both ends of the ice. Giroux has 42 points in 57 games this season on a disastrous Flyers team. He’s put up a very good 54.9% xGF% this season, and is consistently among the upper echelon of players when it comes to limiting chances against. To put it simply: Giroux is above average in pretty much every facet of the game, and his two-way play is nearly unparalleled throughout the league. He’ll slot in next to Aleksander Barkov on the top line, forming one of the most dynamic duos in the NHL. To top it off, Zito didn’t need to give up a massive haul to acquire Giroux. Owen Tippett is an NHL-caliber player who has some untapped potential, but he certainly will never be on the same level as Claude Giroux, and those draft picks are still years away from making any sort of impact in the NHL. For an extremely reasonable price, Giroux turns Florida’s already stacked forward group into a ridiculously unfair unit that most teams don’t have any hope of stopping.
My Trade Grade: A
To BUF: 2022 6th Round Pick
To FLA: Robert Hagg
Less than an hour before this trade took place, the Panthers announced that Aaron Ekblad would be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve, due to an injury sustained in the first shift of Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. The good news is that Ekblad is expected to return to the lineup for the playoffs. The bad news is that the Panthers will be without their Norris Trophy candidate for the remainder of the regular season. It’s pointless to try and replace Ekblad-he’s simply an irreplaceable player-but acquiring depth on the blue line will help lessen the blow until Ekblad returns. That’s exactly what Zito accomplished with this trade. Robert Hagg isn’t anything special. He’s your run of the mill 6th or 7th defenseman who can fill in a depth role when needed to. In this instance, he’ll fill in on the Cats’ bottom pair while their blue line gets healthy for the playoffs. Acquiring him for just a 6th round pick is pretty good value for the Panthers. Hagg is a decent and mostly reliable defensive presence, but his offensive game is unimpressive at best. He’ll be relied upon to provide some stability to the bottom pair and limit chances against. Hagg’s presence allows the cats to be comfortable with their top 6 in Ekblad’s absence, and he’ll provide solid insurance in case of an injury during the postseason. The Panthers lose essentially nothing in this deal, and acquire a useful depth piece that will help shore up their blue line for the rest of the season.
My Trade Grade: B+
The Panthers made one more deal, in which they retained 25% of Max Domi’s salary in order to facilitate his trade from Columbus to Carolina. In exchange for their efforts, the Panthers received forward Egor Korshkov and a 2022 6th round pick. There isn’t much to say about this trade, other than the Panthers are using some of their extra cap space in order to acquire some assets for free. All in all, it was a successful deadline for Bill Zito’s Panthers. The additions of Chiarot, Giroux, and Hagg collectively make this team significantly better than it was a week ago. One thing is for certain after these moves: the Florida Panthers are all in on winning a Stanley Cup, and they certainly have the team to do it.