Vincent Trocheck

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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)

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.

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)

Horvat remains unsigned, but Linden’s optimistic

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We’re closing in on training camp at this point and Bo Horvat is still a restricted free agent. That’s not something that seems to concern Canucks president Trevor Linden, who feels the two sides aren’t far apart.

“We’ve had some good conversations with Bo and his reps … we’re moving along and I don’t see any issues,” Linden told TSN 1040 (H/T to the Score).

The Canucks and Horvat have taken their time exploring a lot of different options, ranging from two-year to eight-year contracts. It’ll be interesting to see what route they ultimately take.

Horvat had 20 goals and 52 points in 81 contests in his third campaign in the NHL. He only celebrated his 22nd birthday in April so it’s not unreasonable to believe he still has untapped upside left. So while a bridge contract would be the safer option, the Canucks might ultimately be better off if they can find a way to ink him to a long-term deal.

If a lengthy contract is the goal, then part of the reason it’s taken this long might be the relative lack of good comparables. If you’re talking about forwards who signed a five-year deal or longer off their entry-level contract, then you don’t have a lot to choose from. This summer the examples of that are Jonathan Drouin, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Draisaitl and McDavid are obvious non-starters, but Drouin is less so given that his 21 goals and 53 points mirrors Horvat’s 2016-17 production fairly well.

Drouin is generally seen as having more offensive upside though, but he also has less NHL experience than Horvat. Drouin’s contract was a six-year, $33 million deal so it would be interesting if Horvat was hoping to get something similar, citing his similar productive last season as the primary argument.

If you went back to the summer of 2016 then you could pull on examples like Victor Rask, who signed a six-year, $24 million deal after recording 21 goals and 48 points in his sophomore season as a center. Or Vincent Trocheck, another center that got a six-year, $28.5 million contract after getting 53 points after his third NHL season and first full campaign. Those might be the contracts that the Canucks point to if the two sides are heading towards a long-term deal.

Related: It’s Vancouver Canucks day at PHT

Panthers’ Malgin eyeing bigger role this season

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The Florida Panthers are looking toward a bit of a youth movement this season after saying goodbye to veterans Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen this offseason. They have no shortage of options heading into the 2017-18 season, and one player that figures to get an expanded look is second-year forward Denis Malgin.

A fourth-round pick by the Panthers in 2015, Malgin was able to get a limited look with the team a year ago and was up-and-down a bit in 15 games, scoring three goals to go with nine assists.

Coming back for year two with a better understanding of what is going on around him — thanks to a better grasp of the language, as he explained to Alain Poupart of NHL.com recently — he should get a more consistent look in the Panthers’ bottom-six.

An early run of injuries forced him into the lineup probably earlier than the Panthers would have liked, but he showed flashes of skill that make him an intriguing prospect heading into this season.

Here is Panthers’ director of player development Bryan McCabe talking about his progress, via NHL.com.

“He’s a highly skilled individual,” Panthers director of player personnel Bryan McCabe said of Malgin. “He maybe played a little faster than we would have liked, but that was out of necessity, not necessarily because we wanted him here. We had a ton of injuries and he’s a really skilled player, so he was kind of thrust in the limelight.

“He maybe needed some more seasoning … that’s why [he attended development] camp. We’re trying to build him back up a little. He had an up-and-down year; we want to make sure his confidence is high when he comes into camp this year.”

Including Malgin the Panthers already have at least six players under the age of 24 on the roster for this upcoming season, while prospects like Owen Tippett and Jayce Hawryluk figure to have a chance to make the team and make an impact. The Panthers have a really strong young core built around Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad, but injuries and some regression across the board this past season resulted in a bitterly disappointing 2016-17 season. They are looking to rebound this season.