Michal Repik

Florida Panthers eliminated from playoff consideration for record 10th straight season

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The story out of tonight’s Sabres 4-2 win over Florida wasn’t so much about Buffalo helping to improve their standing in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference but about the continued ineptitude of the Florida Panthers.

Not since the 1999-2000 season have the Panthers made the playoffs and their loss today guaranteed that this year would make it ten straight seasons without a postseason appearance for the Panthers. The stars on that team that bowed out in the first round were none other than potential future hall of famer Pavel Bure, Ray Whitney, and Viktor Kozlov. Buoyed by elder statesman Mike Vernon in goal, those Panthers were the last ones to see the playoffs.

The current Panthers led by Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun don’t carry much in the stardom department, but they do have a special distinction. On Frozen Pond’s George Richards tells us about the very infamous record the Panthers are now proud to own.

Florida had been tied with the California/Cleveland/Minnesota and Colorado/New Jersey franchises in missing the playoffs for nine straight seasons. Florida hasn’t been to the playoffs since being swept in the opening round by the Devils in 2000.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” said coach Pete DeBoer, in his third year with the team. “We’ve been hurting for a while. You just get numb to that pain.”

That brand of futility is stunning and sad. The Panthers for most of their existence have been a poor team. Over the 17 seasons the team has played since 1993-1994, their inaugural season, the Panthers have made the playoffs three times. Their most memorable run came in 1995-1996 when they made it to the Stanley Cup final on the strength of great goaltending by John Vanbiesbrouck and rat-tossing goal scoring from Scott Mellanby. Now the only rats you’ll find around Sunrise, Florida are the ones sniffing through the dumpsters outside.

This is where Panthers GM Dale Tallon has his work cut out for him. He’s got to turn around an organization that’s known nothing but failure throughout their existence and find a way to help sell hockey in south Florida. It’s not as if he’s got a LeBron James or Dwayne Wade-like figure there to help lure the top talent in the league to come down and soak in the sunshine, supermodels, and win the Stanley Cup. Hockey doesn’t exactly work that way either. We’ll just say it’s a different mind-set for hockey players.

The future could be bright for the Panthers as they’ve got a bevy of prospects in the system that could turn out to be huge. Erik Gudbranson, Corban Knight, Drew Shore, Jacob Markstrom, Quinton Howden, and Nick Bjugstad all represent guys that could be huge parts of the rise of the Panthers to relevancy. Those guys will take time to develop, however, and with another top five pick likely on the way again, perhaps that turnaround can start soon.

Until then, the Panthers will hang on to their playoff futility record. Let’s just hope they don’t go the way the teams they were tied with have gone and end up playing somewhere else before they break through.

Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal

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David Poile got some work done Saturday.

The Nashville Predators re-signed Viktor Arvidsson on the day the two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled. The new deal? Seven years at a total of $29.75 million — an annual average value of $4.25 million for a player that just scored 31 goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.

They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.

This is likely among the reasons why.

Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.

With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.

He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.

The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

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The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

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Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.