Bill Zito and the Panthers front office have been busy over the past several months, working to improve a team that finished 2nd in the Central Division and put up a great fight against the eventual cup champions in the first round of the playoffs.
The Expansion Draft
The first hurdle the Panthers had to clear this offseason was the Expansion Draft for the NHL’s new team, the Seattle Kraken. For the draft, each team (besides the Golden Knights) had two options for player protections.
7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie
8 skaters (forwards and defensemen) and 1 goalie.
After utilizing the 8-1 protection for the Vegas draft, the Panthers opted for the 7-3-1 here.
The protected list was as follows:
Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, Patric Hornqvist, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mason Marchment, and Carter Verhaeghe
Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling, and MacKenzie Weegar
Goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky
The one surprise on the Panthers protected list was actually the omission of Defensemen Keith Yandle. Yandle was set to be the 3rd defensemen protected because of his NMC, but the team opted to buy him out and protect Forsling instead.
By protecting Forsling, the Panthers locked up their core while still leaving Seattle with some good players to choose from. This included forwards Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari, defensemen Radko Gudas, and goalie Chris Driedger.
Ultimately, the Kraken ended up selecting Driedger to be their franchise’s first goalie, which is exactly what Florida wanted. Driedger was in line for a pay raise and the Panthers weren’t going to be able to keep him. With the emergence of Spencer Knight and Bobrovsky’s large contract, this selection was a win-win for both teams.
After the Expansion Draft on July 21st, it was time for the Entry Level Draft on July 23rd. The Panthers had 6 picks in the draft, and chose forward Matthew “Mackie” Samoskevich out of the University of Michigan with the 24th overall pick. Other notable players selected by the Panthers were defensemen Evan Nause of the Quebec Remparts and goalie Kirill Gerasimyuk from the MHL in Russia. These prospects won’t see the ice in South Florida for a few years, but it is nice to see the team address all areas of the ice and continue to build a strong foundation for the team.
This was the busiest portion of the offseason for the Panthers, and for a good reason. The team had a two-fold approach.
First, they had to worry about rewarding their guys with new contracts to keep this core together.
Then, they needed to go out and add some more talent. We’ll start with the departures, work our way through the many contract extensions, before rounding it out with the newcomers.
Packing their bags:
As I mentioned above, Keith Yandle is no longer a Florida Panther. The veteran defensemen, who has put his Ironman streak ahead of his play on the ice over the last few years, heads to the City of Brotherly Love and reunites with Kevin Hayes on the Flyers for a 1 year 900k deal (and a NMC of course). He’ll definitely be missed in the locker room by the guys, but the fans certainly enjoyed this move (myself included).
Chris Driedger, part of the goalie carousel last season, gets a chance to be the first #1 for Seattle, signing a much deserved 3 year deal worth 10.5 million dollars. Chris wasn’t the only Panther to join the Kraken, as Alex Wennberg signed with the team for a 3 year deal worth 13.5 million dollars. Wennberg, who started as the 2nd line center on the team, had a great season with the Cats and probably would have been back with the team if Sam Bennett and Anton Lundell did not exist.
Anton Stralman, a defensemen brought in to help change the culture in South Florida for the 2019-2020 season, was traded to Arizona in order to free up cap space. Stralman featured a ton during his first year with the team, but saw his role diminish this season due to on-ice performance before rebounding in the playoffs after Keith Yandle was scratched.
Staying in South Florida:
As I mentioned above, the key for the Panthers was keeping their core together, and they did just that. Carter Verhaeghe (3 year/12.5 mil), Anthony Duclair (3 year/9 mil), Sam Bennett (4 year/17.4 mil), Gustav Forsling (3 year/8 mil), and Brandon Montour (3 year/10.5 mil) all received new contracts this offseason (more information on contracts can be seen at Spotrac).
Also, the Panthers decided to keep a few of their restricted free agents around with guys like Sam Montembault, Juho Lammikko, and Eetu Luostarinen
While other teams in the division lost key pieces of their teams, the Panthers kept theirs. This along with team friendly deals allowed them to maximize their cap space and help build this budding contender.
Going into free agency, the Panthers had two crucial holes to fill. A top six forward and a top four defensemen.
Real G’s work in silence like lasagna and Bill Zito did just that, dropping a bomb on the hockey world as the first round of the draft was wrapping up.
Yep, Sam Reinhart is a Florida Panther. The biggest move made by the Panthers this offseason and all it cost them was Devon Levi and their 2022 First Round Pick. Reinhart’s flexibility as a winger and center is crucial for the Panthers, as he can play on the wing alongside Barkov and Verhaeghe or center the second line next to Huberdeau.
Along with Reinhart, the Panthers also brought in goalie Chris Gibson and forward Zac Dalpe as added depth.
While we wait for the offseason to conclude and for pre-season to get here, there are a few things the Panthers need to do:
- Re-sign Aleksander Barkov. This one is obvious and will get done, it’s just a matter of when. Huberdeau’s extension is looming, and getting a deal done now will make that process much easier.
- Sign Sam Reinhart. While the Panthers didn’t pay much to acquire him, they will have to pay a lot to keep him. Like Barkov, I expect a deal to get done, it’s just a matter of when.
- Sign a Top 4 Defensemen. The last hole the Panthers have to fill. While some personnel decisions remain, they still need to fill the fourth spot.
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