July 5, 2022

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Salary Cap Deep Dive: Florida Panthers

Navigating the salary cap is one of the more important tasks for any GM.  Teams that can avoid total cap chaos by walking the tightrope of inking players to deals that match their value (or compensate for future value without breaking the bank) remain successful.  Those that don’t see struggles and front office changes.

PHR will look at every NHL team and give a thorough look at their cap situation heading for the 2021-22 season and beyond.  This will focus more on players who are regulars on the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL.  All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.

Florida Panthers

Current Cap Hit: $82,014,416 (under the $81.5MM Upper Limit)

Entry-Level Contracts

G Spencer Knight (two years, $925K)
F Anton Lundell (three years, $925K)
F Eetu Luostarinen (one year, $890K)
F Owen Tippett (one year, $863K)

Potential Bonuses
Knight: $1.85MM
Lundell: $850K
Tippett: $850K
Total: $3.55MM

Lundell has impressed in his early NHL action.  Despite being used in a heavy defensive role, he has chipped in offensively and held his own in his own end.  The fact he’s in this important of a spot on the depth chart now will certainly help his cause for his second deal; three years of being a key piece certainly looks better than being up and down which is where Tippett finds himself.  Another first-round pick, Tippett hasn’t produced with much consistency in the NHL and has been up and down in the lineup with some time in the minors as well.  Between that and their cap situation, he’s a strong candidate for a two-year bridge contract that buys both sides more time.  Luostarinen doesn’t have the numbers to command much of a raise although his playing time (over 13 minutes a game in his two seasons with Florida) should be enough to push him over the $1MM mark.

Knight has done well since joining the Panthers late last season and it’s clear he’s their goalie of the future.  Can he get enough playing time over the next two years to command starter money though?  That may be iffy, especially being behind a high-priced netminder on the depth chart.  Making the finances work on a long-term pact two years from now seems difficult given that Sergei Bobrovsky has five years left.  As a result, a two-year bridge deal to keep the combined cost down makes sense for both sides, allowing Knight to get a bigger payday after that while Florida gets only the one season of a very pricey goalie tandem (assuming Bobrovsky is still around by then).

Both Knight and Lundell have a chance to hit some of their bonuses which is worth remembering with how tight they are to the salary cap; it creates the possibility of a carryover overage for next season.

One Year Remaining, Non-Entry-Level

F Noel Acciari ($1.667MM, UFA)
D Kevin Connauton ($825K, UFA)
D Olli Juolevi ($750K, RFA)
F Ryan Lomberg ($725K, UFA)
F Maxim Mamin ($975K, UFA)
F Mason Marchment ($800K, UFA)
D Markus Nutivaara ($2.7MM, UFA)
F Joe Thornton ($750K, UFA)
F Frank Vatrano ($2.533MM, UFA)

Vatrano has scored at least 16 goals in each of the last three seasons which certainly helps to justify his price tag but he has struggled early on this year, playing largely on the fourth line.  That’s never a good sign in a walk year and could shift him from a chance of earning similar money on his next contract to having to take a bit less.  That recent track record should still give him a decent market though.  Acciari isn’t really the 20-goal player he was in 2018-19 but, when healthy, he’s a capable energy player but he hasn’t played this season due to an upper-body injury.  The longer he sits, the more his value takes a hit.  Mamin got pretty good money to come back from the KHL but has spent most of the season in the minors.  He’s up now and with a one-way contract, he’s someone that could be a trade candidate if he can’t secure a regular spot.  At this point, a return overseas seems likely.  Marchment has turned into a bargain and is off to a nice start offensively while chipping in with plenty of physicality.  While he’s a late bloomer, there will be a lot of interest if he gets to the open market and something in the $2MM range could be doable.  Lomberg and Thornton are cheap end-of-roster pieces and will either be retained or replaced with someone at a similar price point next season.  In Thornton’s case, it’ll probably be the latter.

Nutivaara’s value has dipped since joining Florida last year.  He has been on the third pairing when healthy and is in his second stint on IR already this season.  That’s a high price for a player that’s sixth or seventh on the depth chart and his next deal will reflect that and could check in at half of his current AAV.  Connauton’s value is what it is at this point, a two-way contract that’s close to the minimum salary while Juolevi needs to establish himself as an NHL regular before having a chance at getting into the seven-figure range.

Two Years Remaining

D Radko Gudas ($2.5MM, UFA)
F Patric Hornqvist ($5.3MM, UFA)
F Jonathan Huberdeau ($5.9MM, UFA)
D MacKenzie Weegar ($3.25MM, UFA)

Huberdeau has very quietly produced more than a point per game in each of the last three seasons and is above that rate again in the early going this season.  That’s impressive production for someone that is basically being paid second-line money.  With some of the recent deals handed out to elite wingers, Huberdeau could push for more than $10MM a year although it wouldn’t be surprising if Florida tries to get him slightly below the $10MM that their captain just got.  Hornqvist had a bounce-back 2020-21 campaign although he’s off to a tough start this season.  The style he has played over the years tends to catch up with players as they age and considering he’ll be 36 when his next contract kicks in, it’s likely to be for considerably less than his current price tag as a result.

Weegar has worked his way up from being a role player on the third pairing to a very important part of Florida’s back end.  He’s logging more than 24 minutes per game early on this season – top-pairing minutes – and his offensive game has shown considerable improvement as well.  This has quickly become a very team-friendly contract and if he continues at the pace he’s on, he could be looking at coming close to doubling his price tag on the open market.  Gudas is the player he was when he signed this contract – a third-pairing defensive player whose intimidation factor increases his value.  As long as those two things remain true, there’s no reason to think his next contract will be much different than this one.

Three Years Remaining

F Anthony Duclair ($3MM, UFA)
D Gustav Forsling ($2.667MM, UFA)
D Brandon Montour ($3.5MM, UFA)
F Sam Reinhart ($6.5MM, UFA)

Reinhart was Florida’s big addition over the offseason from Buffalo although they weren’t able to come to terms on a long-term agreement.  Instead, he signed what amounted to another bridge deal, one that bought a couple of years of team control and both sides time to see how he fits in.  Speculatively, his future could be tied to Huberdeau’s; if they re-sign him, it may be hard to fit Reinhart in as well.  If he gets to the open market, he’ll be well-positioned to earn another raise.  Duclair has found a home in Florida after bouncing around.  As a secondary scorer, he’s in a role that suits him more than a primary piece and the offensive environment that Florida has now gives him a chance to provide some good value on that deal.

Montour bounced back last season and did well in his limited time with Florida which earned him some job security.  His role has dropped this season as he’s primarily been on the third pairing but as long as he can contribute offensively, he’ll still provide a reasonable return even if he winds up being more limited at even strength than anticipated.  Still just 27, there’s still time for him to work his way up the depth chart as well.  Forsling has been a nice waiver claim for the Panthers as he has gone from being a depth piece to one of their top blueliners.  Considering he was on waivers back in January, the price tag may seem expensive but he is outperforming that new deal so far.

Four Or More Years Remaining

F Aleksander Barkov ($5.9MM in 2021-22, $10MM from 2022-23 through 2029-30)
G Sergei Bobrovsky ($10MM through 2025-26)
D Aaron Ekblad ($7.5MM through 2024-25)
F Carter Verhaeghe ($1MM in 2021-22, $4.167MM from 2022-23 through 2024-25)

Barkov has long been underpaid but that will change next season when his new deal kicks in.  He has become a premier two-way center and while the price tag may be a bit high at the end when he starts to slow down, they’ve gotten more than enough value on his current contract to make up for that.  He’s a franchise player and Florida did well to get him locked up well before the temptation of free agency presented itself.  As for Verhaeghe, he was one of the best bargains in the league last season, producing at a top-line rate for a fourth line salary.  He’s off to a nice start this year too and if he produces at close to that level beyond this season, he’ll still be a nice bargain even when his price tag goes up.

Ekblad’s contract had been the benchmark for defensemen coming off their entry-level deals until some of the ones signed over the last few months.  Nonetheless, it’s one that has worked out pretty well for Florida in the end.  He has become a legitimate number one defender and is at a price tag that is considerably below what other number ones are getting now.  He’ll only be 29 when this contract expires so he’ll still have a shot at that big money.

It’s fair to say that Bobrovsky’s contract hasn’t worked out as planned.  He struggled in his first two seasons in Florida although he has been dominant in the early going this season.  They’re paying for him to be an elite goaltender and aside from a few weeks this year, he hasn’t provided that type of performance.  His presence will likely force them to bridge Knight before looking at a possible buyout closer to the end of the deal unless his current level is one that he can sustain for a while.

Buyouts

G Scott Darling ($1.183MM through 2022-23)
D Keith Yandle ($2.341MM in 2021-22, $5.392MM in 2022-23, $1.242MM in 2023-24 and 2024-25)

Retained Salary Transactions

None

Salary Cap Recapture

G Roberto Luongo ($1.092MM in 2021-22)

Best Value: Verhaeghe
Worst Value: Bobrovsky

Looking Ahead

Florida’s cap situation is pretty tight right now with the team needing Acciari’s LTIR to stay compliant.  They’re likely to hover close to the Upper Limit all season which will limit what GM Bill Zito can do in terms of in-season movement which makes the potential for Lundell and Knight’s bonuses to roll over to next season.

Unfortunately, things will be even tighter then.  With Yandle’s dead cap charge going up by more than $3MM, that offsets some of the contracts coming off the books while Barkov and Verhaeghe’s extensions take care of the rest and then some.  With nearly $78MM in commitments to just 14 players and a projected cap of $82.5MM, some cuts to the roster are going to need to be made at some point.  s

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

https://www.prohockeyrumors.com/2021/11/salary-cap-deep-dive-florida-panthers-5.html