Clearly the biggest players in free agency this year, the Florida Panthers are close to another move to lock up their young core. Gary Lawless of TSN was first to report that the team was close to an extension with forward Reilly Smith that would pay him $5MM a season for an additional five years. The team has since confirmed the length of the deal, though not the financial details.
In just the past few weeks, the team has traded for then signed Keith Yandle, dealt away Dmitry Kulikov, given extensions to Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck, signed free agents Jason Demers and James Reimer, and pretty much owned the hockey world.
Smith, 25, had an excellent season last year with the Panthers, scoring 25 goals and 50 points. The former third round pick has had quite a start to his career, putting up at least 40 points in each of his first three full seasons. The talented young winger came over to Florida in the deal that saw them take on Marc Savard’s cap-hit from the Bruins, one that they recently dealt to New Jersey for some cap relief of their own.
The Panthers have been on quite a clear path lately, trying to push past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the year they lost in the Cup finals to Colorado. After being knocked out by the New York Islanders last season, the team has made clear upgrades to their defensive group, and should have one of the better top pairings in the league with Ekblad and Yandle signed long-term.
Smith is still under contract for next season at a $3.43MM cap hit, meaning that a five-year extension would take him through the 2021-22 season. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also when Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov will hit free agency, giving the team a chance to re-tool if they need to at that point.
If the financials are true, it would mean the Panthers have four young forwards under contract long-term for less than $6MM apiece in Barkov, Trocheck, Smith and Nick Bjugstad. All 25 or under, that quartet scored 93 goals last season. Next on the to-do list would be Jonathan Huberdeau, the former third overall pick who put up 20 goals of his own last season. He’s due $3.25MM next year before becoming an arbitration-eligible RFA next summer.