For the past few seasons, Evan Rodrigues has been living the NHL dream on one-year contracts. Sunday, he got the long-term commitment he had been looking for with the Florida Panthers.
Rodrigues, a skilled and versatile forward, signed a four-year deal worth $12 million on Sunday with the Panthers giving the team more flexibility on their forward lines with money freed up when Anthony Duclair was traded to San Jose the night before.
“It is huge, it is nice confidence-wise and it’s a good feeling when someone believes in you and wants to give you that term and values you as a hockey player,” Rodrigues said. “That was really important to me and helped me make my decision in coming to Florida. It’s definitely a good feeling.”
When the Panthers traded Duclair on Saturday, many wondered where GM Bill Zito would go to replace him in the lineup.
That was answered pretty early on Sunday.
“This is a place that my family and I were excited to live in and you always want to join a contender and a team pushing to win the Stanley Cup,” said Rodrigues, who could slot in next to either Sasha Barkov or Sam Bennett on Florida’s top two lines.
“They got very close last year and I would like to come him, help them get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup with them. It checks almost every box. We are very excited.”
Rodrigues started his career with the Buffalo Sabres where he was teammates with Sam Reinhart and Brandon Montour.
Three years ago, Rodrigues requested a trade out of Buffalo which was granted as he went to Pittsburgh where he ended up playing alongside Sidney Crosby and scoring a career-high 19 goals with 43 points during the 2021-22 season.
That led to another one-year deal with Colorado where he scored 16 goals with 39 points in 69 games with the Avs.
Florida loves Rodrigues’ speed, his forechecking ability and using his body to work through traffic. He is also expected to get a look on one of Florida’s two power play units.
“No matter what center you are playing with, it’s a good spot,” Rodrigues said. “All four lines work hard and that is why they have been successful. They wear teams down, play a fast offensive game. I am excited to be a part of it. …
“You have a full team from top-to-bottom. When I was with Pittsburgh and Colorado, it’s a team you don’t like playing against. They’re gritty, they wear you down and come at you in waves.’’
Rodrigues will be 30 when the new season rolls around and he is excited to introduce his family to his new home.
With the four-year deal, the Rodrigues’ will be able to set down some roots in South Florida as it appears he will be here for a while.
“Bill Zito and I had good conversations and this is a place I thought fit me perfectly,” said Rodrigues, whose contract is based mostly on signing bonus money which makes it virtually buyout-proof.
“There were other teams interested, but Florida checked all the boxes and it was a place my family really wanted to go to.
“I can’t wait to get there and get started. It’s a great team in a great city and we’re going to compete for the Stanley Cup. That’s the most important thing.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency open
- July 9-15 (approximately): Development camp, Coral Springs
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts, doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends, vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
- Mid-October: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season