Why demoting Henrik Borgstrom was a mistake

Panthers top prospect starts in Springfield

Henrik Borgstrom didn’t have a perfect Panthers camp and preseason. He’s looked timid at neutral ice, forgoing trusting his natural savvy instincts in favor of being afraid to make a mistake. Though there is a foundation to his defensive game, Borgstrom also proved that he has some filling out to do in that aspect as he missed assignments, left holes in the ice and made the transition back to offense too quickly. All of this spurred Bob Boughner to move Borgstrom from his natural position of center to the wing. However, in the offensive zone, Borgstrom put his calling card, the one that earned him the nickname the Artist, on full display. From his ability to overwork defenders with his lightning quick hands and stick work to his knack for getting into open ice and into shooting lanes to his just-as-flashy wrists which cover all areas of the net from any angle and at the very least, challenge opposing goalies to hold on to the puck, usually producing juicy rebounds, Borgstrom looked like a clear-cut choice to make the club out of camp as the third line winger flanking Jared McCann and opposite Denis Malgin.

On Monday, it was confirmed that that will not happen. Instead, Borgstrom will begin the season in the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds. There are some definite holes in Dale Tallon’s plan.

In Borgstrom’s absence, Frank Vatrano will be bumped up to the third line, In the process, a 6’3” presence will be replaced with the 5’9” figure, further limiting the size of a line that already houses 5’9” on the opposite wing.

Most concerning though is what Borgstrom’s absence and alternatively Vatrano at 3LW will do to the fourth line: keep it in nearly the exact same state as last season, a checking line with very little scoring touch.

Last season, the Panthers were doomed by a slow start. Despite going on a 25-8-2 run to end the year, the squad’s 19-22-6 record in the first half including 7-11-2 in their first 20 games was a prime culprit for the team missing the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons. A major contributor for that slow start was the fourth line of 18-7-17 (or some combination thereof) as it scored 12 goals on 270 shots and allowed 16 goals on more than 400 shots, 52% of which went unblocked. Among lines that registered at least 200 shots on goal, that line’s 42.9 goals for percentage was the absolute worst in the league and its shot attempts for percentage of 48.6 was sixth worst in the NHL. This season, the physical Maxim Mamin, who finds ways to get himself involved in plays and who more often than not wins puck battles, will provide an upgrade over the one-dimensional Michael Haley who brings very little unless he’s using his bare fists. However, adding on to the fact that Mamin didn’t have a good preseason and could’ve very easily been justified as the forward to join Springfield rather than Borgstrom, is the daunting fact the rest of that fourth line from 2017-18 will remain intact. To make these matters even worse, judging by comments made Tuesday, Boughner made it apparent that hasn’t learned from last season as he left the door open for that same abhorrent 18-17-7 line to return as the bottom grouping this year.

On Tuesday, Dale Tallon had this to say about the decision to send Borgstrom to Springfield:

With Springfield, Borgstrom will face the prospect of centering an all-Finnish line with wingers Juho Lammikko and Sebastian Repo. Borgstrom and Repo became familiar with one another in Jr. A SM Liga as opponents in 2015-16 and later became friends who lived just an hour apart. Lammikko, one year Borgstrom’s elder, rubbed shoulders with his new center when the two were competing at opposite levels of juniors in 2015-16 and last seasons While that familiarity and camaraderie between the trio is a plus and while Springfield stands to vastly improve from last year from a talent standpoint, the system is still being run by Geordie Kinnear. Since 2014-15, only one notable Panthers draftee has made it through Kinnear’s system and become a quality NHL talent: Vincent Trocheck had 42 points in 55 games as a member of the then-affiliated San Antonio Rampage in 2013-14.

Simply put, in my opinion. Kinnear runs a flawed system that doesn’t cater to the needs of young players. After spending the end of last year, part of the offseason in which he worked with Aleksander Barkov and all preseason working on Boughner’s systematic fundamentals, Borgstrom will now be subjected to the whims of Kinnear. Tallon says this move is being made to protect Borgstrom’s development. In reality, this move could prove to hurt Borgstrom more than being allowed to round out his game in the NHL ever would’ve.

Last season during a Q&A with fans, Dale Tallon said he was in good negotiations with Jaromir Jagr. Two weeks later, Jagr moved on. He also said the Panthers aren’t looking for an enforcer. A week later, he signed Michael Haley. This season, he told us that “the 23 best players in camp will play”. Henrik Borgstrom outperformed Maxim Mamin. He outperformed Frank Vatrano. He outperformed Derek MacKenzie. He outperformed Michael Haley. He outperformed Colton Sceviour. He outperformed Troy Brouwer. Today, while they are all Florida Panthers, Borgstrom is in the AHL.

Will a less-balanced third line and a very similar-to-last-year’s fourth line doom the Panthers to another slow start? Will Geordie Kinnear stunt the growth of another top prospect?Should Panthers fans and players alike remain entrusted to their President Of Hockey Operations? All of these questions can and should be asked as a result of Tuesday’s roster decisions. For the answers, much like Borgstrom, all we can do is wait and see.

Do you agree with decision to send Borgstrom down?