The free agent period is now less than one week away from opening up and there are several prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of the Florida Panthers’ free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agents: D Alex Petrovic only had 1 goal and 13 assists last season, but his possession stats were remarkably solid among his peers at 50.8% Corsi For. He earned $1.05 MM on his last contract, and he is due at least a slight raise. His size (6’4″) and physicality is an important asset to round out the bottom pairings of the defensive corps, even if management isn’t expecting him to light the world on fire. D Mark Pysyk, also 25 years old, has shown a bit more potential. He has less of a shutdown presence, but makes up for it by contributing to the offense on occasion. He moves the puck well with a solid if unremarkable first pass – which in today’s possession-centric NHL tends to increase value. Pysyk still hasn’t put it all together, but he’ll be a useful cog for Florida going forward. Interestingly enough, Florida’s defense is so sparse that both Pysyk and Petrovic were protected.
Other RFA’s: G MacKenzie Weegar.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: F Jaromir Jagr. Jagr is certainly on the downside of his career, but he still can produce points at a decent clip. He’s been a mainstay of the Panthers offense for the last two-and-a-half seasons. He only netted 16 goals, but added 30 assists to reach a reasonable 46 points. However, his contract was a tad overpriced for a 45 year old, at a $4 MM cap hit. Management apparently wants the veteran back on the squad next season according to a report by the Miami Herald’s George Richards. Richards states that the price would need to come down, but there is a solid chance he could get last year’s salary from another team desperate for production. If Florida truly wants to bring back the battle-tested winger (who sits 3rd in all-time goals), they will need to find room within their internal cap structure. His speed is certainly becoming an issue, and it remains to be seen how integral he is perceived internally.
F Thomas Vanek doesn’t look likely to make a return to the Sunshine State, as he is quite arguably the 4th best winger available after Alexander Radulov, Justin Williams, and Patrick Marleau. The chances of seeing Vanek seeing a contract similar to his $6.5 MM earned the last three seasons are almost completely non-existent, but he could easily fetch near $5 MM offer for multiple years from an offense-starved squad. Vanek did net 48 points last season, but he has the potential to do more. Vanek will almost surely find his kindest offers elsewhere. He only netted two goals in 20 games after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings.
Other UFA’s: F Micheal Scarbossa, D Jakub Kindl, G Sam Brittain, F Kyle Rau, F Brody Sutter, G Adam Wilcox, F Chase Balisy, F Graham Black, F Paul Thompson, D Reece Scarlett, G Colin Stevens, F Steven Hodges, D Brent Regner.
Projected Cap Space: The Panthers do have slightly over $20 MM in cap space if they were to re-sign no one, but they are almost certain to re-sign Pysyck and Petrovic to short-term deals. Weegar has also been extended a qualifying offer, but it will likely be a two-way deal. Assuming they make a combined $4 MM, GM Dale Tallon will likely have about $16 MM in space with 16 roster players accounted for. His main concern has to be solidifying the defense so a repeat of last year doesn’t happen. However, with Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith inexplicably shipped to Vegas, and likely one of Jagr and Vanek headed to other destinations, Tallon needs to add solid secondary scoring. It’s expected that Florida will be active on July 1st and into the Summer, especially with so many expiring organizational contracts – they only have 26 of the allotted 50 as of today. The organization has tried to revamp on the fly, but they will need a remarkably successful summer to re-coup all that is being lost especially in light of the meager talent available in the UFA pool. The biggest money constraint is whatever ownership places the internal cap at, which is unbeknownst to the league at large.