On Tuesday, the Florida Panthers signed 21-year-old goaltender Spencer Knight to a three-year, $13.5 million contract extension.
The contract will hold a $4.5 million annual cap hit once it kicks in next season.
With Sergei Bobrovsky already carrying a $10 million cap hit through the final year of Knight’s new contract, well, the Panthers are committing quite a bit of money to the goaltending position.
By the time Knight’s deal kicks in next July, he and Bobrovsky will almost assuredly be the highest-paid set of goalies in the league.
Knight, of course, needed a new contract as his entry-level deal concludes this season.
Florida did not waste any time in making sure their first-round pick in 2019 — it selected Knight 13th overall just days before signing Bobrovsky to what was the largest contract in franchise history at seven-years and $70 million — was well taken care of.
If Knight’s contract went into play this season, he would be the 23rd-highest paid goalie in the entire league.
Knight has shown promise in his first 30 NHL starts, going 23-9-3 with a .909/2.74.
But those numbers come in a small sample size.
The Panthers are obviously betting on Knight’s future. For good reason.
In the role he was used in last year, Knight was used sparingly early while Bobrovsky took on the majority of the workload.
While Knight’s overall numbers from last season do not stand out what one would see from an elite NHL starter (he went 19-9-3 with a .908/2.79), Knight showed during the back half of the season that he is capable of being one.
Knight started 12 of Florida’s final 29 games during its Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2021-22 season and posted a 10-3-1 record with a .921/2.23 over that stretch.
He had the seventh-best save percentage and the third-best goals-against average during that span.
If Florida gets this version of Knight throughout the lifetime of his contract — and this three-year extension is only a bridge deal so they’ll be another big one coming — this deal could end up being one of the best in the league.
If the Panthers end up getting the other version (the one that went 9-6-2 with a .898/3.22 in the first half of the season) it could be an issue.
Given the way Knight matured both as a goaltender and in general last year, it seems as though he has done a nice job of adjusting to being in the NHL.
He is calm and collected in the crease and carries a relaxed mindset that helps him stay composed following any mistakes.
Seeing all of those signs out of a 21-year-old goaltender are surefire ways to tell that he is already a reliable option.
The real issue lies with the goaltender ahead of him on the depth chart.
Bobrovsky’s contract holds a full no-movement clause that will be in effect until July 2024. That means Bobrovsky could nix any trade the Panthers may attempt to make —and there is no indication they have tried — to clear out his $10 million cap hit.
While Knight’s $4.5 million deal would not kick in until July 2023, it would leave at least one season of the Panthers having both contracts on the books before Bobrovsky’s no-movement clause is downgraded to a 16-team no-trade list.
If the Panthers have to hold onto Bobrovsky during the 2023-24 season (which they most likely will) they would have the highest-paid goaltending tandem in the NHL.
As it stands now, it isn’t even close.
The two current highest-paid goalie pairs belong to the Montreal Canadiens and the Los Angeles Kings.
Montreal’s tandem clocks in at a cap hit of around $13.3 million.
However, Carey Price ($10.5 million) is likely to be placed on long-term injured reserve after suffering a potentially career-ending injury and will not figure into Montreal’s cap number this season.
Ex-Panther Samuel Montembeault looks to back up Jake Allen ($2.8 million) on a $1 million contract, actually giving the Canadiens one of the cheapest tandems in the league.
In Los Angeles, Cal Peterson ($5 million) will likely be the full-time starter in 2023-24 after Jonathan Quick’s $5.8 million contract expires next season.
A similar situation is taking place on Long Island, with Ilya Sorokin ($4 million) taking the reigns from Semyon Varlamov ($5 million) with Varlamov’s contract ending after the 2022-23 season.
The point is, teams are moving away from expensive goaltending tandems — especially with the league’s salary cap growth slowed due to the 2020 pandemic and its effects on the league’s finances.
Florida is currently one of many teams at the cap ceiling. Next season, however, the Panthers clear $11 million in space with Patric Hornqvist’s $5.3 million contract and $5.3 million in buyout money coming off the books.
Still, the Panthers are looking to be a competitive team that could add more pieces where they need to.
With Radko Gudas, Lucas Carlsson, Rudolfs Balcers and Colin White set to be free agents, it may be hard to add to the core the way the roster is currently constructed.
This contract begs the question: Does it hurt the Panthers’ chances of competing in 2023-24?
The questions, though, should come from Bobrovsky’s end of things, not Knight’s.
Knight has shown that he is capable of taking that next jump and a $4.5 million cap hit for a time in his career where he will take a serious jump is worth it.
Bobrovsky’s end is a bit more murky.
His first two years in Florida were rocky, seeing him fall from Vezina trophy conversations to a 42-27-8 record with a .902/3.10 in the regular season and a 6-2-5 record with a .880/3.80 in the playoffs.
The Panthers are hoping for production closer to this past season — a 39-7-3 record with a .913/2.67 in the regular season and a 4-6-0 record with a .911/2.70 in the postseason.
The future of Florida’s cap situation for the remainder of Bobrovsky’s four-year contract will lie in how well he plays over the next two years of it.
The reality of Knight taking over as the starter is creeping in — Bobrovsky knows this and Knight’s new contract is certainly a reminder of the franchise’s faith in him.
Bobrovsky will, in essence, be playing himself into a starting job on another team over the next two seasons and how well he plays ultimately could determine how much Florida would have to give up to trade the contract and how much of the contract they would have to retain.
With Florida not having many draft assets to work with after trading for Ben Chiarot, Claude Giroux and Matthew Tkachuk, a fall back to his numbers from his first two seasons with the Panthers could seriously hinder the team’s chances of competing.
The Panthers will just have to hope that he and Knight will be able to coexist enough for the next two years to maximize his trade value.
FLORIDA PANTHERS PRESEASON
Monday: Florida 4, Nashville 3 (OT)
Monday: Nashville 4, Florida 0
Thursday: vs. Carolina, 7 p.m.
Saturday: at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Oct. 6: vs. Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8: at Tampa Bay, 4 p.m