The Florida Panthers’ goaltending position is about to get even more interesting. The Panthers have agreed to terms with top prospect Spencer Knight to his three-year entry-level contract. That will end Knight’s collegiate career after just two (outstanding) seasons at Boston College. GM Bill Zito released a short statement on his newest goaltender:
We are thrilled to have agreed to terms on a contract with Spencer. He is an immensely talented and dynamic young goaltender who has been an elite player at every level that he has played. From the collegiate ranks to international tournaments, Spencer has consistently elevated his game, a testament to his work ethic, compete and character. We are excited for him to take the next step in his career with the Panthers and look forward to his future with our club.
Knight, 19, has been embroiled in controversy since nearly the day he was drafted by the Panthers, selected 13th overall in 2019. At the time it seemed like an obvious choice, given the vacancy in Florida’s net, but a few weeks later the team would raise eyebrows all across the league by handing Sergei Bobrovsky a seven-year, $70MM contract on the first day of free agency. Immediately speculation went up over whether Knight would ever play for the Panthers, given how his path to the NHL was now blocked. College draftees do have a bit of leverage, as they can elect to stay in school for four years and become unrestricted free agents. It would be quite unusual for a player drafted as high as Knight to do something like that, but Bobrovsky’s contract immediately put that scenario (or a trade) into the realm of possibilities.
The worry was for nought, however, as Knight will sign his entry-level deal with the Panthers on schedule and enter the organization after just two seasons at BC. In his time there, the 19-year-old goaltender posted an incredible .931 save percentage across 54 appearances. He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team in 2020, named Goaltender of the Year this season and is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Squeezed into that college career were two appearances at the World Juniors for Team USA, including a gold medal performance earlier this year. Knight actually went to three of the U20 tournaments, winning silver in 2019 as the extra goaltender.
There are very few goaltending prospects as hyped, but Knight has basically never wavered in his performance so far. Whether he can step to the next level immediately will soon be determined, but all the skills are there to make him an elite starting goaltender at the NHL level.
What that means for Bobrovsky isn’t at all clear. The $10MM goaltender has been outplayed this season by Chris Driedger, a minor league journeyman who was playing in the ECHL as recently as 2018-19. Driedger has earned his opportunity, posting a .930 through 30 NHL appearances so far, but will be a hard player to keep around given he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. With Bobrovsky earning so much and now Knight joining the organization, there may not be much of a place for the 26-year-old, especially if he’s looking for a substantial raise.
The question now becomes whether that’s a good thing for the Panthers, given Bobrovsky’s struggles and Knight’s youth. The veteran has posted just a .907 this season and was even worse last year, making his contract look like one of the worst in the entire league. He’ll carry that $10MM cap hit through 2025-26. As for Knight, his deal breaks down as follows, per CapFriendly:
2020-21: $925K salary (including signing bonus), $1MM in performance bonuses
2021-22: $925K salary (including signing bonus), $1.85MM in performance bonuses
2022-23: $925K salary (including signing bonus), $1.85MM in performance bonuses
Of those bonuses, Knight will receive $1MM if he wins the Conn Smythe Trophy. The other bonuses are Schedule A ones.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic was first to report that a deal was close.