Southeast Division Free Agency: Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are a little similar to the Carolina Hurricanes in the sense that they are under the cap floor and might depend on the young talent within their organization for next year. They are different because the Panthers have not been a good team in nearly ten years and it doesn’t look like they will push for a playoff spot at all the next few seasons. New coach, possibly losing one of the best goalies in the league and having a GM who keeps making bad signings and trades doesn’t bode well for an organization.

What Have They Done So Far?

Fired head coach Peter DeBoer and hired Kevin Dineen – I think DeBoer is a good coach and he did well with getting the most out of these awful Florida teams, especially in 2008-09. However, ti was clear that GM Dale Tallon wanted to go in another direction and bring in  someone new for the coaching position. Dineen did well in the AHL as the coach of the Portland Pirates so we’ll see how this translates into the NHL as the coach of the Panthers.

Re-igned D Keaton Ellerby to a one-year deal worth $787,555 – The former first round pick hasn’t quite lived up to his full potential yet but he only has one full NHL season under his belt and he seemed to improve last season so locking him up for another year at a low cost is wise on the Panthers part. Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver have stepped in as the team’s shutdown pair so it’s up to him and Dimitry Kulikov to give their blue-line some more offensive presence, which they haven’t yet.

Re-signed RW Jack Skille to a two-year deal worth $1.65 mil – Acquired last year in a trade with the Blackhawks for Michael Frolik and Alexander Salak, Skille has continued to not be much of a threat as a forward despite getting more ice time at even strength and on the powerplay after being traded. Tallon seems to like him, though so I guess it was predictable that he would re-sign him but I guess you could do a lot worse. I thought trading for him in the first place was a bad idea on his part but he has talent and has performed well in the AHL but he still needs to show me that he can perform at the NHL before I say that re-signing him is a good idea.

Signed D Roman Derlyuk to a one-year deal worth $710k – A 6th round draft pick from 2005, Derlyuk has been working on his game in the KHL for the past three seasons. He is kind of skinny for his height but he appears to be a solid physical defenseman but I think he will either stay in Russia or play in Rochester next year because it doesn’t appear as if he’s a future star or every-day NHL player.

Signed LW Garrett Wilson to a three-year entry level deal – The send round pick from 2009 is coming off a very good season in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack recording 88 points in 66 points. He has recorded over 35 goals in the last two seasons there and had 40 last year so this kid could definitely be a good roster addition to Florida if he keeps developing well and plays more disciplined (114 PIMs). He is still only 20 so it’s unknown if he will stay in junior for one more season or have a chance to play for the Panthers or San Antonio next season. Hockeys future has him projected as a a solid lower-line player in the NHL because his skillset isn’t that impressive but that could change with another good season.

Re-signed LW Tim Kennedy to a one-year two-way contract – Acquired from the Rangers in the Bryan McCabe trade. He didn’t do much in Florida last year (1 point in 6 games) but he was a decent third/fourth liner in Buffalo and then was bought out because he thought his 26 points in 78 games was worth more than his $1 mil arbitration award. What he can do with a full-season in Florida with a weaker supporting cast is yet to be seen but he coud make the roster with the way things look for them right now.

Traded RW Rostislav Olesz to the Chicago Blackhawks for D Brian Campbell – When the cap floor was raised, it was a given that teams like Florida who don’t spend a lot of money were going to have to take on a bad contract or two but this move still shocked me. They traded away one overpaid player for someone who has arguably the worst contract in the NHL and is due $7,142,875 per season over the next five years. I have given up trying to figure out Dale Tallon’s logic after seeing this trade happen because if Florida wanted to save money while getting to the cap floor, they could have made a better move than this. Although, Tallon said he did this because “he likes Campbell.” Well, he gave him the contract in the first place so that’s not too surprising, I suppose. Campbell’s value as an offensive defenseman has gone down a lot in previous seasons so it’s not like Florida’s going to get a lot for this deal and they gave up a solid forward in Olesz who should make a good replacement for Troy Brouwer in Chicago.

Traded a seventh round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for LW Tomas Kopecky – Florida then signed him for four years at $3 mil per year. My guess is this is Chicago returning the favor for the Brian Campbell trade. Kopecky had 42 points last year but that was with his most frequent linemates being Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. He won’t have that luxury in Florida so his production taking a dip would not surprise me. Although, it’s possible that he might get some time with Weiss and Booth and while they aren’t the Blackhawks, they are two very good players. Florida better not hope they are depending on him for their main source of scoring.

Cap Crunch

Saving money doesn’t seem to be what’s on Florida’s mind right now even though it should be with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to be in place by 2012-13 so the main priority for them appears to be getting to the cap floor of $48 mil by signing players to more contracts than what they are worth. They have a few restricted free agents who will probably receive significant raises as well as some rookies who will be called up. They currently have a little over $26 mil invested in 13 players  (7 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goaltender) and currently have nearly $38 mil in cap space, but they are $22 mil below the cap floor so we could see the Panthers hand out some big contracts.

Booth ($4,250,000) – Weiss ($3,100,00) – Dadanov ($875,000)
Kopecky ($3,000,000) – Santorelli (RFA) – Skille ($825,000)
Kennedy (???) – Timmins ($761,667) – Repik ($816,667)
??? – Matthias (RFA) – ???

Campbell ($7,142, 875) – Kulikov ($1,325,00
Weaver ($900,000) – Garrison ($675,000)
Ellerby ($787,500) – ???

Clemmensen ($1,200,00)
???

RFA: Caruso, Cheverie, Duco, Matthias, McArdle, Plante, Santorelli
UFA: Bergfors, Bernier, Bitz, Samsonov, Hordichuk, Carter, Vokoun, Sulzer, Callahan

Team Needs:

I’m still not sure what kind of deal Kennedy got but if he doesn’t make the team then I eould expect Florida to sign someone to fill his spot. Kenall McArdle, Mike Duco (I know…) or someone else will probalby fill the holes on the fourth line. It’s also possible that they will sign a right winger for the second line because I do not think Jack Skille is up to that role. That or give Repik another shot there but he wasn’t impressive last season. Santorelli will probably get a nice raise after a good 2010-11 so that will help them get to the cap floor a little bit. The other hole here is that they need at least one more defenseman and I would hope that Erik Gudbransson fills one of those spots while someone like Steve Eminger, Ruslan Salei or another free agent will fill the other.There’s going to be a few moments where you say “Oh, I forgot that guy was still in the league” when you watch Florida next season.

The biggest hole on the roster is at goaltender with Tomas Vokoun possibly leaving and possibly looking for a huge pay-off after Ilya Bryzgalov got his. He is coming off his worst season in awhile and isn’t getting any younger so his value might take a hit there but he is still an elite goalie and whoever signs him is going to be very happy. Scott Clemmensen is a 1 a/b goalie at best in my opinion and I’m not sure if they are going to call-up Jacob Markstrom just yet because he’s only 21, has two years left on his entry level deal and doesn’t help them get to the cap floor. The free agent market for goalies doesn’t look any better, though unless they want to take a chance on JS Giguere or Jose Theodore do be their starter.

Expectations:

Unless there’s a few players who blow away my expectations, Florida is looking at another lottery pick and the most frustrating thing for fans is that they don’t appear to be interested in saving money either. At least that’s what the Brian Campbell deal tells me. They are put in a tough spot with the cap floor increasing though and it’s going to have a negative effect on many small market teams in the league but Florida is probably who it impacts the most. Drafting well is the one thing Tallon is good at and hopefully Gudbransson can make some noise down there and maybe even Jonathan Huberdeau will make the team out of camp if they are lucky. I just don’t know how patient the fans down there are now because after only one winning season in ten years, they are in the beginning process of yet another long rebuilding period and it may be another couple years before Florida is good again.

 

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