When the Florida Panthers name their new GM, one of the first orders of business for Dale Tallon’s replacement will be figuring out what to do with the team’s five pending free agents.
With the NHL calendar pushed back, the new GM will have some time to get onto negotiations of the free agents the team has interest in bringing back.
Instead of July 1 being the start of free agency, this year’s frenzy (if there is one) will come after the draft in October.
The Panthers have five unrestricted free agents — four of whom were brought to town by Tallon — who are set to walk in a few months.
That doesn’t mean all of them will.
The Panthers would have interest in bringing back at least a few of their free agents if the price is right.
And, in these days of coronavirus, the Panthers may find themselves a relative bargain or two.
Although Florida did not make any type of offers to extend contracts among free agents Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Mark Pysyk, Erik Haula and Brian Boyle, that could change under new management.
All five players have different circumstances yet bring value to the Panthers.
Here is where each of the five players stand as we head into the fall months:
Mike Hoffman ($5.2 million cap hit in 2019-20)
Chance of returning: Medium.
The Panthers are looking to reduce spending and Hoffman, at least in a normal world, should expect a nice raise based on his past body of work. This is not a normal world.
It is hard to imagine coach Joel Quenneville would be happy seeing Hoffman and that booming shot of his walking away from his team — and his power play.
Tallon brought Hoffman to South Florida in 2018 when San Jose flipped him a few hours after acquiring him in a deal with Ottawa.
The Sens had to move Hoffman after all that was going on at the time although there has been no indication Hoffman has been anything but a model teammate with the Panthers.
And, the guy brought it on the ice.
Over the past two seasons, Hoffman led the Panthers in goals (65) and his 129 points in 151 games was third to Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
That’s a lot of production. It will be really hard to replace.
Hoffman also opened some eyes within the organization during the team’s dreadful February as he was one player trying to make a difference on both sides of the ice.
If there was one player who was a bright spot, it was Hoffman. Same in the postseason. Hoffman ended with three goals and five points in four games against the Islanders.
He was one of the few players who did anything for the Panthers in that series.
The bottom line is Tallon got Hoffman on the cheap in that deal with the Sharks and Hoffman produced.
The Panthers are not going to replace those 65 goals Hoffman scored over the past two seasons.
If he is set on seeing what the market will bear, so be it. Florida is not breaking the bank this offseason. But if there is a deal to be made, Florida’s new GM ought to try and make it.
Evgenii Dadonov ($4 million)
Chance of returning: Medium.
Dadonov did not light things up in the final season of the three-year deal he signed in his return to the Panthers in 2017.
Dadonov finished the season with 47 points off 25 goals and had one assist in the four games against the Islanders.
Based on his overall production over the past three years, however, and the 31-year-old will likely be looking for a raise on what he made coming out of the KHL.
Dadonov, no doubt, produced.
Over the past two seasons, Dadonov did not miss a single game. He played mostly in a top-six role (spending a lot of his time on the top line with Barkov and Huberdeau) and built a lot of chemistry with those two.
Dadonov scored 28 goals in each of his first two seasons with the Panthers and was on pace to hit that mark again this year before things stopped and he was at 25. Those will be hard numbers to replace.
As was the case before the season even started, it appears the Panthers could sign either Hoffman or Dadonov — but not both.
Now it looks like both could be elsewhere next season.
Hoffman led the Panthers with 29 goals this past season; Dadonov was second with 25. In total scoring, Hoffman and Dadonov ranked third and fourth on the Panthers over the past two seasons.
That’s a lot of offensive production potentially walking out the door.
Mark Pysyk ($2.7 million)
Chance of returning: Low.
The Panthers were trying to trade Pysyk last season and, mainly because of his contract, did not find a taker. As a bottom-pairing defenseman, Pysyk’s price tag was just too much.
Moving to the fourth forward line increased Pysyk’s standing with the team, no doubt about that. But for a team looking to cut costs, Pysyk would appear to be on his way out.
Pysyk has made it clear he wants to return to the Panthers and perhaps a deal could be struck. It just seems the Panthers could find a younger and cheaper replacement.
Erik Haula ($2.75 million)
Chance of returning: Low.
The marquee name coming back from Carolina in the Vincent Trocheck deal, Haula brought defensive awareness to Florida’s forward group and adds depth to a center position which could use it.
Like Hoffman, this will be Haula’s first kick at free agency and, in past years, he may have found himself some gold on July 1. Now?
Over the past two seasons, Haula’s offensive production has dropped.
On the expansion Vegas squad, Haula put up the biggest numbers of his career with 29 goals and 55 points.
A knee injury limited Haula to 15 games in 2018-19 and, in 48 games this season with Florida and Carolina, he scored 12 goals with 24 points.
In seven games with the Panthers, Haula had two assists. Haula did have a goal in four games against the Isles.
If the Panthers are looking for a bargain deal, on the short side of term, perhaps one could be worked out with Haula. But he would get that kind of contract elsewhere.
Brian Boyle ($940,000)
Chance of returning: Medium-high.
Boyle will be 36 in December not long after the next season begins (we think) and he brought great value for his money. Florida signed him to a bargain deal in October after the two sides negotiated for a while.
The Panthers did not have much more to give Boyle than they ended up doing because of their cap situation.
Florida will have much more flexibility and if Quenneville wants Boyle back for leadership, forward depth, etc., it would not be surprising to see Boyle get a slight raise and be asked back.
In 39 games, Boyle ended up with six goals and 15 points so he did not exactly light things up. But, Boyle was a trusted and counted on player for Quenneville and his value as a locker room leader is something the team would have to factor in.
Coincidence or not, the team’s worst stretch this season came when Boyle was hurt and out of the lineup. They definitely missed him. Boyle won’t break the bank by any means. And that alone could be what the Panthers are looking for.
Of course, one reason Boyle signed with the Panthers in the first place was he thought the team was close. Boyle should be able to get a comparable contract elsewhere.
Does he still believe the Panthers are close, especially if the team decides to dump high-end talent and go young? That will definitely play a part in a potential return.