After a comeback season in which he finished fifth on the Panthers in goals and earned the club’s Masterton nomination, many expected Peter Mueller to be back with Florida next season.
Not so fast.
The Panthers didn’t make a qualifying offer to the 25-year-old restricted free agent — making him an unrestricted free agent — explaining that the issue is Mueller’s contractual status.
“He has arbitration rights. We’re still negotiating with him,” Florida GM Dale Tallon told the Sun-Sentinel. “We’d like to keep him, but it’s just a matter of what the right number is as far as our budget is.
“We were fearful if he went to arbitration we wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
While that explanation works — Mueller made $1.7 million last year, and is in line for a raise — it’s hard to imagine Mueller getting a bank-breaking deal from arbitration, given he only scored 17 points last year.
The bigger issue, it seems, is that Mueller’s a center.
Florida surprised some at Sunday’s draft by taking Aleksander Barkov with the No. 2 overall pick — many figured they’d go with defenseman Seth Jones — but taking the Finnish center added to Florida’s stable of talented, young centers: Barkov, Drew Shore, Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trochek.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Florida letting Mueller walk altogether.
He rebounded from severe concussion issues (didn’t play at all during the 2010-11 season) to earn the aforementioned Masterton nomination.
The former eighth overall pick also often skated on the club’s top line last season with Shore and Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau.