SUNRISE, Fla. – The NHL’s annual trade deadline is just days away, but apparently the Florida Panthers did not feel like waiting until after the weekend.
The Panthers made a deal Thursday with the Chicago Blackhawks, acquiring forward Lucas Wallmark and defenseman Lucas Carlsson in exchange for forwards Brett Connolly and Henrik Borgstrom and defenseman Riley Stillman.
The deal was first reported by TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.
Florida also sent a 2021 seventh-round pick to Chicago in the trade.
On the surface, it appears that Panthers General Manager Bill Zito could be clearing up some salary cap space ahead of the Monday 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Florida has reportedly been poking around for a top-four defenseman, depth at the center position and some help in the scoring department, not that they need it (the Cats are currently tied for fifth in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.28 goals per game).
It’s a thrilling concept for a Panthers team rarely in this kind of position, sitting atop the division standings and priming for what they hope is a long and prosperous run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s exciting we’re making that push,” Panthers alternate captain Noel Acciari said Thursday morning. “Whoever leaves, we’re going to miss them. Whoever we bring in, we’re going to welcome and hope they help the team out.”
In the deal, Florida picks up a pair of depth players who can perform in Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville’s possession and pace-heavy systems. They also get two players who are eligible for movement between the NHL club and the taxi squad.
Wallmark, if you recall, has done this dance before. Florida picked him up at last year’s deadline in the Vincent Trocheck trade. He was a pending UFA and moved on to Chicago during the offseason, signing a one-year deal worth $950,000.
Carlsson has spent most of this season moving between the big club, Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford and the taxi squad.
He’s skated in 12 games with the Blackhawks this season, logging an assist, a plus-1 rating and 10 shots on goal. Wallmark has appeared in 16 contests, with just three assists on 10 shots and a minus-3 rating.
Heading back to Chicago are a pair of prospects on the cusp of the NHL and a 28-year-old with a heavy contract.
Connolly was signed during the summer of 2019 to a four-year deal worth $14 million, with an average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 million.
His first season with the Panthers was hot and cold, scoring in streaks but failing to deliver in the consistency department.
He finished last year with a respectable 19 goals and 14 assists, but 12 of those goals came during a 20-game span in October and November, and he scored just three goals over the season’s final 27 games.
Things did not get any better for Connolly in 2020-21. After making the opening night roster and starting the year on Florida’s fourth line, Connolly slipped further down the roster until he was eventually waived and placed on the practice squad for most of March.
Only because Florida was hit by a rash of injuries was Connolly inserted back in the Panthers lineup, though that only lasted a handful of games.
The veteran and former Stanley Cup champion can still play, and it’s not difficult to see that a team fighting for a playoff spot could find value in a guy like Connolly.
He’s still just 28 years old and over the past four seasons has scored 15, 15, 22 and 19 goals, respectively.
Riley Stillman, meanwhile, is just 23 years old and still has plenty of upside.
The young rearguard and son of former Panthers alternate captain Cory Stillman was seemingly poised for a potential breakout campaign after logging 34 games last year as a rookie with Florida.
His play had slowly but surely been improving, and a strong training camp in January had some believing that Stillman was going to get a good look this season.
That didn’t materialize as Zito claimed Gustav Forsling and Noah Juulsen off waivers, as well as signing veteran Kevin Connauton based off his training camp tryout.
Borgstrom’s inclusion in the deal perhaps shows just how difficult it was for Zito to find a willing taker for Connolly’s contract.
Sure, the rising star that is Henrik Borgstrom has lost a bit of its shine since he was a scoring machine at the University of Denver.
The 2016 first-round pick scored 45 goals in 77 games with the Pioneers before going pro in 2018, but his time between the NHL’s Panthers and their AHL affiliate in Springfield did not live up to expectations.
To be fair, Borgstrom rarely was placed in the kind of top line, special teams positions he saw while at Denver.
The idea was to put the young sniper in more defensive roles in order to round-out his game. Could that have stunted the growth of his offensive prowess?
The Blackhawks are banking on that not being the case.