July 1: The Panthers have officially bought out Darling.
June 30: The Florida Panthers have traded goaltender James Reimer to the Carolina Hurricanes. In return the Panthers will acquire a 2020 sixth-round pick and goaltender Scott Darling, who has been placed on waivers for the purpose of a contract buyout. After the recent retirement of Roberto Luongo this leaves the Panthers with just two minor league goaltenders under contract, likely opening the way for a free agent signing tomorrow. Sergei Bobrovsky is the speculative favorite, though nothing can be official until the free agent period opens.
Darling had two years remaining on his current deal, meaning a buyout will force the Panthers to pay him $4.73MM total over the next four years with the following cap hits:
- 2019-20: $1,233,333
- 2020-21: $2,333,333
- 2021-22: $1,183,333
- 2022-23: $1,183,333
Reimer meanwhile becomes the presumptive starting goaltender in Carolina for the time being, since they too are lacking in NHL experience at the position. Both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney are set to become unrestricted free agents after failing to work out new contracts, leaving Reimer and one of Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic as the tandem for next season. That is of course unless the Hurricanes go after another free agent, and Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic tweets that the team is still interested in bringing back Mrazek or going after Semyon Varlamov.
The 31-year old Reimer struggled last season in Florida, posting just a .900 save percentage in 36 appearances and seeing his goals against average balloon to 3.09. That’s a far cry from the .920 mark he posted in his first season with the Panthers in 2016-17, one that made him look like the eventual successor to Luongo and a long-term option. That’s the goaltender the Hurricanes will hope they can get, one that carried an average Toronto Maple Leafs team to the playoffs in 2013 and even earned Hart Trophy votes. They’ve had success with ex-Maple Leafs before, as McElhinney played excellent after a waiver claim at the start of last season.
Carolina has been one of the more active teams on the trade market so far, making deals to acquire Patrick Marleau (who they then bought out), Erik Haula, Forsberg and Gustav Forsling, while sending Calvin de Haan and others out of town. The team found so much success in the second half of last season and the playoffs, but obviously aren’t content with waiting around for their team to take another run without changes.
The question in Florida now becomes whether they can officially land Bobrovsky—and perhaps his close friend and teammate Artemi Panarin. The team has more than $26MM in cap space to use without any high profile restricted free agents to get under contract. With a new head coach in Joel Quenneville and big moves expected in free agency, it is obvious that GM Dale Tallon is ready to compete for the Stanley Cup right now and will spend quite a bit of money to do it.