Michael Matheson

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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.

Panthers re-sign Petrovic — one-year, $1.8 million

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The Florida Panthers announced on Saturday morning that they have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Alex Petrovic to a one-year contract that will pay him $1.8 million.

Petrovic, 25, appeared in 49 games for the Panthers this past season, scoring one goal and adding 13 assists.

“Alex is an important part of our young core and has taken great strides in his development over the past two seasons,” said general manager Dale Tallon in a team statement. “He plays the type of hockey that will help us win games and we are pleased to have agreed to terms on a deal with him.”

Petrovic has spent his entire career with the Panthers since being selected by the team in the second-round of the 2010 draft. In 161 career games he has three goals and 32 assists.

He took on a significantly bigger role this past season when he was in the lineup, playing a career high 18 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with either Michael Matheson or Mark Pysyk.

Could Larry Robinson be joining the Florida Panthers?

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Last week, it was revealed that with his contract about to expire, Larry Robinson would not return to the San Jose Sharks.

Robinson, a six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens as a player, was the Sharks’ director of player development. He joined the club in 2012.

Like with any departure, Robinson’s set forth the usual questions about where he’ll surface next. Given the comments his agent, Donnie Cape, made to the Montreal Gazette a few days ago, Robinson still wants to work for an NHL club — just not behind the bench as a coach.

That same report said Robinson, who lives in Florida, could have the Panthers “high on [his] wish list.”

More, from the Gazette:

Cape said the perfect role for Robinson at this point in his life would be to work with players at training camp, keep tabs on the development of young defencemen during the season and then spend time with players when necessary if they are having specific problems. Cape expects his phone to start ringing with calls from NHL general managers interested in Robinson’s services, and why wouldn’t they be?

“If it’s the right thing, we can wrap it up right away,” Cape said. “If it takes time, it doesn’t matter. It’s more important the fit than anything else. The comfort zone, respectability, all that has to come into play.”

On Monday, a report from 91.9 FM radio’s Jean-Charles Lajoie said Robinson will join the Panthers, becoming a development coach for the team’s defensemen. Lajoie added Robinson will work strictly in Sunrise, and not travel with the club.

If the report pans out, the move makes sense.

One of the greatest defensemen of all time and an experienced coach, Robinson could be the ideal tutor for Florida’s collection of good young blueline talent. Aaron Ekblad, the 2015 Calder Trophy winner as the league’s top rookie of the year, only turned 21 in February. Ian McCoshen, 21, made his NHL debut last season, appearing in three games. Michael Matheson, 22, is another promising blueliner that’s twice represented Canada at the World Hockey Championship.

It should be noted the Panthers have not made any confirmations or official announcements with regards to Robinson.

Related: Panthers reportedly will speak with Housley after Stanley Cup Final

Panthers’ present to Jagr: A wild OT win vs. Sharks

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The Florida Panthers twitter feed joked about needing coffee for a rare late game in San Jose against the Sharks, but their eventual 6-5 OT win could leave their fans so excited they’ll struggle to sleep.

(Or … conversely, so spent emotionally that they conk out on their coaches.)

If you want an idea of how thrilling this game was at times, consider this: the latter events of the contest probably topped the five-goal first period.

Consider some of the high points of what happened late in the contest:

  • Jaromir Jagr celebrated his 45th birthday with the 1,900th point of his distinguished, remarkable NHL career. At that point, it seemed like Florida might just put a bow on this game with a 5-3 lead.
  • Joe Pavelski had other ideas. The Sharks captain scored two goals to send this game into overtime, hitting the 20-goal mark in the process. It remains to be seen how injured Roberto Luongo is from the sequence in which Pavelski made it 5-5, but he was at least hurt enough to leave the game with about 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
  • This forced James Reimer into the net, aka the guy who very briefly joined the Sharks (watching Martin Jones during the playoffs, more or less). Reimer ended up making two saves and will probably be credited with a win.

  • The Panthers put together some exciting chances in a brief overtime period, including a thwarted semi-breakaway attempt by Michael Matheson. Eventually, Jonathan Huberdeau continued his red-hot if far-too-late start to the season with the OT winner, thanks to a ludicrous pass by Aleksander Barkov.

Oh yeah, the game also included some brilliant saves and a failed Pavelski penalty shot attempt … and that five-goal first period.

After the Blues really kept the lid on the Red Wings in a low-scoring game at Joe Louis Arena, just about everything happened at the Shark Tank.

San Jose has to be frustrated in its play lately, although grabbing a point here shows that the Sharks won’t just go easily. The Panthers, meanwhile, likely feel as optimistic as they’ve been in some time about a possible charge toward a wild card spot.

“Wild” certainly seemed to be the theme of this one.