Ian McCoshen

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Lightning’s Koekkoek, Predators’ Girard shine on night of firsts

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Maybe Thursday will see other patterns form, but one theme is young NHL defensemen scoring their first goals, and in many ways helping their teams secure wins.

Samuel Girard, 19, is already distinguishing himself with a Nashville Predators team suffering from some problematic injuries on defense. (That situation might get worse if Yannick Weber misses extended time thanks to this hit by Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal.)

Girard already had an assist in his debut, but Thursday was a real treat as his family was on hand; Girard scored the game-tying goal and picked up a primary helper on the game-winner as the Predators beat the Dallas Stars 4-1.

P.K. Subban looked almost as excited as Girard on that goal:

Girard isn’t a slam-dunk for “best night for a defenseman who scored his first goal,” though.

Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Slater Koekkoek didn’t just score the first goal of his NHL career, he actually scored two. This was the second, which ended up being the game-winner as the Bolts edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4:

Koekkoek, 23, had gone 42 regular-season games (and 10 playoff contests) without scoring that first tally, so this burst stands as a positive sign for Tampa Bay.

Finally, Ian McCoshen factored into the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues with his first-ever NHL goal. McCoshen, 22, got to this spot in his sixth contest at the NHL level:

Yep, this has been a pretty good night of firsts for NHL blueliners. If there are any more of note, this post will be updated.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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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)

Florida releases veteran d-man Pardy from PTO

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Adam Pardy’s quest to crack the Panthers’ new-look defense is over.

Pardy, signed to a training camp PTO back in early September, was released on Thursday morning, the club announced.

Pardy, 32, split last season between Winnipeg and Edmonton after the Oilers picked him up off waivers in late February.

At 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds, Pardy’s always been a robust physical player that plays with an edge (something the Panthers lost in trading away Erik Gudbranson this summer).

His skating and offensive ability have been called into question, though — he’s never scored more than 10 points in a single season — and there are concerns about his ability to keep up.

Could be why he failed to crack the opening-night roster. Pardy’s release, along with yesterday’s waiving of Jakub Kindl, leaves nine defensemen left in the mix: Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Steve Kampfer and OHL Owen Sound product Thomas Schemitsch.

Florida continues overhaul on defense, waives Kindl

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What do Jakub Kindl, Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, Willie Mitchell, Dylan Olsen and Dmitry Kulikov all have in common?

They all played defense for the Florida Panthers last year.

That’s where the similarities end, however — on Wednesday, Kindl joined the ranks of the (potentially) departed as the Panthers placed him on waivers, per Sportsnet.

Kindl, picked 19th overall by Detroit in 2005, was acquired by Florida at last year’s deadline, but failed to make much of an impact. He had just two points in 19 regular season games — averaging 13:59 per night — and was largely a spectator in the playoffs, appearing in just a single contest during an opening-round loss to the Islanders.

But while Kindl’s time in Florida with brief, he still spent time there. And now he’s gone.

And that was the Panthers’ big narrative this offseason. The defense had a major overhaul: Campbell was allowed to walk in free agency, Gudbransona and Kulikov were traded, Mitchell’s concussion problems effectively ended his career and Olsen is still without a contract for this season.

To fill the holes, Florida went out and acquired the likes of Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk. It’s also expected prospects Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen will push for minutes.

To be fair, there is a financial component to this transaction as well. Kindl makes quite a bit of money for what he projected to give the Panthers — $2.4 million AAV, and $3 million in salary this season — so dispatching him to the American League, or having a taker on waivers, would free up some cash.