Aaron Ekblad

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Panthers’ salary cap outlook after Matheson’s eight-year contract

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On Saturday night the Florida Panthers locked up defenseman Michael Matheson to an eight-year, $39 million contract.

If you’re not too familiar with the Panthers it might seem like a pretty significant investment (and to be fair, even if you are familiar with the Panthers it is a significant investment) but since the start of the 2016-17 season no player on the team has played more even-strength minutes than the 23-year-old Matheson.

He is clearly a player that the organization trusts and one that it sees as a long-term building block.

Now that he is locked in through the end of the 2025-26 season, let’s take a look at the long-term salary cap outlook for the Panthers.

Another young player signed long-term

With Matheson signed the Panthers now have eight players signed for at least the next four seasons: Matheson, Roberto Luongo, James Reimer, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad.

Six of those players are age 25 or under. The only three that are not are Yandle, Reimer, and Luongo.

Together that group of nine players accounts for $47.3 million in salary cap space.

Most of them look like solid investments

While the Panthers have a significant chunk of their roster locked in for at least the next three or four years they don’t really have many deals that look like they will be a problem in the future.

The only two players on the team that carry a salary cap hit of more than $6 million per season are Ekblad ($7.5 million) and Yandle ($6.3 million).

They are also the only two players on the roster that crack the top-75 salary cap hits in the NHL.

Assuming Ekblad bounces back from what seemed to be a bit of a regression a season ago his contract could look like a steal. In the future. A young, top-pairing, all-situations defender that can play at the level Ekblad showed in his first two years in the league not only doesn’t come cheap, they usually end up costing more than what his $7.5 million cap hit is.

Yandle’s deal carries a bit of a risk simply because of his age. He is already 31 years old and signed for five more years after this one.

Up front Nick Bjugstad ($4.1 million per year through 2020-21) needs to stay healthy to get his career back on track, but Huberdeau, Barkov and Trocheck will only cost the Panthers $16.7 million per season for the next four years. All of them are legitimate 25-goal, 50-60 point players when healthy.

No more core players are in line for a new deal anytime soon

Because the Panthers were so aggressive in getting their young players signed, and because they have so many young players on their roster, they have a ton of cost certainty over the next few years. The only players that will be unrestricted free agents after this season are Radim Vrbata and Colton Sceviour, while the only restricted free agents are Jared McCann, Connor Brickley, Alex Petrovic and MacKenzie Weegar.

Only Jamie McGinn, Derek MacKenzie and Michael Haley are unrestricted free agents after the 2018-19 season while only Ian McCoshen is eligible for restricted free agency.

All of they pieces of the team are locked in place for the foreseeable future with what should be a decent amount of salary cap space.

The important questions now are how good is that core, and what can do with that salary cap space to fill in around them?

(Salary data via CapFriendly.com)

Panthers’ polarizing makeover continues with massive Matheson extension

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Dale Tallon’s do-over of the Florida Panthers seems less and less about saving money and more about restoring his vision.

After all, salary retention made the Jason DemersJamie McGinn trade pretty even financially. Tallon also spared no expense in reportedly signing promising young defenseman Michael Matheson to a whopping new deal.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman originally reported it, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie backs it up as a “done deal” of eight years, $39 million. That means Matheson will carry a $4.875M cap hit starting in 2018-19, as his rookie deal still has one year remaining. The Panthers have yet to confirm it, but this seems like a safe bet to be true.

Giving Matheson an eight-year deal could be understandable if it meant huge savings. Handing him almost $5M would be reasonable if you instead wanted a bridge deal to see if he’s really worth that money. The Panthers giving Matheson both is where things get hairy, and many reactions boil down to Matheson being good, but the contract being bad.

Now, it’s better to overpay a talented player than it is to say, give precious cap space to a more limited defenseman like the Panthers once did with late-stage Ed Jovanovski.

It’s one thing to lock up a player early in a contract year when that person is a huge part of your marketing plan and could very well cost you a ton of money a year later. There’s a reason why teams like the Buffalo Sabres are proactive with the likes of Jack Eichel.

Even as a prominent member of the Panthers’ defense, it’s a bit baffling to imagine that they wouldn’t want a bigger sample size before handing Matheson almost $5M per year. This is a guy coming off of a 17-point season. Would a strong 2017-18 season really hurt that Panthers that much in the wallet?

Now Matheson is opened up to potentially painful comparisons. Look at the Anaheim Ducks, who have one proactive deal that looks better (Josh Manson) and one strenuous RFA situation that fell very nicely for them (Hampus Lindholm).

The Panthers have already seen a promising defenseman struggle under the weight of a lofty new extension.

It’s plausible that Aaron Ekblad will get things back together, and a star defenseman is often worth the $7.5M he’s receiving – and then some. Still, at the moment, people feel a lot worse about Ekblad’s deal than they did before, and that was a more agreeable decision in the moment.

Between Ekblad, Matheson, and Keith Yandle, the Panthers will devote $18.725M to three blueliners beginning in 2018-19.

Overall, it’s tough not to criticize this process, even if there are still some things to like about Florida’s roster, and that includes Matheson. Did they really need to cut ties with Jaromir Jagr, Jason Demers, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault so rapidly? Did this Matheson deal need to get done right away? It also feels a little slap-dash.

Again, things aren’t all bad, and Matheson has talent. The bigger picture could be prettier, though.

Tune in on Sunday for a breakdown of the good and the bad of this team’s structure.

Catch up on Bruins, Sabres, Red Wings, more (PHT’s Atlantic Division preview)

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Between August’s “Team of the Day” series and all the other articles that gets published, Pro Hockey Talk generates a ton of material to get you hyped for the 2017-18 season.

With that in mind, it’s understandable if you missed some great stuff. While these collections aren’t comprehensive, consider these divisional previews to be a good way to get hyped for the rapidly approaching season.

For the PHT’s staff picks, click here.

Boston Bruins

Poll/looking to make the leap/

In more immediate Bruins news, Bergeron and Backes seem a little banged-up.

Buffalo Sabres

Poll/looking to make the leap

Detroit Red Wings

Poll/looking to make the leap/

Florida Panthers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Montreal Canadiens

Poll/looking to make the leap

In more immediate news, the Habs made a minor trade.

… And another one:

Ottawa Senators

Poll/looking to make the leap

Tampa Bay Lightning

Poll/looking to make the leap

Toronto Maple Leafs

Poll/looking to make the leap

Connor McDavid’s deal ushers in age of NHL’s millennial millionaires

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Connor McDavid is doing his best to not make a big deal out of his big deal.

Edmonton’s 20-year-old captain and reigning NHL MVP insists nothing about him has changed in the months since signing an eight-year, $100 million contract.

“My buddies are all the same,” McDavid told The Associated Press. “Nothing’s all that different, to be honest.”

Individually, maybe not, for someone who will become the league’s top-paid player on a per-year basis once the contract kicks in next season.

From a league-wide standpoint, McDavid’s mega-deal is the latest and most eye-popping example of what’s becoming a sea change in how teams are prioritizing their payroll structure at a time the NHL’s salary cap has barely budged. The cap has gone from $69 million in 2014-15 to $75 million this season.

Hockey is becoming a young man’s game: Teams are now spending more on retaining their younger stars with an eye on the long-term future, rather than on adding older players in free agency.

“I would think this is going to be a trend,” Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford told The AP. “There’s 31 teams and it’s hard to find premier players, so when teams get them, they’re going to lock them up.”

As for whether the trend’s favorable, Rutherford chuckled and said: “It depends on how you look at it. If you’re the team that’s got the good players, you’re going to keep them.”

The Oilers did so this summer by also signing 21-year-old forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. Next up is Buffalo’s Jack Eichel , selected second in the 2015 draft, one spot behind McDavid. An NHL-maximum eight-year contract is on the table for Eichel, though the two sides have yet to agree on price.

And the focus will eventually shift to members of the 2016 draft class such as Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine. By comparison, the Florida Panthers might have gotten a break in signing 2014 No. 1 pick, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, to an eight-year, $60 million contract a year ago.

“There’s obviously a new market out there in terms of money for young kids,” Eichel said. “I don’t think age should be too much of a reason for somebody not to get a good deal. If they earned it, they earned it.”

What’s different is it’s happening to the under-23 crowd.

Previously, players coming out of their three-year rookie contracts would be signed to what were called “bridge deals” ranging from four to five years. That was the case with Sidney Crosby who, at 21, signed a five-year $43.5 million deal before cashing in once again at 26, when he signed his current 12-year, $104 million contract.

Now teams are blowing past age barriers by offering long-term security beyond when players are eligible to become free agents in exchange for cost certainty.

“A lot has changed since 2005,” Devils GM Ray Shero said, referring to the age of free agents dropping from 31 to between 25 and 27, depending on the situation. “The game right now is, pay the star player and retain them if possible. Those are the guys getting the eight-year deals.”

There have been exceptions, most notably the Montreal Canadiens signing 31-year-old goalie Carey Price to an eight-year, $84 million contract this summer. Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning avoided losing captain Steven Stamkos to free agency by locking him up with an eight-year $68 million contract.

Fewer notable players, however, are making it to their first year of free-agent eligibility. And those who do aren’t landing the lucrative, long-term deals as before.

This summer, 31-year-old Alexander Radulov signed the most expensive contract, a five-year, $31.25 million deal with Dallas, followed by 28-year-old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk‘s four-year, $26.6 million contract with the New York Rangers.

Those are modest deals in comparison to 2012, when the Minnesota Wild signed both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts, before the NHL restricted contracts to a maximum eight-year term.

“Every time you set a new bar, as revenues rise, as players move up, it creates additional opportunities for other players,” NHL Players’ Association chief Donald Fehr said, referring to McDavid. “The more you pay an individual player in a cap system, however, it does have repercussions on it.”

The commitment to youth is evident in how NHL teams have re-arranged their scouting staffs and dedicating more resources into establishing player development positions. That’s a considerable switch from the past, when most teams relied on small staff of scouts, and spent little on their minor-league affiliates, Sabres GM Jason Botterill said.

Ten years ago, the Sabres employed one pro scout, seven amateur scouts and a staff of five scouting assistants. This season, Botterill’s first in Buffalo, the Sabres have two assistant GMs, 13 amateur scouts, three pro scouts and even a college scout. And that doesn’t include Buffalo’s four player-development coaches.

“Teams realize the importance of what the development of these young players in your system can lead to for your organization,” Botterill said. “And it’s important to put resources toward that.”

 

Trocheck’s upper-body injury not believed to be ‘anything serious’

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Vincent Trocheck scored a goal during Tuesday’s exhibition game versus Nashville, however the 24-year-old forward had his night limited by an upper-body injury.

Trocheck recorded 6:49 of ice time — the vast majority of that taking place on the power play — in the first period and missed the second and third periods.

Per reports, Trocheck was to have the injury re-evaluated today.

“He had an upper-body injury, I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner told 560 WQAM Sports Radio on Wednesday. “I expect him back for practice in the next couple days.”

Originally a third-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, Trocheck enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16 with 25 goals and 53 points, emerging as one of Florida’s promising young forwards.

He followed that up with 23 goals and 54 points last season. That point total led the Panthers, a team that was decimated by injuries to a number of key players, particularly Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.