Spencer Knight contract extension and what it means for Florida

Spencer Knight’s contract extension keeps him in Florida until 2026. Here’s what it means for him and the team

Florida Panthers goalie Spencer Knight signed a three-year contract extension with the team
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Florida Panthers signed goaltender Spencer Knight to a three-year contract extension with an AAV of 4.5 million dollars. Knight, now on the last year of his entry deal, is locked up through the 2025-26 NHL season. The timing of this news surprised many fans. Common practice would suggest that the team would wait until the offseason to get this deal done.

While certainly unexpected, the Spencer Knight contract extension clarifies Florida’s future plans at the position, and is a worthy gamble to take on before the season starts.

The Player

Spencer Knight, at just 21 years old, has exceeded even the most lofty expectations placed upon him. He finished his first full season in the NHL with a 19-9-3 record and .908 save percentage over 32 games.

Those numbers may not suggest that Knight is anything more than a backup goalie right now. What separates him, however, is his exponential improvement over the year. After returning from an AHL stint in February, Knight finished the season very strong. Via statmuse, his last 14 games resulted in a record of 10-3-1 with a .921 save percentage.

That stretch alone showed what Knight could be in a few short years. It’s also likely what enticed the Panthers to get a contract done sooner rather than later. Waiting until the offseason could have shot his price up significantly. If Knight plays as well this year as he did down the stretch last year, he would likely command far more than his current deal.

The Contract

At 4.5 million dollars, this is a very clear bridge deal for Knight. It is far too expensive to pay for a traditional backup, but significantly less than most starters are paid.

This deal resembles a contract signed by Jake Oettinger earlier this offseason. Oettinger, the 23 year old star goalie prospect for Dallas, signed a three-year contract with a 4 million dollar AAV.

That deal gave the framework for the Spencer Knight contract extension, but it is worth noting the higher value for Knight’s deal. Oettinger has done more at this point in his career to earn a higher contract. The figure Knight received is a bet on the future.

Since this contract starts next year, his potential jump this year factors into the price point. In addition, his pedigree as the former thirteenth overall pick and a college superstar also plays a part.

Still, if there are any concerns about his NHL play, look no further than the exponential growth he displayed in just his first season mentioned above. This may seem like a bit of an overpay as of now, but taking chances on internal improvement is how good teams become great.

The future Implications

One under-the-radar part of the Spencer Knight contract extension is the length. As mentioned earlier, his new contract ends in 2026. Florida’s other goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, also has a contract ending in 2026.

Bobrovsky’s much maligned contract has been a point of contention within the organization. He has not lived up to his ten million dollar cap hit, and his full no movement clause has made it impossible to find a suitor for him. In all likelihood, they will need to work around it until then.

Knight’s extension may be a worthy solution to the problem. In the short term, he can take over for Bob at any time as Bob’s age begins to catch up with him. In the long term, The Panthers will have the cap space give Knight a raise when this contract expires.

Of course, this plan means the Panthers may end up with the league’s most expensive backup in a couple years. This will probably hurt their depth at other positions, but the Panthers can’t do anything about that without an obvious trade partner. The team has to chalk it up to the sins of Dale Tallon and deal with the resulting consequences.

Spencer Knight represents another key piece of the Panthers’ bright future. This contract extension shows continued dedication to internal improvement and perennial contention. Paying goaltenders always comes with some risk (see Sergei Bobrovsky) but Zito and company have done a good job making smart, sensible decisions when it comes to player personnel, something most Panther fans will agree is an entirely welcome breath of fresh air.

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Paul Maurice Hired as Florida Panthers Head Coach

The Florida Panthers hired Paul Maurice as their head coach. Here is what he brings to the team.

Winnipeg Jets' head coach Paul Maurice discusses Patrik Laine's concussion during a short press conference after the pre-game skate.
Photo Credit: MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

After weeks of searching, the Florida Panthers have landed on a coaching decision. In a somewhat surprising move, the team chose Paul Maurice to be the Florida Panthers head coach. Maurice replaces interim coach Andrew Brunette, who lead the team to a 51-18-6 record since taking over last season.

This move comes as quite a shock to the Panthers faithful, as Maurice was not a name floated around during the hiring process. Still, the organization views Maurice as someone who can take the team forward. Here is what he brings to the organization.

Paul Maurice’s coaching history

Paul Maurice has been a head coach in the NHL for 24 years. His most successful season came in 2002 where he took the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final. Most recently, Maurice spent the past nine seasons as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. In those nine seasons, Maurice made the playoffs five times. His most successful season with the Jets came in 2018, where he made the conference finals.

Since the NHL has changed drastically in the last five years, it really only makes sense to analyze his last stint in Winnipeg to see what he will offer as the Florida Panthers head coach.

Since the 2017-18 season, the Jets averaged 3.18 goals per game. That places them eighth in the league over that stretch. The team also gave up 2.79 goals per game under Maurice, a figure that places them 10th.

In that same time frame, the power play hovered around 23%, which places them fourth league wide. The Penalty kill had a success rate of around 80%, which is below league average.

The Macro numbers suggest a consistently good offensive team with defensive questions. This is exactly what those Jets teams were. Maurice does deserve credit for implementing a system which allowed his offensive talent to thrive. However, the same defensive lapses plagued his teams year after year with little adjustments from him. The Jets became predictable and it ultimately led to his ousting there.

Maurice’s fit with the Panthers

The Panthers wanted experience with their new coaching hire, and Maurice has plenty of experience. This Panthers team can also be thought of as an upgraded version of Maurice’s Jets. Both are gifted offensively and lack the lockdown defensive ability of many of the perennial cup contenders. In this sense, the learning curve shouldn’t be too steep for Maurice as he adjusts to his personnel.

Still, Maurice will need to change some things if he wants to be successful as the Florida Panthers head coach. For instance, the Penalty kill needs to be sharper. Too often in Winnipeg were the Jets caught flat footed leading to good scoring chances for their opponents.

The Panthers had similar problems last year. The virtue of a veteran coach is the ability to make adjustments quickly and seamlessly. Hopefully Maurice can provide this, but it was not apparent through many of his seasons with the Jets.

Another, and perhaps larger, problem is his handling of personnel. Specifically, his reputation as an authoritarian. Players such as Patrik Laine have been at odds with Maurice in the past, and it led to Laine demanding a trade. Much like former panther coach Gerard Gallant, Maurice tends to favor grizzled veterans over promising youngsters, which stunted the growth of many players in Winnipeg. Could the same happen to players like Anton Lundell and Spencer Knight in Florida? Only time will tell, but that could be disastrous for the franchise.

My Take

Ultimately, I do not think this was the right hire for the Panthers. Part of what made the team special last year was how much the players loved playing for Andrew Brunette. Every single one raved after the season about how much they loved him as a coach and how much they wanted him back behind the bench.

Of course, the flameout in the playoffs left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It certainly led to management’s decision to change coaches. Still, to abandon what the team had been building together after just one playoff failure is not the mark of a good organization.

Think about the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019. After a 62 win regular season, they suffered an embarrassing first round sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite this, the team made no drastic moves in the offseason. Jon Cooper returned as the coach and the core remained the same. They grew together and won the next two Stanley Cups.

Why the Panthers did not try to emulate the Lightning in this sense is beyond me. Great teams become great through continuity. Coaches, like players, are capable of growth. Bruno looked outmatched in these playoffs, no doubt, but not having the patience to stick with him and let him make mistakes portrays a palpable lack of trust that the players are certainly affected by.

Keep in mind this is not an indictment of Paul Maurice as a coach. He has a proven track record of success in numerous circumstances and his experience has value. But the damage done by uprooting the leader of this team outweighs the potential schematic improvement that Maurice can provide.

Andrew Brunette should have been the coach again. The team was absolutely dominant during the regular season due in large part to the work of Brunette. The Panthers did not need a change of direction, they just needed more time to learn. I do hope I am wrong, but I think this was the wrong decision.

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Mental Health in Sports

As May comes to a close, so does Mental Health Awareness month. But, the work doesn’t stop here. After two years of a pandemic, this year’s mental health awareness month was more important than ever, and we saw that demonstrated numerous times in professional sports.

Resources, support, and education are becoming more widespread each and every day. Whether it is your brother, neighbor, or your favorite professional athlete, everyone is finally starting to share the importance of taking care of your mental health. As May concludes, let’s look at mental health in sports.

Mental Health in the NBA

The NBA was one of the first major sports to be transparent about the mental health of its athletes. Mental health in basketball has been talked about since 2018, thanks to Kevin Love’s vulnerability.

Love bravely shared about his struggles with anxiety and depression after he suffered a panic attack during a game four years ago.

“For 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was a form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different,” Love wrote in a letter for the Player’s Tribune.

He continued on in his letter to share how this mindset was incredibly toxic. It hindered his ability to truly be at peace with his success until he turned for help. For Love, “help” came in the form of talk therapy. Therapy helped him work through his thoughts and emotions and gave him the tools he needed to be his best self. His letter touched fans, coaches, and players alike. He gave others the outside validation they hoped for to seek help, and even inspired other professional athletes to share their stories as well.

In 2020, Jaylen Brown followed in Kevin Love’s footsteps and spoke out in support of mental health awareness. He expressed the importance of being open and honest about how you are feeling.

Love and Brown inspired athletes of many other sports to share their mental health struggles, reminding everyone they’re not alone, no matter how it may feel.

Changing the Way the NFL Approaches Mental Health

In 2019, the NFLPA and NFL created a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee intended to encourage players to look after their mental well-being. These support systems have already benefited so many players, encouraging them to find the help they deserve.

In the last year, numerous “big name” players have opened up about their mental health. Last season, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, pulled himself out of the remainder of the season in order to seek treatment for his mental health. Ridley’s courageous acts impacted so many as people saw their favorite player take time to focus on himself.

Ridley’s bravery is complemented by many other star players. Athletes like AJ Brown, DJ Chark, Solomon Thomas, Dak Prescott, and Hayden Hurst are among the NFL players sharing their stories. We would be remiss to not acknowledge the impact this has on destigmatizing mental health in America. When children, teenagers, and young adults see their role models advocating for themselves, it inspires the next generation to do the same.

Well-Being Awareness in Other Athletics

Perhaps the biggest demonstration of mental health in sports over the last year came during the summer Olympics. Gymnastics powerhouse, Simone Biles, forfeited her place in the competition for her mental well-being. She was projected to bring home another gold medal, or many more gold medals, but her mind wasn’t in it. When she decided to withdraw from the competition for her mental well-being, it changed the way people look at the Olympics forever. They’re not just athletes, they’re people too. And they have bad days just like everyone else. The support she received stood tall above any criticism.

Many other athletes from many other sports have begun to stand tall in the face of mental health. Swimmer Michael Phelps, NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch, MLB pitcher Ryan Sherriff, and numerous other athletes have stepped away from their respective sports to get mental health assistance.

When professional athletes speak out about their mental health, it humanizes them in a way that many people often stray far from. Some get caught in a rhythm of picturing them as “figures” and “celebrities” instead of humans with lives that ebb and flow just like yours.  

Looking back a few years, it’s important to note the progress that we have made toward destigmatizing mental health, but there is still a long way to go. We must continue to support those going through tough times and encourage them to seek help. No job, no exam, and no game are as important as your mental well-being. Everyone deserves to feel like they are the best version of themselves. As Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close, check in on your mental health. How are you doing, truly? If you find yourself needing a listening ear or a little more help, there is no shame in reaching out.

Resources for Mental Health Assistance:

National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255

Veterans: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386

Substance Abuse Hotline: 1-800-662-4357

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Battle of Florida Round 2: Series Preview

The panthers will face the lightning n round 2. Here’s what to expect from the latest iteration of the battle of Florida

battle of florida
Credit: Getty Images

For the first time in 26 years, the Panthers are on to the second round. After a hard fought series with the Washington Capitals, the road only gets tougher for the Cats. The good news is that they finally got over the mental hurdle of winning a playoff series. Now, they must get over another mental hurdle: the battle of Florida.

Indeed, it is that the defending champs are waiting on the other side.

The battle of Florida, Panthers vs Lightning round two, commences this week. Both teams have a tremendous amount to prove in what will almost certainly be the premier matchup of the second round. Here’s how the teams match up.

Forward Battle

If there’s anyone out there who is unfamiliar with the embarrassment of riches the Lightning possess at forward, know this: they’re really good. Steven Stamkos is in the midst of a resurgent season in which he’s tallied a career high in points. 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov has struggled with injuries this season, but had an impressive first round of the playoffs. Scoring wingers Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, and Alex Killorn round out an experienced and talented top six.

That list even excludes Brayden Point, who may be the player the Panthers struggle to contain the most. The speedy 26 year old will likely be sidelined for the first few games with a lower body injury.

As scary as that group looks on paper, the Panthers still likely have the edge in the forward department. Many of Tampa’s forwards are on the wrong side of 30 and starting to decline. They also lost much of their bottom six depth last offseason. While they did a decent job replacing much of it, this is a watered down version of the team they lost to last year.

The biggest hurdle for the Panthers will be limiting the Tampa power play. In last year’s battle of Florida, the Lightning went 8/20 (40%) on the power play. That was the Panthers’ Achilles heel in that series. Tampa’s chemistry on the man advantage kept Florida on their toes throughout.

To mitigate their scoring chances on the power play, the focus for the Panthers should be clogging up the middle of the ice. It is vital they don’t overreact to a Stamkos or Kucherov slap shot from the outside, as that will open up passes to the slot area. As long as they stay disciplined on the penalty kill, the Panthers have the edge in the forward department.

Defense Corps

Without a doubt, the Lightning have the best defenseman in this series, and possibly the league, Victor Hedman. The 2018 Norris Trophy winner amassed 85 points (20 G 65 A) this past season, the highest of his career, while also playing shutdown defense. The Panthers will notice his presence on the ice and will need to constantly account for it.

Their number two and three defensemen, Ryan Mcdonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, do have holes. They’re incredibly talented and reliable players in their own right, but they are slow-footed. It does open some opportunities for the Panthers to get their speedy players some scoring chances against the two of them.

Their other three defensemen are solid, but nothing special. Jan Rutta, Cal Foote, and Zach Bogosian have all had their moments, but it would be unreasonable to expect for them to slow down the elite offense Florida boasts. They also do not offer enough offensively to counter their defensive limitations. It is certainly a step down from the defensive depth they saw against Washington, and it would behoove Florida to take advantage of that.

Goaltending For The Battle of Florida

The battle in net may be the most obvious advantage Tampa has in this series. Sergei Bobrovsky has been excellent for the Panthers thus far, but Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the league’s best goaltender for the past four years. He looked mortal in their first round series against Toronto, but shut the door in their closeout game seven.

On the series, Vasilevskiy said “many goals were scored because I couldn’t see anything. I’m pretty sure that was the game plan for them, to get in front.”

Screens are a goalie’s worst nightmare, regardless of their skill level. That needs to be an adjustment the Panthers make in this series. The Panthers love passing to get clean looks at the net, but Vasy is too big and too mobile for that to be a viable primary scoring option. The goals in this series need to be dirty and gritty in front of the net goals. Easier said than done of course, but the Panthers are no strangers to finding different ways to score.

Final Prediction

This will likely be the best series of the second round, and I fully expect it to go the distance. Whoever comes out of this series will likely be the favorite to make it to the cup final. The Panthers improved greatly after last year’s defeat, and are ready to win at all costs. Tampa knows how to handle any situation they find themselves in, but they will feel the absences from players who moved on in the offseason. In this year’s battle of Florida, it will be the Florida Panthers in seven games.

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The Claude Giroux Trade and Possible Panthers Forward Combinations

With Claude Giroux acquired by the Florida Panthers, the team has to figure out how best to fit him into the lineup.

Photo Credit: NHLtraderumor.com

Claude Giroux is headed to South Florida. The Florida Panthers acquired the 34 year old centreman from Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Owen Tippett, a first round pick in 2024, and a third round pick in 2023. Florida also received a 2024 fifth round pick, Connor Bunnaman, and German Rubtsov in the deal.

In 57 games this year, Giroux has tallied 18 goals and 24 assists. The Claude Giroux trade opens up a world of possibilities for the Cats. The versatile forward can slide in almost anywhere in the top 6. Since Sam Reinhart has found a home on that third line, Giroux’s top 6 spot is secure. With that being said, however, head coach Andrew Brunette has options. Here are a few of the line combinations to look out for in the coming weeks.

First Line Right Wing

This choice appears to be the most obvious. Andrew Brunette’s words after Monday’s practice seem to indicate this will be the option he chooses to start with. In this scenario, Giroux replaces Maxim Mamin on the first line, and Carter Verhaeghe moves over to the left wing. This creates a top line of Verhaeghe-Barkov-Giroux while keeping the Huberdeau-Bennett-Duclair line intact.

The benefits to this are obvious. It adds a new dimension to that first line and gives Aleksander Barkov another scoring threat to set up. It also keeps the rest of the forward group together, which has found so much success thus far. It may not cover up many team weaknesses, but it enhances a formula which has worked wonderfully this season. An extremely low risk move.

Second Line Center

One underappreciated benefit of the Claude Giroux trade for the Panthers is the added center depth. Claude Giroux has been an extremely effective two-way center for over a decade in the NHL. This scenario allows the Panthers to use his rare talents to their advantage.

Here, Giroux will take over as the second line center and push Sam Bennett out to the right wing. Anthony Duclair will slide up to the first line, a combination which worked well last season. Thus, the top six will consist of a Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair first line and a Huberdeau-Giroux-Bennett second line.

This option may be slightly more risky, but it also potentially solves more problems. Claude Giroux’s responsible defensive game can cover for Sam Bennett’s lapses on that side of the ice. It also keeps Johnathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett together, as the two have found great chemistry over the past year.

The Verhaeghe-Barkov-Duclair line has proven to be extremely effective in the past, and should have no problem reclaiming that magic. Of course, this option may put too much pressure on Giroux out of the gate, and it is unclear if Bennett will be as effective on the wing, but it may be worth trying if the offense hits a skid.

The Scorched Earth Option

The Panthers have the firepower, and its time to show it.

This season Andrew Brunette has not been afraid to pair Barkov and Huberdeau together on the top line when things go stagnant. This scenario takes that concept to the extreme. Claude Giroux takes the right wing, Barkov takes center, and Huberdeau gets deployed on the left wing. That leaves Verhaeghe-Bennett-Duclair is as the second line here.

That combination creates quite possibly the best line in hockey today. Opposing teams would have nightmares trying to stop that line offensively, or finding a weakness defensively. No team would have any answers — if it works as well as advertised.

Of course, this does not distribute the talent equally throughout the lineup, so I would not expect for it to be the standard line. In certain situations, however, this option could give the offense a jolt and leaves opponents’ heads spinning. I would expect to see this line at least a few times this season.

The Panthers are all in on this season without a doubt. Winning the cup will take versatility and resilience. The Claude Giroux trade gives them much more of both. The line options at Andre Brunette’s disposal gives him few excuses to not put a championship-caliber team on the ice. The Panthers are a juggernaut, and hopefully the rest of their season reflects that.

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