Panthers Free Agency Preview

Note: This article was meant to be posted on June 30th, but I lost power on Friday night and just had it restored today. Therefore, some of the information might be outdated.

It’s been a year since Dale Tallon went on his massive shopping spree in attempt to get the Florida Panthers to the cap floor. Many questioned why he was giving out so many long-term deals to mediocre players last year but those questions stopped once the Panthers made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Then the story was all about how Tallon turned the Panthers around and how he deserved to be GM of the Year. The reality of this is that the Panthers mainly won the Southeast because it was one of the weakest divisions in the NHL since the lockout and the Panthers were still largely a mediocre team.

Florida might employ the same strategy this year but they have a couple big free agents they might want to re-sign before they spend their funds elsewhere. They also have a lot of young forwards who are relatively close to being NHL-ready so Tallon might want to spend his money more wisely this time around. He has quite a history of overpaying for free agents and with the cap going up, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see this trend continue.

 

Roster Size: 16
Payroll: $40,644,500
$ on Forwards: $23,576,625
$ on Defensemen: $15,567,875
$ on Goalies: $1,500,000

Current Roster

LW

C

RW

Tomas Fleischmann

Stephen Weiss

Scottie Upshall

Sean Bergenheim

Marcel Goc

Jack Skille

Tomas Kopecky

Shawn Matthias

Jerred Smithson

Defense

Brian Campbell

Mike Weaver

Ed Jovanovski

Erik Gudbranson

Goalies

Jose Theodore

Restricted Free Agents

Kris Versteeg, right wing – Versteeg may have been Florida’s best forward last season so I have little to no doubt that he will be re-signed. Their top line was riding a prolonged hot streak for most of the year and Versteeg was the only player on that unit to have a positive corsi rel. Weiss might be known as the better all-around player but Versteeg was the one driving the bus on that line. He will be re-signed and get a significant raise on top of that.

Dmitry Kulikov, defense – Florida rushed Kulikov into the NHL but his development hasn’t been that poor. He’s been somewhat effective offensively since his arrival and his play in his own end has been slowly getting better. Kulikov was somewhat thrown into the wolves last season since he played most of his minutes with Mike Weaver, so his performance then may not be the best to go by. I would expect him to be retained at a relatively low cost given his body of work so far.

Keaton Ellerby, defense – Ellerby’s a serviceable depth defenseman whose best asset is delivering big hits. He will probably be re-signed and used as a third pairing defenseman.

Michal Repik, forward – Repik still has yet to make his mark in the NHL but he’s been an effective player in the minors for years and I’m willing to bet that Florida will keep him around for that reason. He’s shown a decent ability to drive the play forward in the past, so that’s somewhat valuable even if he can’t finish any of his chances.

James Wright
Roman Erlyuk
Ondrej Roman
Eriick Selleck
Brian Foster
Keith Seabrook
Michael Caruso
Justin Bernhardt

Unrestricted Free Agent

Jason Garrison, defense – It’s believed that Garrison will get a huge payday this off-season and that is easy to believe when you see the 16 goals he scored. The chances of him repeating that feat are extremely low but Garrison’s solid defensive play really adds onto his value. He was part of Florida’s shutdown pair with Mike Weaver the previous season and the two were outstanding in that role. His new found goal-scoring touch is the result of powerplay time, offensive zone starts and getting to play with Brian Campbell so I doubt he will be able to replicate that. Even if he doesn’t, he is a solid shutdown defenseman who might be able to add some offense on top of that. I’d expect him to get a lot more than he is worth, though.

Mikael Samuelsson, right wing – Samuelsson is getting old and is a little too reliant on his linemates to be considered a legitimate top-six option but he can still have some use for a team needing secondary scoring. Samuelsson was able to control puck possession despite playing very tough minutes in Florida last year and that’s exactly what teams needing a third liner are looking for. Injury problems are a big concern with him, though.

Marco Sturm, left wing – One has to question how much Marco Sturm has left in the tank. He has suffered numerous amounts of knee injuries and seems to have lost his scoring touch for the most part. The only positive aspects to Sturm’s game at this point of his career is that he can control possession at even strength and draw penalties. Florida used Sturm as a fourth liner after they acquired him and that’s what he is at this point in his career.

Scott Clemmensen, goalie – With Josh Harding off the market and Martin Brodeur in the final leg of his career, Scott Clemmensen might be the best goalie on the market this year. Yes, you read that correctly. After sporting a .922 save percentage in 30 games last season, Clemmensen provides a good option for those who are looking to take a chance on a cheap goaltender. Although, there’s a good chance that Clemmensen might get a little more than he’s worth with the market the way it is.

Krys Barch, right wing – Krys Barch is what I like to call a “useless player.” He plays less than 8 minutes a game, takes at least 2 penalties per every 60 minutes he is on the ice, delivers big hits and doesn’t contribute much otherwise. If any team decides that they need to spend money on a player like this then I will be surprised.

Wojtek Wolski, left wing – If any team needs scoring at a low cost then they could be interested in acquiring Wolski, who was not tendered by the Florida Panthers. After wearing out his welcome in Colorado, Phoenix and New York, he was given another chance in Florida and gave them decent results but not enough for them to keep him around. He is one of those players who provides solid results on ice but has some kind of trait that make GMs and coaches want to stay far away from him. Therefore, I’ll be surprised if no one wants him but at the same time I won’t be.

John Madden, center – Madden can be depended on for good defensive play but not much else. That’s the reason why Florida acquired him mid-season and that’s all they really used him for while he was there. He started only 43% of his draws in the offensive zone which isn’t terribly surprising to see when you glance at his career statistics. Some team might see that strength in him and give him a contract but Madden’s almost 40 so you have to think that he’s getting close to ending what was a great career.

Bracken Kearns
Mark Cullen
Greg Rallo
Bill Thomas
Sean Sullivan
Jon Matsumoto

Non-NHL Players

Jonathan Huberdeau, forward – Huberdeau has been nothing short of outstanding while in the QMJHL and should be ready for the NHL relatively soon. I’m not sure if it’ll be next year, though. Florida is a team that needs to get the most value out of their entry-level deals and I’m not sure that they can do that with Huberdeau next season. Although, that could depend on the moves they make in free agency.

Jacob Markstrom, goalie – Florida has an open goalie spot with Scott Clemmensen leaving, so that opens the door for Markstrom to step in. He played well during his stint with the Panthers last season and they have been pleased with his development, so I have to think that he will be with the Panthers next season unless this scuttlebutt about them wanting Roberto Luongo is true.

Quinton Howden, forward

Scott Timmins, forward

Team Needs

Top-Four Defenseman: Erik Gudbranson should be able to step into this role sooner or later but the Panthers still might want another defenseman to play on the top pairing with Brian Campbell if Garrison leaves. I’m not sure if Ellerby or Kulikov can transition into that role without some growing pains.

Possible Targets:  Sheldon Souray, Filip Kuba, Matt Carle, Sami Salo,

Second line center: Scoring depth was a problem for Florida last season as Fleischmann, Weiss and Versteeg accounted for most of the team’s goals and there wasn’t much depth behind them. The second line they have now isn’t bad, but it isn’t very potent offensively. Marcel Goc is a terrific defensive center but his skills are best suited for the third line. They may look for someone with more of an offensive punch to center this line next season.

Possible Targets:  Olli Jokinen, Jason Arnott, Daymond Langkow, Kyle Wellwood, Jochen Hecht

Second/third line winger:  Again, after the first line they don’t have a lot of offensive firepower but this may not be as big of an issue as it seems. Scottie Upshall is coming off a terrible season but he was hit hard by the injury bug so I would expect him to rebound. Bergenheim and Kopeckey are good secondary scoring options as well, but it still wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cats look for another winger to play on the second line. It also wouldn’t be a shocker to see them address this issue within the organization rather than consulting the free agent pool.

Possible Targets: Jiri Hudler, Petr Sykora, Andrei Kostitsyn, Steve Sullivan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston

Goaltender: Scott Clemmensen is leaving but Markstrom should be able to fill this void. However, Florida could look for some insurance for their AHL club in San Antonio.

Possible Targets: who knows?

Left winger for fourth line:  Barch is gone and Matt Bradley was waived so Florida is going to be looking for more useful fourth line options. They could use Jerrod Smithson and Jack Skille for their current fourth line so I’m expecting them to find another winger, likely one who is defensively minded. It’s possible that they will use Repik in this role if they re-sign him.

Possible Targets: Tim Stapleton, Arron Asham, David Moss, Adam Burish, Jordin Tootoo, JT Wyman, Joey Crabb

What have they done so far?

Traded 7th round pick

Nothing much to say here.

Waived Mike Santorelli and Matt Bradley

Dumping Bradley makes sense because he barely played last season and didn’t provide much value when he was used. Santorelli, on the other hand, is a little confusing. I understand that he wasn’t scoring but Santorelli is a pretty useful player even if his 20-goal season was a fluke. He could have been useful as the team’s second line center if his scoring rebounded, but it appears that he is heading to the AHL now. I am also a little surprised that no teams jumped on Santorelli while he was on waivers.

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