This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference, War on Ice, and NHLNumbers.
After years in the league’s basement, it looks the Florida Panthers are finally headed in the right direction. They didn’t do much this offseason outside of minor housekeeping, but a promising young core of players makes them an interesting team to watch for in the Eastern Conference this season. Moving forward, such as it is with any team loaded with young players, the Panthers have a tremendous amount of cap flexibility, which could make them a good bet to be active at the trade deadline if the they appear to be in contention. That being said, management needs to be careful that the team has enough money to go around when their important players need new contracts.
- Traded Zach Hyman and a 2017 draft pick to the Leafs for Greg McKegg.
- Bought out Brad Boyes. He’ll carry a $0.958 million cap hit for two seasons.
- Signed Brent Renger to a one-year, $0.600 million contract.
- Signed Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, $0.575 million contract.
- Traded Jimmy Hayes to the Bruins for Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract.
- Signed Alex Petrovic to a two-year contract with a $1.05 million cap hit.
- IN: Greg McKegg, Brent Ranger, Cameron Gaunce, Reilly Smith, Marc Savard’s contract.
- OUT: Brad Boyes, Jimmy Hayes, Tomas Kopecky, Scotty Upshall.
The best thing the Panthers did last season was acquire Jaromir Jagr from the New Jersey Devils. Not because he willed the Panthers on a magical late-season run into a playoff position or anything like that, but because of his presence alongside his young line-mates Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Without Jagr, Barkov and Huberdeau each managed a 51.0 Corsi For percentage at even strength, but in the roughly 250 minutes they all played together, that figure jumped to 55.4. Their production also increased when Jagr joined their line, as Barkov and Huberdeau’s goals for percentage increased from 44.9 per cent and 56.2 per cent respectively to 63.6 per cent.
The Panther have Jagr signed for one more year, but it’s difficult to say whether or not he’s going to keep playing, and if he does, where it’ll be. If he wants to keep playing in Florida, the Panthers will most certainly have the cap space for him because the team is loaded with cheap, young players.
Speaking of those young players, Barkov’s entry-level deal comes to an end after this season, so he’ll likely be the Panthers’ top priority over the summer. Last year, they inked Nick Bjugstad to a six-year extension with a $4.1 million cap hit, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Barkov locked up to a similar longer team deal. Through his first two career seasons, Barkov has 24 goals and 36 assists in 125 games, while also managing an even strength Corsi For percentage of 52.4 despite the fact he’s faced some of the most difficult opposing competition of any forward on the team. Another thing about Barkov that’s really impressive is the fact he has a September birthday, meaning he’s heading into his third NHL season having just turned 20-years old.
In terms of their other young forwards, the Panthers only need to worry about giving a new RFA deal to Vincent Trocheck this summer. Like I mentioned before, Bjugstad is locked up for this next years and Huberdeau was given a two-year bridge deal earlier this summer. In the summer of 2017, the Panthers will be looking at new RFA contracts for Rocco Grimaldi, Huberdeau, and Reilly Smith. They only have money committed to a handful of players beyond the 2016-17 season, so it really shouldn’t be an issue to get any of them signed, especially if they don’t go out and sign anybody to a horrible free agent contract like they’re known to do (see: Bolland, Dave).
DEFENCEMEN AND GOALTENDERS
Along with Jagr, the Panthers will have to make decisions on two other veterans this summer, Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell, who are both set to his free agency come July 1. Mitchell is now 38-years old, and if he stays in the league beyond this season, it’ll be at a cheaper clip than his current $4.25 million cap hit. Campbell, on the other hand, probably has a fair bit more left in the tank at 36-years old, and could be an attractive asset in free agency for a team seeking some offence from the blue line.
Campbell’s offence has dropped pretty steadily over his four years in Florida. Back in 2011-12, which was his first season with the Panthers, he managed 0.65 points per game. The next year, he averaged 0.56, then 0.45 in 2013-14, then finally, last year, he averaged just 0.33. His ice time also diminished last season. In his first three years, he was averaging around 26 or 27 minutes of ice time per game, but last year he got chopped all the way down to 23 minutes per game. It’s pretty easy to see that his game isn’t heading in the right direction, and with a really good group of young players who aren’t going to be on cheap RFA deals forever, the Panthers may want to be wary about bringing back Campbell for more than a year or two.
In terms of young defencemen who’ll be needing new deals soon, Erik Gudbranson’s two-year bridge deal comes to an end after this season, and as we all know, Aaron Ekblad’s rookie contract will expire at the end of next season. Obviously the Panthers are going to want to get both of these guys signed, so the less money and term they have committed to aging players with deteriorating quality of play, the better.
Moving on to Florida’s goaltending situation… there isn’t much to talk about. Roberto Luongo seems happy to be back in Florida, and I’m sure the Panthers are happy to have him. That being said, Luongo’s $4.533 million cap hit looks fine right now because he’s still a good goalie, but it goes on until 2022 when he’s 43 years old. I’m sure the Panthers knew what they were getting into when they acquired him from the Canucks, and they’ll have to live with a pretty heinous contract in a few years, unless Roberto can miraculously maintain a high quality of play into his 40s.
Just like any young team loaded with cheap talent on RFA contracts, the Panthers have a tremendous amount of cap flexibility right now. They have the cap space available to be buyer at the trade deadline, and they could also go on a big shopping spree in free agency this summer. Of course, it isn’t that simple. Like any team loaded with cheap talent on RFA contracts (see where I’m going with this?) the Panthers are going to need to start handing out some big contracts to keep all of these players through their prime, free agent years.
The Panthers are only really committed to four players for the long-term right now. Roberto Luongo, Dave Bolland, Nick Bjugstad, and Jussi Jokinen are the only guys (outside of players who just signed their entry-level deals this summer) who are signed for three or more years. As a result, it shouldn’t be that difficult for the Panthers to pony up some cash for the members of their young core when the time comes. They’ll need to figure out new RFA deals for Barkov, Gudbranson, and Trocheck this summer, while three key veterans in Jagr, Mitchell, and Campbell all hit free agency. The year after, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Rocco Grimaldi, and Alex Petrovic need new RFA deals, while Dmitry Kulikov hits free agency.
The key for the Panthers will be finding a way to squeeze good, quality veterans into their roster to shelter their young core, while avoiding handing out albatross contracts like the one owned by Dave Bolland.