5:53 PM: It’s a done deal. Less than an hour after Friedman’s report, TSN’s Bob McKenzie has confirmed that Matheson and the Panthers have come to terms on an eight-year, $39MM contract extension. The deal, worth $4.875MM per year, would make Matheson the fifth-highest paid player for Florida and a top-fifty paid defenseman in the league if the 2018-19 season were underway. The extension puts Matheson in the same salary zone as players like Sami Vatanen, Justin Faulk, and Morgan Rielly.
The contract breaks down as follows, per CapFriendly:
2018-19: $3MM salary, $500K signing bonus
2019-20: $3.5MM salary
2020-21: $3.5MM salary
2021-22: $5MM salary
2022-23: $4MM salary
2023-24: $4MM salary, $2.5MM signing bonus
2024-25: $4MM salary, $2.5MM signing bonus
2025-26: $4.5MM salary, $2MM signing bonus
5:15 PM: According to Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman, the Florida Panthers are working toward an eight-year extension in the neighborhood of $40MM with one of their defenseman. Keep in mind Aaron Ekblad already signed an extension last year and 2017-18 marks the first season of his eight-year, $60MM, while Keith Yandle is already on to year two of his seven-year, $44.5MM free agent contract from last summer. No, the star Florida defenseman that Friedman is reporting on is… Michael Matheson?
To be fair, Matheson did play in 81 games with the Panthers last season and led the team in even-strength ice time on ice. However, those 81 games were only good enough to be tied for second among Florida defenseman and he ranked third in overall average time on ice. Matheson scored 17 points, tied for fourth among Panthers’ blue liners, and his 69 hits was fifth among that group. Matheson led the team with 118 blocked shots, but that mark put him only 70th in the NHL. This was all while the Panthers endured a disappointing season and missed the playoffs after winning the Atlantic Division the year before. Matheson is a solid defenseman, but he didn’t really excel at anything in particular in 2016-17 and didn’t necessarily help the team win. When it comes to a long-term extension though, consistency is the key and Matheson has been this good for a long time, right? Except, last year was his rookie season. Matheson has been a name in hockey for years now – a first-round pick in 2012 and a prolific career at powerhouse Boston College – but in reality he has just 84 NHL games under his belt and is just one year removed from a season spent almost entirely in the AHL.
So, why is GM Dale Tallon reportedly throwing this kind of money at him? Why could Matheson soon be paid more and for longer than the likes of Roman Josi and John Klingberg after just one alright NHL season? It could be that Panthers, who admittedly have seen more of Matheson than anyone else, see something more from the 23-year-old. Of course, it could also be, that after trading away Jason Demers, this extension is the result of some panic setting in. Ekblad is coming off a down season with some lingering injury concerns, Yandle is on the wrong side of 30, and Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic tend to be one-dimensional players. With Ekblad, Pysyk, and Petrovic all young, right-handed rearguards, that side of the defense could be set for the long haul, even if there are some concerns. However, on the left side, Matheson and Yandle are the only two established NHLers on the roster with nearly no high-end defensive prospects in the system. It seems likely that Florida sees Matheson as a worthy gamble because he is all they have to gamble on. Is that worth upwards of $40MM? Maybe not, but at least waiting until later in the season to gauge Matheson’s development could help to alleviate some of the risk. (Update: They didn’t.)