Justin Ullestad: Jimmy Hayes Not Yet Worth Seven Figures

(Editor’s Note:) This article was written by Justin Ullestad, former intern of the Florida Panthers and founder to Bigplayz.com

Don’t get me wrong; I really like Florida Panther’s forward Jimmy Hayes. He’s a big (6’6”, 220), physical presence on the ice and is willing to do the dirty work in front of the net. But with fewer than 100 games played in the NHL over 3 seasons, it’s hard to make a case for Hayes deserving seven figures in arbitration.

Hayes, who was traded from Chicago to Florida in mid-November, saw his first 50+ game NHL season last year in a Panthers uniform, and managed to record 18 points. However, with a closer look at his production, over half of the points came in the month of February (6-4-10) after both Shawn Matthias and Marcel Goc were traded, and injuries to Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tomas Kopecky, Jesse Winchester moved Hayes into a larger role in coach Horachek’s system. But keep in mind, he spent most of the season on the 4th line with limited power play minutes, and was passed over by AHL call ups Quinton Howden and Brandon Pirri late in the year. 18 points in 53 games is hardly enough to garner “budding star” bridge deal money, but there are other factors aside from his on-ice production that should drive down the price the Panthers are willing to pay Hayes.

With the addition of veterans Derek MacKenzie, Jussi Jokinen, Dave Bolland, and Shawn Thornton, Hayes’ ice time is likely to be cut down from last season when the Panthers needed him to play out of necessity through stretches of the schedule. With theses quality players coming in (ok…that may be a stretch for Thornton at this point), Hayes’ opportunities to sit in front of the goalie offensively, his spot of value for the Panthers, may be diminished greatly. That coupled with the likelihood that Pirri will be playing a prominent role for Florida this season, Hayes could be seeing his fair share of healthy scratches again in 2014 (was a healthy scratch 6 times last season).

Speaking of Pirri, his recent contract extension may be the most devastating to Hayes’ case for a high dollar contract. Pirri, who was too previously in Chicago with Hayes, recorded 14 (7-7-14) in just 21 games with the Panthers, including seven points in the final seven games. And yet, Pirri signed a bridge deal that will pay him $1.85M over the next two seasons ($925K AAV). It doesn’t take a hockey expert to know that Pirri is worth more at this point than Hayes. Pirri is projecting be a top six winger at some point THIS SEASON. Certainly can’t say the same about Hayes.

But just for fun, lets compare the two even more.


2014 Stats w/ Panthers Brandon Pirri Jimmy Hayes
Games Played w/ Panthers 21 53
Point Total w/ Panthers 14 18
Corsi % for the year 51.7% 47.5%
Goals For% 5vs5 for the year 57.8% 48.9%














With Pirri being more productive, and flat-out a more important young player for the Panthers moving forward, there is no way that Hayes should/will be getting a higher dollar contract than Pirri.

The other underlying issue with Hayes getting a six digit/year contract is that it sets precedent for future signings down the road. Just imagine the money that the agents that fellow 1st round picks Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad would be asking for if Hayes got a $1M+ contract for 18 points in 53 games. Sure the Panthers have the money right now, but there’s always a limit. And with a number prospect contracts ending after the upcoming season, the Panthers need to make sure they are paying fairly according to production across the board.

Again, I like what Jimmy Hayes brings to the Panthers. But realistically, he is a 4th line player and will likely play 4th line minutes next season, while spending a few nights in the press box.

Bottom line, Pirri got a two-year deal, $925K AAV; Dylan Olsen got a two-year deal, $775K AAV; Hayes should be valued somewhere between those numbers.

For a player who still has a lot to prove at the NHL level, and will have to earn playing time on a much better roster than in 2013, that’s an adequate dollar figure. If he out plays that contract – Fantastic. He’ll get paid in one/two years. But until he proves his full worth to the Panthers and fans, he needs to be paid accordingly.


(Usage Chart courtesy of ExtraSkater.com)

VIDEO: Paige Lewis from Panther Parkway chats with Hockeybuzz

Our very own Paige Lewis was today’s guest on Hockeybuzz.com’s Hokeybuzzcast!

Check out Paige as she goes head to head with Josh Rimer, Mike Augello and Eklund here:

Paige talks in depth about the Panthers, and fields questions from the rest of the panel.


How can the Panthers fill their rink?

With single game tickets going on sale early Friday morning, I spurned a debate on the Twitter by suggesting that ticket sales would be on the rise for the upcoming 2014-2015 season. Aside from the usual scoffs at the notion that the Panthers can get people in the building, there were some good points made about the slow but sure culture change that is going on in Pantherland.

It is no secret that I have professed my belief in the “Hockey is the business” model for the Panthers and from what I have seen, the ownership and front office seem to agree. The Panthers have spent big on free agent day and are poised to ice a line-up that they believe to be a competitive one. The Panthers spent big in 2011 and went into the year with a Frankenstein team that ended up winning the Southeast Division. This year the Panthers spent their money filling out a roster with a young and rising core with key and complementary players that will each contribute in their own way.

This orchestra conducted by Dale Tallon and backed by his ownership team all lead up to two variables that directly correlate to one another: Fans in the stands and wins on the score sheets.

Over the last 5 years you can see a shift in capacity percentage at the BB&T Center

Year Capacity Percentage Record
2008-2009 78.7 32-37-13
2010-2011 81.5 30-40-12
2011-2012 86.4 38-26-18
2012-2013 88.3 15-27-6
2013-2014 75.5 29-45-8

Source: http://www.hockeyattendance.com/team/florida-panthers/

A lot goes in to the attendance of an NHL team but the common denominator is always the on ice product. Fans will watch a team that they think can win games. That’s sports fans 101, nothing new. You can see a steady increase in attendance from 2008-2012 that culminates in the season following the Southeast Division Championship and subsequent first round elimination. Unfortunately that momentum was met with the team’s worst finish in 5 years leading up to their worst attendance in the same span.

If the fans don’t expect wins then the team shouldn’t expect the fans.

So what makes this year different? Is this year even going to be different? I’ll spare you the optimistic rant but Tallon’s rebuild is in full swing. The core is there, the complimentary parts have been acquired and the team is poised to ice the most competitive version of themselves that the league has seen in a long while.

The marketing side has done its job to set the tone for the upcoming season. They have started to build fan pride and unity with their “One Under The Sun” slogan. They have created and upheld the buzz of the youth movement with the “Be Here to Witness” campaign. In addition to the posters and social media efforts, Tallon was also fairly blunt about the acquisition of Roberto Luongo being as much of a marketing move as it was a hockey move. Tallon was right to do it; Luongo’s presence has not only excited the fans but brought a media relevance that the Panthers have lacked in recent years.

These actions appear to have the market ready to go for the 2013-2014 season but it ultimately comes down to the on-ice product. The Panthers on ice play will dictate if the initial surge of season-opening attendance will linger or taper off.

When a fan base is used to a losing team and starving for a winning one, the sheer notion of competitive hockey can be enough to bring fans in. I think that this will be the driving force behind the resurgence of the attendance at the BB&T Center. The fans will slowly realize that this team is V.2 of a rebuilt squad that is slowly coming into its own. They will see the dynamic youth, the scoring veterans, the entertaining goaltending and be drawn in as they have in the past.

The Panthers have a tough task ahead of them, but they are primed to surprise and with that the seats will be filled.

Panthers Prospect Profile: Michael Downing

Most freshmen that go to play for the University of Michigan don’t usually make too much of an impact. Head Coach, Red Berenson is notorious for making players earn their ice time and is well-known for pushing his freshmen to do so. Florida Panthers prospect, D Michael Downing did just that during his first season of college hockey in Michigan.

Drafted in the fourth round (97th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Downing is coming off of a solid freshman season for Coach Berenson and the Wolverines. Posting 12 points (2-10-12) in 34 games, Downing finished second in scoring among defensemen on his team. Named to the 2014 All-Freshman team, Downing finished the season with a plus-3 rating and finished third on his team with 53 blocked shots.

“He had a great season at the University of Michigan. For a freshman he stepped in and played top four minutes. (He) exceeded expectations for what they were expecting out of him this year. We feel that we got a steal in getting him in the fourth round.” Said Manager of Player Development, Bryan McCabe

Wearing jersey number 49 for the Panthers at development camp, Downing has shown a lot of promise and plays the kind of game that McCabe likes.

“He hits like a truck, plays mean, knows his role, can skate, can do everything…but he’s mean. Every time I saw him play this year he killed someone. He’ll get penalties for just hitting someone too hard. You can’t teach guys to play like that. He’s got that edge to him that you need on a D core.”

The 6’3″, 192lb Downing has created a very positive start in his college career to build upon. He doesn’t get the attention that some of his fellow Panthers prospects receive, but don’t sleep on Downing. He may fly under the radar on a team that’s looking to break through and move past rivals University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin, but he will make the opposition pay at both ends of the ice. Keep an eye on Downing as he becomes a much bigger part of the team in Michigan as a Sophomore.


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Panthers Re-Sign Defenseman Erik Gudbranson

On Thursday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Erik Gudbranson to a 2-year deal.

From the Panthers press release:

“Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the team’s website. “He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community.”

Gudbranson, 22, is a former 3rd overall draft pick in the 2010 draft and kicked off Dale Tallon’s tenure as the general manager of the Panthers. The Orleans, Ontario native is coming off of a career-high 9 points (3G-6A-9P) and 114 penalty minutes.

The 6’5, 216lb Gudbranson, known for his efforts within the South Florida community, was recently awarded the Panthers Community Ambassador of the Year.


We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

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Florida Panthers D-Camp Day Two Spotlight: Defensemen

Although C Aleksander Barkov put on quite the display of individual talent of his own during the shootout drill at today’s development camp, the defense was the talk of the town among those spectating. Armed to the teeth with towering defensemen, the Panthers blueline of the future is intimidating. But don’t let the size fool you, they are quick on their feet as well. With an array of different types of defensemen at their disposal, the possibilities are endless down the road for Florida’s defense.

Take 2014 First Overall selection Aaron Ekblad  for example. Ekblad has been the must see defenseman at camp so far, due to the hype that surrounds him and his likeliness of making the Florida Panthers roster at the start of the 2014-15 season. His 6’4″, 220 lbs frame make him a physical specimen at just 18-years of age. Despite his size, he moves the puck quite well and has a heavy shot, which will come in handy for Florida’s struggling power play.

Brian Skrudland, last season’s Assistant Coach of the Panthers has returned to his former Player Development role and has been very impressed by Ekblad after only day two. “I’m impressed at the individual, first and foremost as a human being. The way he treats everybody, the way he carries himself. I’m also impressed at the way the guy can skate and shoot and play the game of hockey. He’s a very heads up individual.”

Although Ekblad may be the prospect most fans will see first in a Panthers uniform, he is followed by an incredibly talented defensive core, who will make their way up to the pro ranks shortly. Both Michael Matheson (2012, 23rd overall) and Ian McCoshen (2013, 31st overall) play together for Boston College and are two of the team’s top defensemen. Matheson, who is entering his junior year of college, will be serving as captain for the BC Eagles this season and has off the charts skating ability. He’s a puck mover comparable to current Panthers blueliner Brian Campbell and stands at 6’2″, 180 lbs, giving him the ability to not only emulate Campbell, but has a few inches on him as well.

Choosing to go the college route instead of joining the Canadian Major Juniors, Matheson felt he could work more on his game at the college level despite having more of a fast track to the NHL through a league like the CHL. The 20-year old defenseman knows that he may be getting closer to being NHL ready but is focused on the task at hand.

“I still have work to do”, says Matheson. “I’m not quite at this (NHL) level. I need to work on my decision-making, simplifying my game and just staying more consistent all-around”.

Manager of Player Development, Bryan McCabe, gave Matheson a glowing review, “He’s strong. He blew all the tests in the gym away, as usual.”

“He can skate like the wind. He’s always in great shape, he’s a true professional,” says McCabe.

Matheson’s BC teammate McCoshen stands at 6’3″, 215 lbs and brings more size to lineup. The Faribault, Minnesota native is coming off an impressive Freshman season posting 13 points (5-8-13) in 35 games, showing he can develop some more offensive skill to go along with the shutdown frame he possesses thus far. McCoshen also represented Team USA at the World Junior Championship last season.

Another defenseman that has come up in conversation from General Manger Dale Tallon is 2013 seventh round draft gem, MacKenzie Weegar. The smallest defenseman of the group, Weegar is 5’11”, 183 lbs, and describes his game as, “Defensively sound” and “poised with the puck.”

“(I) control my own game,” says, Weegar. “I like to play the body as well, I’m a pretty solid guy, pretty thick, I may not have the size but if I play smart back there, then there’s a lot of offensive chances and that’s what I like to create.”

Playing alongside premiere players with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL for the last two seasons like 2014 Calder Trophy Winner, Nathan MacKinnon and Tampa Bay Lightning 2013 First Rounder (Third Overall), Jonathan Drouin, Weegar claims he learned a lot by playing with them as well as playing alongside San Jose Sharks prospect Konrad Abelthauser.

Rounding out the development camp group is Josh Brown (6’5″ 213 lbs), Jonathan Racine (6’2″, 194 lbs), Michael Downing (6’3″, 192 lbs), Ed Wittchow (6’4″, 205 lbs) and Shayne Taker (6’4″, 210 lbs). The staggering amount of size on the blueline that’s listed here is still omitting some who are still young, but have seen a fair share of NHL action like Erik Gudbranson (6’5″. 215 lbs), Dylan Olsen (6’2″, 223 lbs) and Alex Petrovic (6’4″, 206 lbs).

“It’s not only the size,” says Skrudland. “It’s the mobility of these guys today. I’m in awe when I get out on the ice and see how fast they are and how mobile. Even off the ice,these guys are wonderful athletes. We feel very fortunate and there’s a good chance that some of them will have an opportunity here, very shortly, if not this year.”

Wednesday will be a day off for the prospects as development camp continues on Thursday, July 10th from 8:45am-12:00pm at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.


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Panthers D-Camp Day One Spotlight: Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov

Today the Florida Panthers kicked off their annual Development Camp at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs to a strong turnout of Panthers fans eager to take a look at some of the young talent their hometown team has stockpiled for it’s future. One of the most anticipated prospects in attendance was the Panthers 2014 First Overall Draft Choice, D Aaron Ekblad. Everyone in attendance got a glimpse of the skills that Ekblad possesses, as well as the sheer size of the 6’4″, 220 lbs, 18-year old. The big blueliner excelled in his drills and looked to have a few positive conversations with Panthers skating coach, Paul Vincent.

Greeted in the locker room by a mob of cameras, the expectation of limited media coverage in South Florida was thrown out the door once the top pick in the draft skated his first day as a part of the Panthers organization. The media coverage may harken back to the days he spent with the Barrie Colts in the OHL prior to his draft day, but make no mistake, Ekblad doesn’t think that because of this attention he’s a Panther just yet.

“It’s cool to learn about the city and learn about the rink you’re going to play at and stuff like that. But obviously I don’t expect a spot on this team, I have to earn it and this is just the first stepping stone to that goal.”

Being picked first overall, most would think he has an easy ticket to the NHL, but the ever humble Belle River, Ontario native doesn’t see that as an excuse to be seen as a shoe-in for the Florida lineup.

“You can’t rest on where you were in the draft. As draft picks I consider all of us equal. We’re all equal players, all of us have the same opportunity to make this team.”

Already possessing NHL size and widely considered the best player in his draft class, Ekblad will use his summer to improve not only in his skating but his strength as well to compete with the best players in the world. He stressed the importance of having a good off season to better compete for that spot in September. “It’s always important”, said Ekblad. “I want to get a little bit stronger upper and lower body. The full realm of my game needs to get better before I can play in the NHL.”

Panthers Manager of Player Development, Bryan McCabe was on the ice with Ekblad’s group and has enjoyed getting to work with the young defenseman thus far.

“Big. That was my first impression of him when I met him at the draft,” said McCabe about Ekblad. “He’s a man. He’s a kid in a man’s body. He’s very confident, he’s well rounded in his game and he’s a great kid. He worked his butt off today just like everyone else. It was a fun first day.”

McCabe praised Ekblad’s attitude coming into camp, “He’s very grounded and humble, certainly doesn’t act like a first overall pick. He’s going through the grind with all the other kids and participating in everything. We’re very lucky to have him.”

The hype that follows a player like Ekblad brings the expectation that he will be able to step right in and perform at the NHL level. Ekblad, who wears jersey number 5 in honor of Nicklas Lidstrom, his favorite player growing up, continuously spoke about opportunity and how he knows that he must seize the moment.

“I’m going to get every opportunity,” said Ekblad. “It’s what I do with those opportunities. It’s a series of milestones and if I can perform and prove that I’m ready to be here at each milestone, then I’ll continue to get the opportunities.”

Picking up right where he left off last season, Aleksander Barkov returned to the ice showing no rust in his game. After missing last years development camp with a shoulder injury, this year will be Barkov’s first development camp. Returning from Finland, with his knee injury healed, Barkov is ready to spend the two months working on his strength especially in his upper body.

Feeling more comfortable making the transition from Finland for a second time, Barkov was also able to get to know F Juho Lammikko who the Panthers drafted a few weeks ago in the third round (65th overall). Growing up in different citites the two young Finns had never crossed paths prior to camp but Barkov said “I met him and we are already friends.”

The 18-year old Barkov is also very excited for the opportunity to play with his new Panthers teammate and former Olympic teammate, Jussi Jokinen.

“That’s good for me. It’s a dream come true to play with him. I met him at the Olympics and I like him. He’s a nice guy and a very good player.”

The Panthers second day of development camp continues tomorrow Jul.8, with two sessions. Session one is 8:45am-10am, while the second session is 10:15am-11:30am.


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Panthers Sign G Sam Brittain and D Blake Parlett

With the Viola-Cifu tandem giving Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers the green light to spend this offseason, the Panthers have kept quite busy this summer with the addition of 1st overall pick Aaron Ekblad, and the signings of six new roster players on day one of free agency. In addition, the team announced the signing of University of Denver goalie Sam Brittain to an entry-level contract, and AHL defenseman Blake Parlett to a 1-year, 2-way contract.

Brittain, 22, is coming off of his most productive season with the Denver Pioneers where he recorded a .946 save percentage, 2.22 goals against average, and 5 shut outs in 39 games. Because of his successful senior season, NCHC named Brittain the 2014 Goalie of the year, and also a finalist for the Mike Richter Award.

Parlett, 25, has spent most of his career with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL, and both the Springfield Falcons and Connecticut Whale of the AHL. The rugged blue-liner has recorded 81 points (18G-63A) in 217 career AHL games, as well as 179 penalty minutes.


We welcome your comments and feedback!

Follow Paige on Twitter @PaigeLewisFL

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

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Florida Panthers Sign D Willie Mitchell

The Florida Panthers have announced the signing of D Willie Mitchell on a two-year contract worth $8.5m. Mitchell is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, both with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014). The 6’3″, 205 lbs. blueliner is not only the first defenseman of the day to be signed by the Panthers, but fits the bill for the veteran defenseman Dale Tallon was looking for.

A young Panthers blueline including Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Dylan Olsen and the 2014 First Overall Pick, Aaron Ekblad can learn a lot from the 37-year old Mitchell as he will fill the role of the elder statesman that Ed Jovanovski leaves behind. Coming off of a Stanley Cup victory where he was a big part of their backend, Mitchell silenced critics after missing the lockout shortened 2012-13 season following knee surgery. The 2013-14 season for Mitchell was a solid one where the shutdown style defenseman finished with a plus-14 rating and 12 points (1-11-12).

Well known for his leadership qualities, Mitchell brings not only over a decade of experience but also the capability to kill penalties. Mitchell led the Kings with 128 blocked shots and finished fourth in Time on Ice averaging 20:19 per game.

Florida Panthers Sign RW Shawn Thornton

The Florida Panthers have announced the signing of RW Shawn Thornton to a 2 year contract worth $2.4m. Thornton, 36 is an 11 year NHL veteran, spending seven years with the Boston Bruins and winning a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.

Thornton is best known for his role as an enforcer in the NHL. The 6’2″, 217 lbs winger is an imposing figure who has 906 PIMs in 559 games. Thornton has a past with Panthers GM Dale Tallon, playing under Tallon in Chicago, where Thornton truly began his career in the 2002-03 season. Thornton brings experience, toughness and intimidation to the Florida lineup, not to mention his ability to drop the gloves as one of the NHL’s most notorious heavyweights.


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