Willie Mitchell

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Report: Panthers ink prospect McCoshen to entry-level deal

The Florida Panthers have reportedly signed top prospect Ian McCoshen to a three-year, entry-level deal, according to The Sun Sentinel. The deal is worth $925,000 if McCoshen is in the NHL and $70,000 if he’s in the AHL.

The 20-year-old was the Panthers’ second round pick, 31st overall, in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. McCoshen spent the last three seasons at Boston College. He scored six goals, 21 points and a plus-30 rating in 40 games in 2015-16.

McCoshen, who turns 21 in August, could realistically crack Florida’s lineup in his first pro season because of the opening(s) on the Panthers blueline. Erik Gudbranson was traded to Vancouver, while Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell are free agents.

The Panthers currently have six defensemen under contract for next season: Dmitry Kulikov, Jakub Kindl, Alex Petrovic, Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson and Steven Kampfer.

The timing of the Gudbranson trade was…interesting

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It seems like only yesterday that the Florida Panthers were raving about Erik Gudbranson.

Except it wasn’t yesterday.

It was earlier this month.

“Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, per the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blue line.”

“He’s really going to be a special player for a lot of years in this league and hopefully for a lot of years with the Panthers,” said veteran d-man Brian Campbell.

Now, Florida had just signed Gudbranson to a one-year contract extension, so of course there was raving to be done.

But it still surprised a lot of people when he was traded to Vancouver yesterday.

For example:

Not that Gudbranson was given away for nothing. The return the Panthers got from the Canucks was considerable. Jared McCann could be a top-six forward one day, and there was more.

“The fact we were able to add draft picks this year, second and fourth round, 33 and 93, we felt gave us two picks that we got back that we lost on the trading deadline,” general manager Tom Rowe told reporters.

Rowe also conceded that trading Gudbranson was a “very, very difficult decision.”

The timing, though.

The timing was pretty hard to ignore.

Rowe, of course, was just named Florida’s new GM. He replaced Dale Tallon, who was “promoted” (or demoted, depending who you ask) to the role of director of hockey ops. It was all part of a big, managerial shakeup — one that was driven in large part by analytics:

Would you be surprised to learn that Gudbranson did not have a particularly high Corsi?

From Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com:

Panthers

Now, we’re not saying the Panthers made this trade solely because of advanced stats. When there’s a salary cap, difficult decisions need to be made. Gudbranson will need a new contract next summer, and he won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Added Rowe: “The way [Michael Matheson] played in the playoffs and at the World Championship for an outstanding Canadian team really gave us more of a comfort level to do this.”

Still, it was only two years ago that Tallon was saying Gudbranson was “likely going to be the captain of our team some day.” And it was only a few weeks ago that Tallon called Gudbranson “an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”

So yeah, whether or not you like the deal for the Panthers, it’s more than fair to wonder who, or what, was the driving force behind it.

One thing’s for sure — the Panthers are going to look very different on the back end next season. Gudbranson’s gone; Willie Mitchell is unlikely to be back; and Campbell is an unrestricted free agent who may test the market.

In the playoffs, no defenseman played more for Florida than Gudbranson. After him, it was Campbell.

Related: People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

Panthers sign Swedish League standout Hultstrom

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Florida made a noteworthy move on Tuesday, signing defensman Linus Hultstrom from SHL club Djurgardens.

Hultstrom, 23, just wrapped a terrific year in which he led all SHL blueliners in goals (12) and points (31). In the playoffs, Hultstrom upped his production — 12 points in eight games — paving the way for the Panthers to make their move.

Though undersized — he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds — Hultstrom has been a scorer at virtually every level, and should be in line for a role on Florida’s blueline next season.

Captain Willie Mitchell, who missed the second half of the season with concussion issues, is expected to retire.

Another veteran defenseman, Brian Campbell, will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and it remains unclear if GM Dale Tallon will try to re-sign him.

Jakub Kindl, acquired at the trade deadline from Detroit, failed to impress and made just one appearance in the postseason. Kindl does, however, have one year remaining on his contract.

 

 

 

Panthers make it sound like Willie Mitchell’s career is over

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Willie Mitchell hoisted the Stanley Cup twice, played parts of 15 NHL seasons, even found a way back on the ice after a knee injury kept him out for more than a year.

This time, it looks virtually certain that he’s gone for good.

The Florida Panthers don’t expect their captain to be back next season, and one of his closest friends on the team essentially revealed Tuesday that he thinks Mitchell’s career is over. Mitchell missed the final 42 games of this season largely over concern what another brain injury would mean to his long-term health, and it’s been expected for weeks that this season would be the finale.

“Willie’s been a consummate professional,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. “He’s been a great captain. He’s won Stanley Cups. He’s given his body and soul to the game. It’s hard. … It’s never easy and I’ll give him all the support he can get.”

It bears noting that no one in the organization came out Tuesday and flatly said that Mitchell is retiring, but the inference was obvious from many. Tallon said he and Mitchell will sit down and talk about several options for his future.

“When I first talked to him and found out what was going on with him, we got a good cry,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, an All-Star in each of his two NHL seasons to date. “It’s a tough thing for a player. Everyone experiences it at some point, that point where you can’t play anymore. … Willie’s really lucky to have had such a great career and do so many great things.”

Mitchell and Ekblad have a particularly close relationship, almost father-son-like in some respects. In Ekblad’s rookie season, Mitchell and his wife took the then-teenager into their home and made him part of the family.

“I’ve learned absolutely everything I’ve learned in the game of hockey, in the NHL, from Willie Mitchell,” Ekblad said. “Learning to be a good person and a good player. Can’t thank that guy enough.”

Mitchell was known to have concussions in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and has spoken plenty in recent years about trying to make the game safer. Mitchell turned 39 last week, and would be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was drafted 20 years ago by New Jersey, and also appeared in NHL games with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and Los Angeles before coming to Florida and being named the eighth captain in Panthers history.

He’s played in 907 games, logging 180 points and 787 penalty minutes with a career rating of plus-119.

“He wasn’t captain by accident,” Florida forward Shawn Thornton said. “You could see it, even in the playoffs, he wasn’t playing but he was around, doing whatever it took, all the intangibles. If anybody needed anything, nobody went without with him around. He was the ultimate teammate.”

Mitchell wasn’t with the Panthers on Tuesday when they cleaned out lockers, packed up their sticks and headed into the offseason. He had been skating with the team at times in recent weeks, but didn’t appear in Florida’s six-game first-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders that ended Sunday.

“I’ve played with Willie for many years now,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. “We go way back. Just seeing him every day and knowing that he couldn’t play, it’s something that makes your heart hurt. Just knowing how much he loves to be around the guys, especially this time of year. Being part of a Stanley Cup run is why we play the game. It’s tough to see one of your good friends and teammates go through something like that.”

NOTES: F Jaromir Jagr said his agent will have talks with the Panthers about his future. Jagr reaffirmed that he believes the future is strong for Florida. “Sometimes you have to suffer to move forward in the future,” said Jagr, who will spend part of his offseason training again in Las Vegas. Tallon said he’s confident that Jagr will be back with the Panthers. … Another free agent, D Brian Campbell, said he would like to return to the team next season. Campbell has been with Florida for five years, not missing a single game in that span.

Playoffs were ‘great learning experience’ for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) There was a stretch in the regular season where the Florida Panthers seemed like they were getting every break, helping them put together what became a franchise-record 12-game winning streak.

And then came the postseason, when it seemed like no bounces went Florida’s way.

The Panthers played a six-game series against the New York Islanders, found themselves trailing in only two of those games – and lost the series anyway, doomed by three overtime losses and three games where Florida could not hang on to leads. So with that, the season came to an end in April once again for the Panthers.

Except this time, the sense of optimism about what’s coming might be more real than ever before.

“It was a great learning experience for a lot of our young kids,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “It was a lot of kids’ first playoff experience. We’re a real young team and we’ll be better next year.”

The Panthers have a group of young stars who should be together for years — Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith among some of them. They have a goalie in Roberto Luongo who turned 37 and still had one of his best seasons. They have Gallant, who might be a frontrunner for NHL honors after leading the Panthers to the Atlantic Division title.

If they can keep Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers will be a popular pick to go a long way next season.

“Nobody picked us to finish first place in the Atlantic and we had 103 points and we came a long way,” Gallant said. “And I think anybody who knows our hockey team, knows the character, how good our young players are and how good we’re going to be for the next number of years. … I know going forward we’ve got a great team.”

Here’s some of the issues facing the Panthers as their offseason begins:

JAGR STATUS: The 44-year-old led the Panthers in scoring with 66 points, has been an invaluable mentor to linemates Barkov and Huberdeau, and probably rivals Luongo as Florida’s most popular player. His postseason was frustrating in that he was on the ice for 163 shifts and finished with a mere two assists, extending his playoff goal drought to 37 games (spanning 100 shots and 852 shifts). The sense is that the Panthers will know quickly if he’s coming back. It’s his call; the team absolutely wants him to return.

CAMPBELL’S CONTRACT: D Brian Campbell has been with the Panthers for five years, and played in all 389 games that the team had (including playoffs) in that span. An unrestricted free agent now, some might point to his age – he turns 37 next month – and wonder if Florida should keep him. Others could point to his career-best plus-31 rating this season and quickly realize what he meant to the Panthers in this turnaround campaign.

MITCHELL’S FUTURE: Continuing the what-happens-next trend, D Willie Mitchell missed Florida’s final 42 games and there were reports that he’s considering retirement because of concerns over past concussions. Mitchell is a free agent, has served as the Panthers’ captain and teammates said he still had a role in the postseason run even while not being on the ice.

BOLLAND’S ANKLE: Forward Dave Bolland‘s health is a big question, and unlike the Jagr, Campbell and Mitchell matters this one might not get answered for a while yet. He’s only two years into a $27.5 million, five-year deal – and his 2015-16 season ended in mid-December because of an ankle problem that has dogged him for years. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, though it remains most unclear if Bolland will be able to help the Panthers going forward.

ON-ICE CHANGES: While the young core of the Panthers is going to be around for a while, expect Florida GM Dale Tallon to look for help on special teams when free agency begins. The Panthers were in the NHL’s bottom third this season in both power-play success (16.9 percent) and penalty killing (79.5 percent). The backup goaltender spot will also have to be addressed, with Al Montoya (12-7-3, 2.19) now a free agent.

Related: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup