Radim Vrbata

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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)

The Panthers have made a lot of changes and shed a lot of salary

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Dale Tallon continued his summer-long overhaul of the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening when he traded veteran defenseman Jason Demers to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forward Jamie McGinn.

It was an exciting addition for the Coyotes and a pretty eye-opening trade for the Panthers.

First, even though he was coming off of a down year in 2016-17, Demers can still be a very good second-pairing defenseman and it creates a pretty big opening on their blue line.

Meanwhile, McGinn probably tops out as a third-or fourth-line winger. Looking at it strictly from a talent and upside perspective the Panthers would seem to be getting the short end of the trade on paper. The only thing it really does do for them is save a lot of salary over the next few years.

That is something has been a theme with a lot of the Panthers’ moves this summer.

Demers is still signed for another four years at a salary cap hit of $4.5 million per season.

The Panthers are retaining 12 percent of that salary and will pay around $575,000 of it per season.

McGinn is signed for two more years at $3.3 million per season.

So while there are only marginal savings for the Panthers in the short-term, once McGinn’s deal is finished (assuming he is not traded before then) the Panthers will shed around $4 million per year in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

That is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Panthers’ changes this past summer.

They decided to part ways with veteran forward Jaromir Jagr and opted not to bring him back after paying him $4 million a season ago. They also bought out the final year of Jussi Jokinen‘s contract, a move that saved them $2.7 million.

Along with losing Jonathan Marchessault — their leading goal-scorer last season — to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, they traded veteran forward Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights for a draft pick, dumping his entire five-year, $25 million contract in the process.

In total, five of their top-eight point producers from a year ago (Marchessault, Jagr, Smith, Jokinen, Demers) are now gone.

When you add up the salaries from all of the trades and buyouts it ended up taking $12.45 million in salary off the cap this season alone (and that does not include not re-signing Jagr) with only McGinn’s $3.3 million coming in to replace them.

The Panthers did dip into free agency and replace some of that by paying $6.5 million this season ($4 million to Evgeni Dadonov and $2.5 million to Radim Vrbata), and they do still have a significant portion of their young core, including Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad all signed to long-term deals.

At this moment they have the third smallest cap figure in the league for this season, ahead of only the Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes.

With Jagr, Jokinen, Demers, Marchessault, and Smith all getting shipped out, with only Dadonov, Vrbata and McGinn coming in it, seems pretty clear management was not only trying to dump some salary, but also shed away a lot of the complementary players that were a part of what was a bitterly disappointing 2016-17 season.

Will it work? That remains to be seen.

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly.com)

Panthers add Harry Zolnierczyk to PTO mix

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The Florida Panthers already handed a PTO offer to Brandon Pirri, and now they’re doing the same with Harry Zolnierczyk.

With Radim Vrbata, Evgeni Dadonov, and Micheal Haley already added to the roster with full contracts this summer, the Panthers will have some work to do in integrating new players (and adjusting to the departure of guys like Jonathan Marchessault, Jussi Jokinen, and Reilly Smith).

Zolniercyzk – called Harry Z by anyone interested in brevity or typo avoidance – last suited up for the Nashville Predators. Harry Z played in 24 regular-season games and 11 playoff contests, averaging less than nine minutes of ice time per contest.

(As you can see, he had enough time for Matt Cullen to put him in a headlock during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, so there’s that.)

Poll: Who will lead Coyotes in points this season?

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The Arizona Coyotes lost their leading point producer from last season, as Radim Vrbata signed a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers when free agency opened last month.

That is 20 goals and 55 points gone from the Coyotes roster.

Behind Vrbata, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson — who is capable of scoring more than 20 goals in a season — finished second on the team in points, while Max Domi wasn’t able to reach his rookie totals mostly due to his sophomore season being interrupted by injury. After scoring 20 goals in 2015-16, Anthony Duclair had a difficult follow-up campaign and eventually saw time in the minors.

General manager John Chayka was busy at the draft, adding to his youthful team by acquiring Derek Stepan from the Rangers with the hopes Stepan will emerge as the team’s No. 1 center this season. In New York for seven seasons, he consistently reached the 50-point mark, achieving it five times.

The Coyotes have a number of young players on their roster, with Christian Dvorak having completed his rookie year and the likes of Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller looking to make a full-time impact this upcoming season. But they’ve also added some veteran players in Stepan up front and Niklas Hjalmarsson on defense. Given the dynamic and the addition of a player like Stepan, it will be interesting to see if the Coyotes attack can improve — they were 27th in the league in goals-for per game — and to see who emerges as the team’s leading point producer in 2017-18.

Now, have your say. Have a candidate not listed in the poll? Feel free to write it in the comments section.

Will Antti Raanta be the answer in net for the Coyotes?

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The Arizona Coyotes made some pretty drastic changes to their roster this offseason saying goodbye to some major veteran players (Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Mike Smith) and bringing in some fresh faces to replace them, including Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta.

Overall, the players coming in would seem to be — on paper anyway — upgrades over what they ended up letting go.

One of the more intriguing changes is going to be in net where Raanta is going to replace Smith, the Coyotes’ starting goalie for the past six years, and get his first opportunity to be a starting goalie in the NHL.

It is an opportunity he has earned over the past three years.

During that stretch Raanta has been one of the NHL’s top backups, playing behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and then Henrik Lundqvist in New York the past two years. There even came a point this past season where Raanta played so well (coinciding with one of the worst slumps of Lundqvist’s career) that he ended up getting the bulk of the playing time for nearly a month.

Over the past three years his save percentage has put him alongside some of the NHL’s elite goalies, but he has done that primarily as a backup where a goalie can get more favorable matchups and not have to deal with a starter’s workload.

How Raanta adjusts to being the No. 1 goalie will go a long way toward determining how good the Coyotes can be this season.

Shortly after he was acquired by the Coyotes I mentioned how a decent comparable for him and the Coyotes might be the player Cam Talbot has turned out to be for the Edmonton Oilers. Talbot was coming from a nearly identical situation (very good backup to Henrik Lundqvist in New York at a similar age) and has become an above average starter.

If the Coyotes can get that level of play from Raanta it would be a nice addition, and probably an upgrade over what they were going to get from Smith — not to mention at a better price.

The question is whether or not they can get that level of play.

In looking at goalies that have followed similar career paths in recent years the results have been somewhat mixed.

I went back over the past 15 years and looked at goalies that played between between 40 and 100 games through their age 27 season (an admittedly imperfect way of identifying “backups”) and how the most successful ones did when — and if — they became starters.

There were 45 goalies in the hockey-reference database that fit that criteria.

Twelve of them had a save percentage of .916 or better during that point in their career. The list includes Matt Murray, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin, Andrew Hammond, Dan Ellis, Philipp Grubauer, Scott Darling, Alex Stalock, Ben Scrivens, Eddie Lack, Vesa Toskala, and, of course, Raanta.

It is an interesting list.

Murray and Grubauer don’t really fit the mold of what we are looking for here because they are both young players that were top prospects. Murray has already taken a starting job and excelled with it, winning two Stanley Cups before his 23rd birthday.

Grubauer probably could be a starter if wasn’t playing behind one of the top-three goalies in the world.

Darling is entering into an identical situation as Raanta this season where he is getting a chance to go from successful backup to full-time starter.

But the rest of that group is exactly what we are looking for here, and the results are not exactly encouraging because other than Talbot none of them really went on to have much success as starters. Lack and Khudobin both continued Carolina’s goaltending struggles that led to them trying to find another top backup this offseason (Darling), while Ellis, Hammond, Stalock, Scrivens, and Toskala never really panned out.

The one thing that Raanta and the Coyotes have going in their favor is that he has a larger body of work to go by, having already already played in 94 games at the NHL level. A lot of the players on the aforementioned list had less than 50 games at a similar point.

We will find out if that extra playing will make a difference.