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)