Florida Panthers reportedly interested in acquiring Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky

The Battle of Florida could get spicy next year

This afternoon, the Florida Panthers traded Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a second-round draft pick, and two fourth-round draft picks. Immediately following the trade, multiple reporters floated the idea that that part of the motivation for that deal was that the Panthers intend to pursue both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobvrovsky this summer or possibly even sooner at the trade deadline. Both forwards the Panthers landed today are on expiring contracts and could be traded for more draft picks before the NHL trade deadline on February 25th.

But this is a Tampa Bay Lightning blog, so why am I writing about the in-state rival Panthers? Well, because I want hockey to thrive in Florida. And I think one of the best ways to do that is to generate a sustained rivalry between the two NHL clubs in the state. Despite being in the league together for 25 years, the two teams have never had overlapping stretches of success and have yet to meet in the playoffs. Even meaningful regular season games have been rare.

One of the most fun things about rooting for sports teams is rivalries. The state of Florida knows all about that. The collegiate rivalry between University of Florida and Florida State University draws eyeballs in multiple sports. Fans from both sides make the trip to the other’s campus several times each year. No matter how each team is performing, those games are always marquee matchups that the fans can look forward to every season.

That’s what we need for the Lightning and Panthers. The teams are close enough to drive between the arenas. A playoff series would see fans of both teams flood the opposition’s barn. But we can’t get that if their competitive windows don’t align. And during this stretch of success for the Lightning, that hasn’t happened.

The Panthers have recently struggled with turmoil and turnover in their front office. Dale Tallon was in, then he was out, and then he was back. They were all-in on analytics and then they weren’t. Much of this has probably been more media narrative driven than a reflection of reality but throughout this stretch, the team has just one playoff appearance. And unfortunately, they were jobbed by the referees allowing the Lightning to cruise past the Islanders in the second round instead of having to face a better Panthers team.

If the Cats are genuinely clearing space to make a big free agency splash, that could immediately give fans of both teams the rivalry they’ve craved throughout the two teams’ existences. Florida has some high end players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck. Aaron Ekblad is resurgent this season and Keith Yandle is still solid on the blue line. Add Panarin and Bobrovsky to that lineup and suddenly they become one of the best teams in the Atlantic Division.

Bobrovsky has been arguably the best goalie in the league over the last five seasons. He’s had a downturn this year but if the Panthers could get him back on track, they’d immediately take a huge step forward. Panarin is a top-30 forward in WAR over the last three seasons. Him on a line with Barkov and Evgeny Dadonov would be one of the best trios in the NHL.

Normally, I wouldn’t put too much stock in rumors like this so early in the process. But Panarin in particular has made it clear that he wants to live in a big city on the coast. The Rangers have been considered the front runner but Miami is perhaps even more enticing than New York from a lifestyle perspective. If Panarin is looking for fun and sun, the Panthers might be the best fit of any team in the NHL.

If the Panthers were somehow able to land both, their rivalry with the Lightning would reach new heights. Both teams would be stacked with talented Russian players, which would only add to the competitiveness between the two teams. Kucherov vs. Panarin. Vasilevskiy vs. Bobrovsky. The storylines would abound. Suddenly the Battle of Florida would be a real thing.

Let us know what you think in the poll. Do you want an in-state rival or are you happy to have the Panthers continue as they have?

Would you prefer?

The Panthers stay mediocre17
The Panthers get better and become a true rival for the Bolts63