Did Bill Zito shake up the NHL Trade market and make Team USA standout goalie Spencer Knight reconsider playing for the Florida Panthers?
As the NHL got underway last week, Florida Panthers veteran defenseman Keith Yandle was suddenly cast into a whirlwind of NHL Trade rumors. Yandle’s name is still very much out there, but did internal and external pressure force Florida Panthers General Manager Bill Zito to change course in handling the delicate Yandle situation and the Iron Man streak?
If and when Yandle is traded, what will the ripple effect be on the NHL trade market, and more specifically, what will happen with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois?
Are the Buffalo Sabres a goalie away from contending in the East Division?
Find out in ‘Off The Record’!
1. Did Zito feel The Heat?
By all accounts, an avalanche of backlash fell on the Florida Panthers last week. On Thursday, the reigning ‘Iron Man’ of the NHL and one of the most beloved NHL players, Keith Yandle, found himself on the outs with the Panthers. The new Panthers GM, former Blue Jackets Assistant GM, and former NHL Player agent Bill Zito wasn’t backing down from being the guy that made sure Yandle was a healthy scratch and not in the lineup for the first time in 866 games.
As Yandle’s agent Jerry Buckley put it to TSN Insider Pierre Lebrun, this wasn’t about his client’s play taking some significant decline but rather a new GM trying to put his imprint on his new team.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with performance,” Buckley pointed out. “Keith is one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. He was last year, he has been over the last three years. And this decision was made a week before training camp. So it doesn’t have to do with performance. This is the general manager’s attempt to pressure Keith and make him uncomfortable and to waive this no-trade clause.’’
Prior to that going to print and much more so after, that was the general consensus from within the Panthers hierarchy and around the NHL. As Zito told LeBrun, he was brought in for a change, but it appears the former NHL player agent picked the wrong player to make an example.
One source close to the situation told Off the Record about Zito’s handling of what was going to be a very delicate situation no matter what:
“I don’t think anyone is saying Yandle’s contract is great for the Panthers but there are ways to do this and Bill didn’t calculate this right or measure the temperature. I think Vinnie (Panthers owner Vinnie Viola) had a word with him and was basically like ‘Do what you gotta do but read the room.’
Whether that happened or not, something changed from Friday, when as he has so many times in his career, Yandle seemed headed for his hometown team the Boston Bruins. Then, to Saturday morning when Yandle, still one of the best powerplay quarterbacks in the NHL, found himself working the Panthers’ top powerplay unit with Aaron Ekblad.
Maybe not ironically, word started to travel that not only had Zito received some internal feedback but management around the NHL made it known that they were wondering what was going on in Sunrise and why would a well-respected veteran like Yandle be treated this way?
The most notable question posed to ‘Off The Record’ by an NHL scout since Thursday though should worry the Panthers and their fans the most:
“What’s Spencer Knight thinking right now?”
As we’ve seen in the past, NCAA draft picks have reconsidered their NHL destiny and decided to enter free agency instead, many times signing with another NHL team they feel is headed in a better direction. Could the Panthers 2019 first-round pick and the goalie that led the USA World Juniors team to Gold have second thoughts about heading to Sunrise?
Off the record: “Are you kidding me? Of course, that’s gotta be a concern,” an NHL management source told OTR Saturday. “Spencer Knight is a stud, He knows that and why would he want to a.) be behind ‘BOB’ [Sergei Bobrovsky} and then B.) deal with that?”
2. If Panthers Trade Yandle, Then What?
There’s a theory that Zito’s full press on Yandle to waive was because he’s setting up to deal for the young stud he helped draft third overall in 2016 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pierre Luc Dubois. Is Zito trying to position himself to snag Dubois who is up for grabs all of a sudden?
That makes a lot of sense but what if Zito is really trying to shape this team to meet his vision?
Off the record: “The domino effect makes a ton of sense for sure,” one NHL scout said. “But they have pieces, and you gotta alter that to get Dubois eh?”
That scout is correct, but why the Barkov rumors?
“I’ll tell you why, because Zito would love Dubois!” another NHL scout told BHN.
So would the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, and any NHL team with a vision.
3. Sabres A Fleury Away?
It’s only two games, but the Buffalo Sabres hung with the Washington Capitals for two games and some are wondering, are the Sabres a goalie away from being legit?
There just happens to be a three-time Stanley Cup champion netminder in Vegas that the Golden Knights are ready to move. After watching the Sabres battle the Capitals for a two-game set to open the season, one NHL scout said to BHN:
Off the record: “What the BLEEP are the Sabres waiting for? Get Fleury!”
Is that such a crazy idea?
The Sabres have the firepower. They can make some cap space. Until they unleash Rasmus Dahlin more, their blueline is a question mark, but can they capitalize on the NHL trade market and land Marc-Andre Fleury?
“I’m not sure at all that Kevyn Adams has looked into this, but it makes sense. This team has the big guns and needs to keep the puck out of their own net,” one NHL Management source told Boston Hockey Now.