As we edge closer to the end of the regular season, Dale Tallon’s Florida Panthers look to begin the long and arduous task of assembling a strong NHL team in the off-season
Tallon is no doubt up to the task and he undoubtedly has a plan in place for the months ahead, but what exactly is that plan?
Putting the Draft, trades and free agency aside, a strong off-season starts from within. Tallon has been evaluating his players since he took office, but his time is now running out to turn that evaluation into negotiation.
As the July 1 deadline looms, Dale must decide on who he deems worthy of donning the Panthers’ jersey for next season and beyond.
When it comes to the main roster the Panthers have 5 UFAS and 5 RFAs to deal with for next season. Obviously there is some wiggle room when it comes to the restricted bunch but you’d like to see action on them sooner rather than later. The UFA crowd is a different animal altogether. Whether Tallon wants to keep them or not may not be good enough for a player who can make a choice on where to play. For Tallon, he hopes he and his targets are on the same page.
So let’s break this down. Who stays? Who goes? What do they bring to the table? What is their role on the team? Can they help the Panthers become the contender that the fans and management crave? How much money should they be making? How long of a contract should they be signing?
All of these answers and more: Right now.
Let’s start with the restricted group. The Panthers have the luxury of owning some seriously skilled youth, some of whom are Restricted Free Agents this year. Tallon has the leverage in the sense that the player can’t outright walk but there are always the notions of nasty things like arbitration or a holdout that is surely in the back of the GM’s mind. It’s in his best interest to act swiftly and efficiently when it comes to his RFAs as he needs to focus as much attention on the draft and on July 1st as possible.
The Restricted Free Agents
Current Contract: ELC, $900,000 cap hit
Production: 2G, 5A, 7 Points in 59 games.
What he brings to the table: As a former 3rd overall pick Gudbranson’s expectations are sky-high. His immediate path to the NHL was a path not often traveled by defensemen of his age. Some will argue that he was rushed in, but a trial by fire has paid off for the future star as fans have seen exactly why he was selected 3rd overall. Time and consistent development will lead Gudbranson to be the player that fans expect him to be: An elite all around D-Man.
Verdict: Re-signing him is a no brainer whether through a qualifying offer or through a new contract structure.
Prediction: I don’t see anything getting done for more than a 2 year period as one would expect his production and play to leap forward over the next 2-3 years. You’d think that a 2 year deal would be on both party’s best interest and a modest raise would be in order as well.
2 year contract worth 1.75-2M per season.
Current Contract: ELC, $738,333 cap hit
Production: 3G, 9A, 12 points in 38 games.
What he brings to the table: Olsen is a big, aggressive defenseman with some upward room in terms of his development ceiling. He can be part of a team’s top 6 with a steady role on the bottom pairing. He can contribute offensively as we’ve seen but his strengths lie within his own zone. He will play NHL Hockey next season but will earn those air miles as he will frequent from the big leagues to the minors.
Verdict: Re-sign through qualifying offer.
Prediction: There’s no reason for this to be a difficult process. Olsen is 23 years old and is most likely itching for an NHL job but he’ll have to earn one through training camp as the year resets. A 1 year deal is on the horizon for Dylan.
1 year contract worth 950,000 per season.
Current Contract: ELC, $654,167 cap hit
Production: 10G, 5A, 15 points in 49 games.
What he brings to the table: Hayes has cemented his presence on the Panthers with his solid 2 way play and his ability to drive the play to the net. He has established himself on the powerplay by planting himself in front of the net and taking a beat for a goal and has earned a steady bottom 6 role on the club going forward.
Verdict: Re-sign through qualifying offer
Prediction: As of now Jimmy Hayes is going to be a consistent member of the Panthers next season starring in a bottom 6 role and contributing where he can when called upon otherwise. You may think that players like that are a dime a dozen, but Hayes’ upside is more than that of a plug.
2 year contract worth 1 M per season
Current Contract: ELC, $618,333 cap hit
Production: 10G, 9A, 19 points in 43 games.
What he brings to the table: As he feels his way through his new team and even through the league itself, Pirri has provided some offensive flare that one would expect from a player of his pedigree. What Pirri really brings to the Panthers is a trade chip that comes from being set at center with Barkov, Bjugstad, Trocheck and Shore lined up for years to come.
Verdict: Qualifying offer to retain rights. Trade.
Prediction: While keeping Pirri around would not hurt the Panthers (a surplus of talent is not a problem) his value will come as part of a package to obtain an elite winger or defenseman.
1 year contract worth $800,000 per year
Current Contract: 2 year contract, 2.5M cap hit
Production:8G, 10A, 18 points in 75 games
What he brings to the table: Kulikov provides that offense touch that every team needs. While his play may frustrate fans at times it’s important to remember that he’s still only 23 years old and Rome wasn’t built in a day. Kulikov should remain in the Panthers plans for the near future in order to maximize the return on investment that they made on draft day in 2009. He can be a top 4 defenseman with high-end powerplay performance.
Verdict: Re-sign, 3 year deal.
Prediction: This could get messy and we all know Kulikov has no problem holding out for the cash and term he wants. I don’t think this will go that far this time, but Tallon is going to have to reach a bit deeper in his pockets to get this one done. Kulikov is an NHLer and the Panthers need players like him in order to take their franchise to the next level. His rumored demands of 5 Million per season may seem outrageous, but you have to take into account that it’s mainly just peacocking at a key stage in the negotiation process. Remember: It’s not the time to be picky just because he wants to get paid.
3 year contract worth 3.5-4 M per season
With the RFA crop locked up/shipped out it’s time to focus on the UFAs. This shouldn’t really give Tallon any significant problems as the list isn’t full of big time impact players that are franchise cornerstones.
The unrestricted Free Agents
Current Contract: 1 year contract, $900,000 cap hit
Production: 2G, 9A, 11 points in 43 games
What he brings to the table: The Scott Gomez experiment has failed in Florida as the Panthers clearly thought they could squeeze a bit more juice from the lemon. He has been a healthy scratch more often than not and his production and age alone should make this an easy decision for Dale.
Verdict: Let him walk on July 1.
Prediction: Scott will have a hard time finding an NHL job this summer. He might get signed in late September to a PTO with another team.
Current Contract: 2 year contract, $750,000 cap hit
Production: 0G, 4 A, 4 points in 52 games.
What he brings to the table: Barch is strictly an enforcer and even in today’s game that attribute is valued by many teams. His bite is as bad as his bark and he provides a nasty edge to the Panthers. His -9 rating and average 5:58 of ice time per game tells the real story.
Verdict: Let walk on July 1.
Prediction: This is my personal preference, but I do think that a “fighter” should be able to contribute in more ways than one and I haven’t seen much of that from Barch this year. He will find a job relatively quickly with another team.
Current Contract: 1 year contract, $600,000 cap hit
Production: 9G, 8A, 17 points in 46 games
What he brings to the table: Winchester is pretty much what you want in a 4th liner. Energy, aggression and defensively responsible, with the ability to score 10 goals a year.
Verdict: Re-sign 2 year deal
Prediction: Winchester will be a key member of the Panthers 4th line next season. It’s a no brainer to bring him back for 2 years.
2 year contract worth $900,000 per year.
Current Contract: 1 year contract, $900,000 cap hit
Production: 3G, 25A, 28 points in 73 games.
What he brings to the table: I still don’t know why Gilbert waited so long for a contract in the off-season but he definitely won’t be going through that again. He has the highest point totals of anyone on this list and his all-around ability has rounded out to that of a reliable top 6 defenseman on any team.
Verdict: re-sign, 2 year contract
Prediction: The Panthers have the luxury of being the team that gave him the chance when nobody else would. That goes a long way in negotiations and we’ll just have to see how far it gets them. Tallon should be bringing Gilbert back. He’s proven that he’s a reliable player and has earned the commitment.
2 year contract worth $2M per year
Current Contract: 2 year contract, $1,200,000 cap hit
Production: 6-6-1, 3.02 GAA, .896 SV%
What he brings to the table: Clemmensen has been an adequate back up this season as has been in previous years.
Verdict: Let walk on July 1.
Prediction: With Dan Ellis in the fold there’s no room for the aging Tender. I don’t think he’s interested in the AHL. A long look from other teams could result in a job, but Clemmensen may be calling it a career.
So there you have it. Internally, the Panthers are in a good position to lock up their youth and some complimentary players as they navigate the waters of their rebuild.