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Entering the 2022-23 NHL season, it’s not a stretch to say that the Florida Panthers have an elite goaltending tandem that is possibly in the top-5 of duos as the season kicks off Thursday when the Panthers travel to New York to take on the Islanders. When the strength of each other position group that the Panthers employ is taken into consideration, it highlights the fact that Florida has no glaring weaknesses throughout their lineup as they look to build on a 122 point season and win the Atlantic division for the second straight season.
Although there is a clear choice for the number one goalie heading into the season, it will be interesting to track the utilization of Florida’s two star goaltenders as the season progresses.
Sergei Bobrovsky is heading into the fourth year of his 7-year, 70 million dollar contract he signed with the Panthers back in 2019. Simply put, when you are dedicating $10 million dollars to a goalie, he’s your starter even if it means blocking goalie of the future, Spencer Knight. Bobrovsky is coming off of an interesting season where his win and loss record and stats were generally eye-candy for any Panthers fan.
He posted a record of 39-7-3 in 53 games started. A near 40 win season for any goalie is nothing to scoff at. Even with his impressive play and borderline elite save percentage of .913, Bobrovsky looked very shaky in net at times and was kept afloat by his offense’s ability to put the puck in the net at an astonishing pace. The Panthers led the league in goals by scoring 337 over the course of the season. That number is good for 25 more than the next highest scoring team, the offensive juggernaut Maple Leafs.
At one point in the season, the Panthers offense had to put the goaltending on their back when they were victorious in back to back games back to back 7-6 OT wins in early April of last season, both games in which Bobrovsky started. He recorded save percentages of .714 and .760 respectively in those games. Here’s a guy who was benched in the 2021 playoffs after posting an .841 save percentage and a 5.33 GAA in two games.
Inconsistency has really been the main issue for Bobrovsky. Sometimes he’s fantastic, sometimes he’s not. Can’t the same be said about any goalie, though? It just depends on the night. Sometimes your ace in the rotation is going to go out and get shelled. It’s just the way sports work. In Bobrovsky’s case, however, the good largely outweighs the bad. (Is it $10,000,000 worth of good? That’s a topic for another day).
Bobrovsky has been one of the best goaltenders in the league since breaking in with the Flyers in the 2010-11 season. Bob has two All-Star Appearances in 2015 and 2017. He won two Vezina trophies with Columbus in 2013 and 2017. Simply put, the guy is a great goaltender. Sure, he may be a bit overpaid, but he brings a solid veteran presence that every team desperately needs between the pipes.
Spencer Knight is without a doubt the Panthers’ goaltender of the future. The Panthers spent a first round pick on Knight in 2019, making him the 13th overall pick in the draft, which is pretty high for any goalie. Coming off of a freshly signed three-year, $13.5 million contract extension, Knight will look to finish the last year of his entry level contract strong before moving into his new deal. Lucky for Knight, all the pieces are set up around him for him to have a fantastic third season. He still has a solid defense in front of him even after the offseason losses of Ben Chiarot and MacKenzie Weegar, a high powered offense that can make up for any mistakes made in net with the blink of an eye, and an excellent veteran presence in Sergei Bobrovsky to help his game.
Knight is coming off of a season in which he didn’t play a ton. Florida kept his workload in check by starting him in 27 games. He came into five additional games in relief for a total of 32 games played, where he finished with a record of 27-19-9, a save percentage of .908 and a 2.79 GAA. Knight, just like Bobrovsky, had a couple of terrible games but was arguably more consistent throughout the year than his counterpart in net. Knight will probably start the year watching Bobrovsky from the bench, but he will likely pick up more and more playing time as the year progresses and the 34 year old Bobrovsky needs a break.
The Panthers shouldn’t lose any sleep at night over their goaltending situation. They are well positioned to have not only one of the best starting goalies in the NHL, but also one of the best young backups. Panthers fans should take comfort in the fact that as soon as Bobrovsky falters or something else like an injury pops up, they have a reliable option to plug right in and not lose significant production value. The Panthers begin their Atlantic Division championship defense on Thursday, October 13th.