Welcome to the August edition of the FHN Florida Panthers Mailbag!
With the expansion and entry drafts over and most of the free agency moves completed, we are now in the dog days of the NHL summer.
At least this August feels pretty normal, right?
Usually, free agency opens July 1 and by the Fourth, everyone is on vacation.
This year, we went all the way through July with stuff to do but now it’s time for most of the hockey world to head to their “cottage on the lake” and kick back for a bit.
Still, there is work to be done — especially when it comes to the Panthers.
As we opened up the questions for this month’s Mailbag, a lot of you asked when the new contracts for Sasha Barkov and Sam Reinhart would be completed.
Others were wondering if the Panthers would be adding a veteran defenseman, perhaps on a cheap deal, to add some depth.
No questions about a third jersey, however.
I guess things aren’t completely back to normal.
I know Huberdeau has two years to go on his contract, but like Barkov this summer they can extend him next summer. With all these long term contracts signed this summer, Yandle’s buyout ballooning to over $5m next year and Barkov’s extension kicking in (he may double his present salary) how exactly are they going to take care of Huberdeau? — Lucarel
Thanks for the question. I had to edit it down a little bit but Lucarel makes a great point in that Jonathan Huberdeau will be 30 when his new contract would kick in. So, if you give him a seven-year deal, he would be … well, y’all can do the math.
Again, Huberdeau has another year to play before an extension can be signed and if he puts up anything close to what he has produced over the past few seasons, he is going to get a big, fat raise.
I just don’t know if the Panthers can afford to be the team that gives it to him.
Florida is going to hook Sasha Barkov up later this summer; it has given a bunch of extensions out but a lot of dead cap money comes off in 2023-24 — the Panthers are still scheduled to have a $1.2 million Keith Yandle reduction — when Huberdeau’s new contract would kick in.
The salary cap could also go up a bit in two years although it will not rise to the levels many around the league hoped before the pandemic. We’re looking at the potential of a $2 million bump from the current $81.5 salary cap. That ain’t much.
But Florida only has seven NHL players signed (will be nine when Barkov/Reinhart get new deals) so there could be some room to play around. Bill Zito & Co. are going to have to be creative to get everything done.
But the reality in a salary cap world is you can’t keep everyone. MacKenzie Weegar will also need a new contract by then, Spencer Knight as well.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Sergei Bobrovsky is somewhere else by 2023 (he would have three years left on his deal by then) and Florida may have some additional cash to use elsewhere.
How come we didn’t address one of our glowing weaknesses? Size! — Robert
Is that really a weakness? The Panthers don’t appear to play small. They were a tough team to play against last year, were good on the forecheck and are pretty big down the middle with Barkov (6-3), Sam Bennett (6-1) and Anton Lundell (6-1).
Really enjoy your coverage George! Two questions – where do things stand with Reinhart? Where do Acciari and Vatrano fit into their long term plans. Thanks! — Frank
Thanks Frank! Things with Reinhart are fine and a new contract could be announced any day now. There is no real hurry. I would not have been surprised had Frank Vatrano or Noel Acciari been moved this offseason but also not surprised that they were not.
When you look at what you get from those two — for the price, which is about $4 million combined — you may as well keep them and worry about next year then.
Hey George, thanks again for keeping us up to date with our Cats. Anything to the Chara rumors? — Terence
Hey Terence, you’re welcome. Word is that Zdeno Chara wants to continue playing but only in the right situation. He was the oldest player in the NHL last season and don’t be surprised if he returns to Washington — although you figure if that was the plan, he already would have done it right?
I have a feeling the Panthers are going to add another veteran defenseman by the time training camp rolls around and Chara wouldn’t surprise me — although I don’t know how good a fit it would be. With no taxi squad, Florida would probably carry seven defenseman. You cool with one of them being Chara? I don’t know. Maybe?
Hi George, definitely much more relieved with the results of this expansion draft over the last one. Was the plan always for Seattle to take Chris Dreidger or were there potentially other scenarios being considered that you may have been privy to? — JerryS
Hi Jerry, the Panthers are as well. Listen, I kept hearing about potential side deals none of which, obviously, went down. Seattle definitely did the Panthers a solid by signing Driedger and thereby protecting all the other exposed Panthers. We all thought there would be some sort of price to be paid there — and maybe, down the road, the favor will be reciprocated.
Leading up to the expansion draft, there were strong “insider” rumors that Frank Vatrano was in play for a trade to Seattle or elsewhere. Any insights? Also, who gets No. 23, Verhaeghe or Reinhart? — Mark
Yeah, Vatrano’s name was all over the place in the weeks leading up to the expansion draft. Nothing came of it. The Panthers currently have a lot of forwards in their bottom six and perhaps a trade during training camp could come. We’ll see. As for No. 23 — Verhaeghe has it for now.
Of the young guys (Denisenko, Heponiemi, Maxim) do any have a chance of being a regular this year? Does Kiersted have a chance to be a top 6 this year? — fan4pan
Yeah, sure all three of those guys could come in and really make their presence known. I think Denisenko really benefited from being sheltered a bit with the Panthers last season and got a nice taste of the NHL without having to spend too much time playing in the minors. He may this year, we’ll see. But I think he’s going to come strong.
As far as Kiersted goes, a lot of eyes are going to be on him during training camp. He didn’t play much in the final weeks of the season and if he doesn’t make the top 6, would you rather him be the top guy in Charlotte and play in all sorts of situations or be the seventh in Florida not getting a lot of playing time?
Hi George. Hope you are having a fantastic summer. Any chance we finally hear Reinhart has been signed? — @pamela_abrell
Hi Pamela. Hope you are as well. Yeah, we will hear about it — eventually. We still have about six weeks before training camp opens so, no rush.
Were the Cats ever interested in Ryan Murray? Being a true LHD, and seeing his contract with the Avs, the fit was there at the right price IMO. — 88
I heard his name bounced around and I thought he would be a good fit at the right price. That right price was found in Colorado.
On a macro level, do you think Viola is willing to spend to the cap for the foreseeable future if the team is contending? There have been murmurs of payroll cutting in past years. — Rob
I mean, he is spending some serious money on this team not only on payroll but on the front office, the new training facility, whatever they need.
He had to approve the Yandle buyout — that couldn’t have been easy to stomach, writing that check for someone to just go away. So, yeah, it looks like he’s going to keep spending as long as the team continues to challenge. The Violas really, really want to win at a high level and based on the contracts going out, they’re not going to stop now. Or, at least it would be really surprising.
GR as always great work. How do you find the defense will perform now that they have removed pieces but haven’t added any new ones? Do they intend on adding anyone or do they feel comfortable with the players they have on the back end? — @themoose0221
TM thanks. I do think there is going to be an addition or two before camp starts — perhaps a veteran guy on a prove-it deal or a PTO to someone who is unsigned — but they feel they are deep enough at the position to get them through until the trade deadline.
Hey George, what are the odds that Bob is moved out by next season? His cap hit is a huge burden when it comes to resigning Huberdeau in two years along with extensions to Barkov, Reinhart, Weegar, etc. Do you think Zito is willing to part with the assets to move his contract as opposed to buying him out? Thanks — ssirin
Hey ssirin, do you mean this coming season or the next one? This will season No. 3 of a seven-year contract so there are still quite a few years left. That $10 million per season does look like an anchor but if he gets his game back it won’t hurt so bad.
As I wrote above, however, I would be surprised if he is here in 2023. My prediction is Bob is here the next two seasons and then gets moved in one way or another although it probably won’t be a buyout. Still way too much money to eat. His contract could be bought out with two years left with some decent enough savings to make it worthwhile.
When are the contracts getting announced for Barkov and Reinhart? Also does Driedger or Ekblad make the Olympic team? — @Dragons_Quest
The contracts will be announced soon enough. From what I am hearing: Reinhart perhaps as early as this week, Barkov later in the month or in September.
As for the Olympics, I don’t think Driedger will get the call although with Roberto Luongo in his corner perhaps he will. Aaron Ekblad will almost definitely be on Team Canada as will Huberdeau.
The Panthers media rights with Fox Sports is up after this season. Hearing anything on what their media partner plan is? — Bryan
They don’t have much of a choice but to negotiate with Sinclair/Bally.
There isn’t a Comcast or AT&T regional sports network here so, it’s Sinclair or bust.
The Marlins recently got a new deal with a nice raise over what they were making so the Panthers have to expect something more than what they’re making now — which, from what I heard is not much since the previous ownership took a mostly front-loaded deal before selling the team in 2013.
The current agreement which kicked in for the 2011-12 season paid the Panthers $115 million but it is not known how much the team actually gets per season since a lot of that money was paid at the start of the deal.
A few years after Florida signed its deal, Fox Sports gave Tampa Bay a 10-year deal worth about $16 million per year.
Not a great time to be negotiating a deal with a RSN with all the carriage problems but with sports betting supposedly coming to Florida in the future, live sports coverage is still a moneymaker. Sinclair is also looking at having a standalone app to stream local teams so they need teams to do that.
Miami/Fort Lauderdale is a big television market (18th) and the Panthers are also in West Palm (39th) and most of Naples/Fort Myers (54th) with a team whose ratings remain small but growing.
I still contend the team would be smart to market the team in Dade County if only for the potential growth in television ratings. You start getting people in Miami (pop: 2.7 million) to watch the games and the ratings would go up. That means more ad revenue. Anyway…
With the depth at forward, who do you think might be the odd man out come camp? — @AndrewLevine5
It wouldn’t be surprising to see one of the veterans find a new home if squeezed out during camp because there is going to be a real battle for one the 14 spots.
Question is about filling 3C since Wennberg is off to Seattle. Do you think that Luostarinen will grow into the job as a playmaker for Tippett and Vatrano? Do you think that he is strong enough on defense having an extra year’s age and experience? Has he filled out that skinny frame just a bit? Or do you think that the team will go in another direction? — Bob
I think Anton Lundell is going to get the chance to center this line when camp opens but Luostarinen really gained the trust of the coaching staff as the season went along. Perhaps he gets the 4C gig with Acciari moving to the wing. We’ll see.
george, 3 questions. What’s the status with Aleksi Saarela? Another Fin with one of the hardest shots in hockey. How about a Erik Gudbranson reunion. The Butcher could use some help, he’s available for the cheap & he’s a fan favorite! Lastly are the Panthers going to have a development camp? Keep up the good work. — Jimmy G
jimmy, 3 answers. Have not heard anything on Saarela coming back from Finland although since the Panthers made him a qualifying offer last year, they retain his NHL rights.
As for Gudbranson, I know the fans would love to see him back and perhaps he would be one of those veteran defensemen the Panthers would have some interest in. Don’t think so, but who knows?
The Panthers may have a rookie camp before the start of regular training camp although they haven’t made a final decision.
What is the contract situation with Sam Reinhart & with Barkov, will they resign long term? — @Afoldes81
How will the panthers play out Bob & knight? Will they split time on the net or will Bob play majority of the games. Of course performance plays a big factor. — Frank
Yeah, performance will be the big thing. I think we could see more of a 1A-2A situation where Bobrovsky plays 55-60 games with Knight getting the rest. The Panthers liked how they rotated things last year and having two fresh goalies who are in a nice rhythm can’t hurt.
In your many years of covering the Panthers, is this the best of times? Is this the most fun you have had? — Harry
Yeah, this is the best Panthers team I have very covered. I think last year could have been real special had they been able to avoid Tampa Bay in the first round. This coming season should be a lot of fun.
Does the Florida factor (lack of income tax, less pressure from the media) help in extending Barky and the rest that they are willing to give a friendlier team discount? Second, who is the second loudest leader in the locker room besides Horny? — Alan
Well, the “Florida Factor” does appeal to some although it is harder to become a star player in this market than in others. But with the way this team looks, I think we’ll see them on national television a lot more.
Under the previous television arraignment, traditional cities that got lots of sets tuned in got the coverage. That’s why you got a lot of Buffalo and Minnesota games on NBC. NHL ratings are so low, a lot of people watching a game in Buffalo or Pittsburgh could really affect the overall number.
I don’t know that ESPN and Turner care all that much. They know the numbers and jumped in anyway. I think they want to spread things around because, honestly, they have other products which bring in the big ratings. This will help players in the places like Florida and, if they were to be good, the Coyotes.
As far as vocal leaders go, I wasn’t in the locker room last year and still haven’t even met Hornqvist face-to-face yet. Ekblad is a guy who can get pretty vocal.
Is it true that the Panthers are holding off signing Reinhart just so your Mailbag will be full of questions asking about it? — @RalphLucarella
Yeah. Thanks, Bill.