How free agency and trades benefitted the Florida Panthers and can do the same for the Chicago Blackhawks

Most of their roster is made up of free-agent signings, trades, and waiver claims.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. They got there with a roster made up of mostly free-agent signings, trades, and waiver claims.

According to CapFriendly, the Panthers only have four players on the roster that they drafted. It is not like they are recklessly spending either as they project to have around $20 million in cap space. That is getting a lot of bang for their buck.

The Chicago Blackhawks plan on using the draft and development route to get back to contending for the Stanley Cup. With plenty of cap space, general manager Kyle Davidson should not ignore using free agency and trades to raise the standard of play for next season.

The Panthers are in the middle of a five-year run of making the playoffs and getting to the Stanley Cup Finals this year and last. One reason a franchise that only had two playoff appearances this century before 2020 is now a contender was general manager Bill Zito completely changing the roster through free agency and trades.

The pillars of the Panthers are three former first-round picks in Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and Anton Lundell. They drafted Barkov and Ekblad in 2013 and 2014. The rest of the cast came through bold trades like acquiring Matthew Tkachuk during the 2022 offseason or getting Sam Bennett in 2021. Pretty much the Panthers have cornered the market on ripping off the Calgary Flames.

Gustav Forsling was cast off by the Blackhawks and the Carolina Hurricanes. He is now thriving with the Panthers, and he came to them as a waiver claim. Carter Verhaeghe and Evan Rodrigues were free-agent signings that only take up just a shade over $7 million in cap space.

Now the bill is coming due in this year's draft in terms of draft capital the Panthers have given up. Florida has just a third-round choice, two fifth-round picks, and a sixth-rounder in this year's draft. They also do not have their first-round pick next year nor do they have full control of their 2026 first-round pick. No one will care in South Florida if they win the Stanley Cup.

While it is a smart idea to build up the team through the draft, the Panthers have shown you can put a good team on the ice with some cornerstone draft picks, bold trades, and prudent free-agent signings. It might be nice if the Hawks try to blend drafting well with what the Panthers have done to get back to the playoffs.