Appraising the new-look Florida Panthers after a busy free agent weekend

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There were more than a few teams who experienced dramatic makeovers in the last couple weeks or so. The Philadelphia Flyers baffled the hockey world by jettisoning Mike Richards and Jeff Carter then signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a risky, long-term contract. The Toronto Maple Leafs made some interesting moves, including stealing John Michael-Liles from the Colorado Avalanche and Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators.

We’ll get to some of those other interesting makeovers in the next few days, but it’s probably safe to say that the Florida Panthers will be the most dramatically different team when the 2011-12 season begins. (At least as of this moment.)

Let’s take a look at the new additions with their new (often ridiculous) contracts. We’ll also list their 2010-11 regular season point totals for a quick reference in how much the Panthers are counting on … potential.

Newly signed Forwards

Tomas Fleischmann: four-years, $18 million ($4.5M cap hit) – 31 points
Scottie Upshall: four years, $14M ($3.5M cap hit) – 34 pts
Tomas Kopecky: four years, $12M ($3M cap hit) – 42 pts
Sean Bergenheim: four years, $11M ($2.75M cap hit) – 29 pts
Marcel Goc: three years, $5.1M ($1.7M cap hit) – 24 pts

Combined cap hits for five new forwards in 2011-12: $15.45 million
Combined points for five new forwards from last season: 160 points

Forward acquired via trade: Kris Versteeg ($3.08M cap hit for one more year) – 46 pts

source: APCommentary: Well, I guess you couldn’t get much worse than the Panthers’ previous bunch of forwards, could you? That being said, GM Dale Tallon made gamble after gamble that disappointing or developing players will become difference-makers in Florida. Everyone in the hockey world knew that the Panthers needed to get to the salary cap floor (they’re pretty close to $48 million overall as of this writing), so they were expected to over-pay.

My problem is that it almost seemed like free agents held the Panthers hostage. Players didn’t just get more money than just about any other team would give them; they received three and four year deals in the process. Amusingly enough, the best addition might only be in Florida for one season because Versteeg’s deal expires after 2011-2. Tallon & Co. could experience some serious Chicago Blackhawks salary cap crisis deja vu if the team’s promising prospects breakthrough before most of these shaky deals expire.

Major defensive additions

Brian Campbell  – via trade ($7.14M cap hit through 2015-16) – 27 ptssource: AP
Ed Jovanovski: four-years, $16.5M ($4.125M cap hit) – 14 pts

Combined cap hits for two new D in 2011-12: $11.64 million
Combined points for two new D from last season: 41 points

Commentary: I’m not crazy about Florida’s forward and goaltending changes, but their two new defensemen rank as the two most difficult additions to stomach.

Campbell’s contract is one of the worst in recent NHL history. The price and term are so out of whack that he’s become a consistent punchline in hockey circles, but if nothing else, he can still play. “Soupy” makes a regrettable amount of mistakes in his own end and while his production has dipped lately, he still has some serious offensive skills. He wasn’t always on Chicago’s top power play unit but he should get the nod with Florida, so he should put up some points. Not enough to make him worth more than $7 million, naturally, but he might make the Panthers more dangerous on offense.

Signing “Jovocop” for that kind of term and price is basically just as bad. Jovanovski could retire at any time and Florida would still need to absorb his $4.125 million cap hit each year because it is a 35+ contract. Injuries have ruined a player who once brought an impressive combination of offensive skills and physicality to the table so his retirement should be a legitimate fear for Florida going forward. Tallon is high on Jovanovski’s potential to be a mentor, but school teachers could only dream of receiving such a cushy deal.

source: APNew starting goalie

Jose Theodore two years, $3M ($1.5M cap hit)
Theodore’s 2010-11 stats: 15-11-3 record, .916 save percentage and 2.69 GAA.

Commentary: Theodore did an admirable job of resurrecting his career during the last few seasons, but this guy has more lives than a cat. That’s my friendly way of saying that his Hart Trophy keeps buying him chances at top jobs even though he’s best suited as a backup goalie or a 1B.

Theo has been a contract year goalie at best during his recent years and while he put together some decent numbers with Minnesota last season, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers counting on him like they did with Tomas Vokoun. Don’t expect incumbent backup Scott Clemmensen to work any miracles, either.

***

After adding six forwards, two defensemen and a new starting goalie for about $31.67 million, the Panthers should be around the cap floor. Did they get that much closer to finally reaching the playoffs again in the process? Honestly, they didn’t upgrade their team enough to be much more than a bottom seed, especially after losing Vokoun (aka their safety net). The worst part is that their most questionable deals are also the lengthiest ones, making me wonder if their ugly postseason drought will start to enter Toronto Blue Jays territory.

I hate to say it, but the Panthers’ off-season could be the hockey equivalent of a person drowning in quicksand: the more moves they make, the grimmer their outlook becomes.

After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

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CHICAGO — Stan Bowman received a lot of kudos for getting the old Blackhawks defense together for another kick at the can.

But the way it played out, bringing back two aging veterans in Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya was a mistake by the general manager. The magic just couldn’t be recreated, and Chicago was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.

Then came the offseason changes. Not just on the blue line, either. Brandon Saad is back, while Artemi Panarin is gone. Marian Hossa is gone, too — a huge loss for the ‘Hawks, even if he can be put on LTIR.

So the forward group is going to look quite different next season.

The blue line could look very different, though. Oduya and Campbell are both unrestricted free agents and may not be back. Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost in the expansion draft. And last but not least, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote now, traded to Arizona for d-man Connor Murphy.

In other words, of the six defensemen who lost to the Predators, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still under contract in Chicago.

“A lot of stuff going on,” Bowman said Friday at United Center. “Sometimes, change is good. You have to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”

Much will be expected of Murphy, a 24-year-old who’s been toiling in Arizona anonymity since being drafted 20th overall in 2011.

“Connor’s a little bit of a different player (than Hjalmarsson),” said Bowman. “Obviously, he’s a bit bigger, he plays probably a more physical game. But he’s a good skater and he’s six years younger. It’s really hard to find young defensemen like that. He’s got a great contract, too. He’s a guy we’re going to have for a long time.”

Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling will also be expected to take on bigger roles in 2017-18.

“It’s up to them to take hold of it, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for them,” said Bowman. “It’s time to give these guys a chance to grow and take on bigger responsibilities.”

Speaking of young defensemen, the Blackhawks added another to their stable Friday, drafting Henri Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick.

“Henri’s a player we’ve been high on all year,” said Bowman. “A right-shot defenseman. Those are a commodity in today’s game. It’s hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill-set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. I guess what you would term the modern-day defenseman.”

As for Bowman, he believes his big moves have been made. He promised changes, and changes he delivered.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.

Related: Blackhawks sign Czech defenseman Jan Rutta

Penguins spend big to get bigger, land Reaves from Blues

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Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he wanted to add some snarl to protect stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You won’t find many – if any – forces more intimidating than Ryan Reaves.

That’s who the Penguins reportedly acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues, who suddenly became very busy toward the end of the 2017 NHL Draft’s first round on Friday.

MORE: Blues acquire Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera, picks

Moments ago, Gary Bettman announced the details of the move.

Penguins receive: Reaves, 51st pick of 2017

Blues receive: Oskar Sundqvist, 31st pick of 2017

Penguins’ perspective

Rutherford believed that the NHL was allowing teams to take liberties with star players, particularly Crosby and Malkin. Even after winning consecutive Stanley Cups, it was clearly something important to him.

Rutherford reiterated that thought after the move.

One can debate how much an enforcer such as Reaves really “deters” such behavior, especially since he won’t be on the ice with star players in most close situations. There’s little denying that he’s a fearsome fighter, with six in 2016-17 and as many as 10 in a single season.

Reaves carries a $1.125 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

A busy night for Doug Armstrong

Moments ago, the Blues drafted Kim Klostin with the 31st pick, grabbing a player some expected to go much earlier in the first round.

They also acquired Oskar Sundqvist, the 81st pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. The 23-year-old was unable to score a point in 10 games with the Penguins last season, but he was productive in the AHL, scoring 20 goals and 46 points.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong absorbed some serious criticism for protecting Reaves instead of David Perron, but now both players are gone. One would assume that’s likely by design, although it’s also possible that the Penguins simply provided an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Armstrong made another big splash by sending Jori Lehtera and draft picks to the Philadelphia Flyers for Brayden Schenn. Getting the 31st pick was helpful for the Blues after they sent the 27th choice to Philly.

Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a big splash at the end of the draft’s first round on Friday night, sending forward Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Schenn, 25, is coming off two pretty productive years with the Flyers, in which he scored 26 and 25 goals. He just wrapped the first of a four-year, $20.5 million deal — one that carries a $5.125M cap hit.

It’s a big get for the Blues, who now boast Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen at forward.

That hit is largely why Lehtera is on his way to Philly. Coming off a “bad” season in which he struggled with injury and healthy scratches, there was speculation he’d be made available at the expansion draft — which he was — and when he wasn’t selected by Vegas, the likelihood of a trade was high.

Lehtera makes $4.7 million annually, through 2019.

With the 27th overall selection, the Flyers took Sault Ste. Marie center Morgan Frost. Frost finished fourth on the Greyhounds in scoring this year and had a strong playoff, with five goals and 11 points in 11 games. It was the second center Philly scored in the first round, having previously selected Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall selection.

And here are the conditions around that ’18 pick:

Vilardi falls down draft board, but thrilled to join Kings

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CHICAGO — If Gabriel Vilardi was disappointed after falling down the draft board, he sure hid it well.

The 17-year-old center looked and sounded positively ecstatic to be joining the Los Angeles Kings, who got him 11th overall Friday at United Center.

“There’s no words to describe it,” said Vilardi. “It’s just joy. All your life you work so hard for this, and then to hear your name called, it’s just an amazing feeling. Having your family there, it’s even better.”

That said, the consensus was that he’d be drafted a fair bit sooner. At the Stanley Cup Final, he was one of four top prospects that the NHL trotted out for reporters. The other three were Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, and Casey Mittelstadt, the first, second, and eighth picks, respectively.

If there’s a knock on Vilardi, it’s his skating. To really thrive in the NHL, it’ll need to get better. That’s why he’s off to Minnesota this summer to work with power-skating coach Barry Karn.

“I know what I need to work on,” he said. “I got a plan in place.”

Vilardi just won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. Now he’ll be joining a team that’s won two Stanley Cups in the last six years with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty.

“I watch Kopitar a lot,” Vilardi said. “I really like the way he plays. I think some of his attributes are similar to mine. He’s so smart with the puck. He’s tough to knock off the puck. I can’t wait to go there, meet him and take whatever I can from him and apply it to my own game.”

Related: Gabriel Vilardi deserves your attention