The Florida Panthers are off to a shaky start to their season. After Thanksgiving, they currently sit at 10-8-3 with 20 points, two points outside the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. One of the biggest issues that has been killing the team as of late has been poor defense.
This past offseason, they brought in defenseman Marc Staal on a one-year contract to put a stopgap on their defense after trading away Mackenzie Weeger in a package deal for forward Matthew Tkachuk. In addition, they signed forward Eric Staal to a one-year deal after successfully earning his spot in a professional tryout (PTO). But unfortunately, the brothers have proven to be a disaster for Florida, and they may need to shut down the experiment altogether before the damage becomes irreparable.
Marc Staal is Stalling Out on Defense
Marc looked to rejuvenate his career in Sunrise, Florida. However, it does not look like that will be the case. Staal has played in all 21 games this season. In those games, he only has one assist, six penalty minutes and a pitiful minus-8 rating, which is currently the lowest on the team. In addition, he has yet to have his rating go over plus-1 in any single game.
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Unfortunately, it may be hard to try and demote him from the second defensive pairing, considering how much chemistry the third pairing in Josh Mahura and Radko Gudas has.
Eric Staal’s Age is Finally Catching up to Him
After being out of the league last season, Eric looks to give his NHL career one last run as a Panther. However, it is clear, he is far from the player he was years ago. Through 14 appearances for Florida this season, he has zero points and a minus-6 rating, which is the second worst on the team behind only his brother in Marc. In addition, his Corsi for percentage (CF%) this season is 48.5%.
It’s depressing to see, considering they ended up waiving forward Rudolfs Balcers to make room for him in the salary cap. The move itself just has not worked out the way general manager Bill Zito hoped it would.
What Moves Can be Made to Replace the Staals?
The Panthers are sitting on some good prospects currently in Charlotte with the Checkers of the American Hockey League that could be potentially recalled. Those being forward Aleksi Heponiemi and defenseman Lucas Carlsson.
Heponiemi currently has seven points (four goals, three assists) through 14 games. In two NHL appearances this season, he has one assist. Carlsson has as many points in as many games he’s been featured in with seven (two goals, five assists) for the Checkers. He also has a plus-3 rating. He also dressed for two NHL games this season and was called up recently due to the absence of Captain Aleksander Barkov.
Additionally, they could look into potentially sending both the Staals down or package one or both of them in a trade. That way, they can shed some cap space which they could use a ton of giving their money situation.
Will Zito Pull the Plug on the Experiment?
On paper, it’s a great experience to see two Staal brothers on the same team for a potential last ride in the league. But it’s, unfortunately, harming the Panthers on the ice, as stated by their record. It’s clear the players are coming to the end of their careers, and they may have seen Florida as a potential retirement opportunity. But if this team is serious about winning, the front office needs to make sure this is not just a place to end careers.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!