The NHL opens free agency season on Wednesday but unless general manager Bill Zito does something drastic in the next day, the Florida Panthers do not have the salary cap space to do much of anything.
As it stands right now, the Panthers are about $4 million under the cap ceiling — and that counts Anthony Duclair’s $3 million coming off due to his long-term injury.
But if Duclair is back by midseason, as the team believes he will be, that money is back on the cap and the Panthers will be up against it.
So, any thoughts that Florida could somehow keep the likes of Mason Marchment, Claude Giroux or Ben Chiarot seem less likely as the days wind down.
Adding a high-profile player (Evgeni Malkin may be available) is not possible under the current constraints.
The Panthers were thought to be in the market to create some cap space at last week’s draft in Montreal — only the team only made one trade and that was swapping seventh-round draft picks with the Penguins.
Florida not having a first-round pick until 2025 (and only one second-round selection during that timeframe) hampered Zito’s trade attempts.
The Panthers could be in the buyout market today with some money being saved if Patric Hornqvist was let go.
There is no indication the Panthers are leaning that way — Hornqvist is a treasured part of the team who still scores a bit — but it is hard to justify spending $5.3 million of the cap on a fourth-line winger.
Hornqvist, 35, would cost $1.8 million against the cap this season if bought out, giving the Panthers $3.5 million to work with.
Next season, Hornqvist would cost Florida $1.8 million against the cap — and combined with Keith Yandle’s $1.2 cap hit would give the Panthers a $3 million reduction in 2023-24.
Again, Florida may not be looking to buy anyone out but with so little cap space, there is not much the team can do at least right now.
Tough decisions have to be made and with a day before the market opens up, they have been.
We’ll see what happens in the coming hours.
According to capfriendly.com, the Panthers have under $1 million of cap space (not counting Duclair coming off) with 10 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies under contract.
One of those forwards is Duclair, so the Panthers could add three — albeit temporarily — from their prospect pool including Aleksi Heponiemi and Grigori Denisenko.
With the Panthers’ lack of salary cap space, what type of player could they be looking at come Wednesday?
The Panthers are well aware of the players who have suddenly popped onto the market after not garnering qualifying offers from their now-former teams.
Gabriel Carlsson, a defenseman Zito knows well from his days in Columbus, could be a low-cost option for the Panthers after he was not qualified by the Blue Jackets on Monday.
Other players who are now free agents include former Panthers Juho Lammikko and Henrik Borgstrom as well as Dylan Strome (the No. 3 overall pick in 2015), Ryan Strome, Sonny Milano and Ondrej Kase.
The Panthers, now out of necessity and not just making the decision to be frugal, could be visiting the bargain bin of the free agency market.