The Florida Panthers are so far up against the NHL salary cap that numerous players who appeared to make their opening night roster — including defenseman Lucas Carlsson and forward Aleksi Heponiemi — were placed on waivers Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers have until 5 p.m. on Monday to set their initial roster, one with a maximum of 23 players.
As it stands right now, the Panthers do not have much room for anything aside for the anticipated signing of center Eric Staal to a one-year deal.
Staal’s new contract may happen on Monday, perhaps following the 2 p.m. waiver claim period and before the 5 p.m. deadline.
Florida could also free Staal from his professional tryout and wait to sign him as a free agent later — as it did in 2019 when Brian Boyle joined the team a few weeks into the season.
Unless things change before Monday evening, it appears as if the Panthers may start the season with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies — three players short of the maximum allowed to be carried and just enough to ice a team on Thursday.
Depending on how the Panthers move things around, they may be able to start with 21 players.
As it stands right now, the Panthers will be about $300,000 over the cap when Anthony Duclair is placed on LTIR on Monday to subtract his $3 million salary.
Florida technically has Zac Dalpe on its roster — he cleared waivers last week and was brought up for Thursday’s preseason game — and he will either be sent back to Charlotte or be placed on LTIR after leaving that game with an injury.
Dalpe’s contract still would not be enough to sign Staal so someone else may have to be placed on LTIR to fit Staal in and push their cap problem forward.
Without any cap space, Florida gambled Carlsson and/or Heponiemi slide through waivers with the glut of available players who are eligible to be claimed before Monday’s roster finalization.
As for Heponiemi, it appeared he made the Panthers with a strong training camp but with the salary cap concerns, was placed on waivers.
Those Florida players who clear — Heponiemi, Carlsson, Michael Del Zotto, Chris Tierney, Gerald Mayhew and Alex Lyon — could be assigned to Charlotte or brought back to the Panthers if and when the team clears some salary space and has some more flexibility.
Heponiemi and Carlsson both appeared to make the team out of camp but are simply victims of a team in a cap crunch.
If they do clear, they are expected to find their way back to the Panthers eventually.
”It was fun to play with Barkov and Reinhart and I enjoyed it,” said Heponiemi, who scored goals in each of Florida’s final two preseason games.
”I was having fun with those guys and when you make plays, it builds up the confidence a little more. I was able to make some plays. It has been a pretty decent camp for me. I don’t think those Carolina games were the best, there was a little fatigue going on for me and it was a tough start. But overall, it was pretty good.”
A big reason Florida is so close to the cap is the dead-cap hit of $5.4 million from buying out Keith Yandle in 2021.
The Panthers figured it was better to get the $4-plus million cap savings on Yandle last season and deal with his balloon cap deduction this season and, well, the bill has come due.
Florida also added salary due to big raises going to Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
Being unable to — or unwilling to — trade Patric Hornqvist and his $5.3 million cap hit has also handcuffed the team this season.
The cap is not expected to be much of a problem next season when Yandle’s deduction goes back to just over $1 million and Hornqvist’s big number is gone.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK ISLANDERS
- When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: UBS Arena; Elmont, N.Y.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 54-32-11, 8 ties