The Florida Panthers will buyout the final two years of Keith Yandle’s contract on Thursday, officially parting ways with the popular defenseman.
Yandle, 34, will become a free agent and can sign with any other team when the market opens in two weeks.
On Wednesday it came to light that Florida general manager Bill Zito did not ask Yandle to waive his full no-movement clause in his contract before the Panthers have to present their protected list for the Seattle Expansion Draft which is due on Saturday afternoon.
Word of Florida potentially using a buyout on Yandle had been floating around NHL circles for weeks.
Thursday morning, NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman reported Florida’s intentions.
“We would like to extend a sincere thank you to Keith for all that he’s contributed to the Florida Panthers organization and to the South Florida community over the past five seasons,” Zito said in a statement.
“While a decision of this kind is never an easy one to make, we believe that this shift is necessary as we look towards the 2021-22 season and our club’s future.”
Although Yandle is one of the top point producers among defensemen in the league, his actual defensive play has faltered over the past couple of years.
Florida, despite paying Yandle an average of $6.35 million per season, had been using him as a bottom pair defenseman for much of this season.
Since joining the Panthers, Yandle’s 30 goals and 231 points rank eighth in the NHL amongst defensemen. His 114 power play points ranks fourth.
While the Panthers kept Yandle in the lineup throughout this season to keep his NHL-leading Ironman streak going — he is currently at 922 consecutive regular season games played which is 42 games away from tying the all-time record — he was scratched in three of Florida’s final four playoff games.
Yandle ended up playing five seasons with the Panthers after Florida acquired his negotiating rights for a sixth-round pick before the 2016 free agency period opened.
The Panthers ended up giving Yandle a seven-year contract (as well as sending a fourth-round pick back to the Rangers) worth $44.5 million with a full no-movement clause.
Yandle could not be traded to any team without his approval.
“The biggest thing I have grown fond of is the people,’’ Yandle told me last summer.
“Everyone at the rink and everyone involved with the team are such good people. The people we have met and become friends with really is a life-changing experience. You meet new people, and now we have friends for life.
“We’re probably going to stay here the rest of our lives. We really love it here, everything it has to offer. Whether it’s the schools for the kids or their sports, we have enjoyed it. … When you have the time to enjoy all that South Florida has to offer, it’s an amazing place.”
Before this season started, Yandle said the Panthers had never approached him to waive his NMC — although they could have gone about that in other ways to know he was unreceptive to any sort of trade.
“I love playing here and love the guys,” Yandle told FHN during training camp. “I love our group, the coaches, everyone. My family is invested down here. I signed here expecting to play the rest of my career here.
“Honestly, as much as I have tried not to think about it — I’m not on Twitter or anything like that — I’m just doing my job. My parents always told me to ‘go to work every day, put your head down and grind’ and that’s what I have always done. That’s what I am doing now.”
By buying out Yandle’s contract, the Panthers add $4 million of cap space this season although next season, Yandle’s cap hit (due to $3 million being owed in signing bonus) the savings will not be much at all.
Over the course of four years, Yandle’s cap hit — per CapFriendly.com — will be: $2.34 million (2021-22); $5.39m (2022-23); $1.24m (2023-24); $1.24m (2024-25).
Florida will, however, be able to protect an additional defenseman from Seattle.
Had Florida held onto Yandle, he would have had to have been protected due to the NMC.
With Yandle now no longer part of the team, Florida is expected to protect defensemen Aaron Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar and Gus Forsling.
The Panthers signed Forsling to a three-year extension Thursday. Anthony Duclair was also extended.
What the Panthers are losing is a player who is beloved in and outside of their locker room.
To call Yandle one of the most popular Panthers — at least among his teammates — would be an understatement.
Yandle is not only popular because of his personality, but for his toughness. The Ironman streak definitely could have come to an end a number of times during his Florida run, but Yandle was out there each and every night.
During the 2019-20 season, Yandle took a puck at full speed off his face and left his mouth a mess. Yandle broke or shattered nine teeth that night in Carolina — and only missed a period as he got stitched up.
And, the following day, he was back on the ice and in the lineup against Buffalo despite spending much of his day in a dentist chair.
“I was surprised to see him come back because it looked so bad, but at the same time, I was not surprised,” Aaron Ekblad said then.
“Knowing him as a competitor, I know how much he wants to battle and be out there helping us especially in a game like that where we were losing. If we were up 5-2, maybe he stays in the room. He is a battler and it is great to see. We have seen guys come back from nasty stuff before and it means a lot to his teammates.”