MIAMI – Due to a lack of salary cap space, the opening of NHL free agency saw the Florida Panthers lose some players off the roster that helped accomplish the best season in team history.
They used what little space they had to add some veteran players at all positions.
Trade deadline pick-ups Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot were offered big contracts by teams in the Panthers’ division.
Both helped in the franchise record 13-game winning streak late in the season and the first playoff series win in 26 years against Washington.
Giroux got a 3-year deal from his hometown team, the Ottawa Senators at more than 6 million dollars per season.
Chiarot heads to Detroit on a big deal that will pay him nearly 5 million dollars a year.
The Panthers simply didn’t have the cap space to keep them.
But they will see plenty of both players as opponents.
Mason Marchment parlayed his unique skillset into a huge 4-year, 18 million dollar contract in Dallas.
He has size and surprising offensive skills that will need to be replaced.
Noel Acciari signed for 1 year in St. Louis.
A handful of veteran players to replace what the team lost in the feistiness department, plug holes, bring experience and leadership.
The Panthers had to maximize what little money they had available.
Nick Cousins gets a 2-year contract.
He’s bounced around but has a little scoring touch and plays hard.
He’s a good addition on a 2-year contract at about one million per year.
Colin White is an interesting new Panther. He’s still young enough to get his game together.
Ottawa selected White in the first round in the 2015 draft held in the Panthers arena.
Now at age 25, he gets an opportunity on a solid team on a 1-year deal.
A highly thought of 1st rounder, under pressure on a bad team to produce?
The Panthers picked up Sam Bennett in a somewhat similar situation and he blossomed in South Florida.
Not saying White will do the same but some gambles on players like White have worked for the Panthers.
Staal brothers hit South Florida
We are looking at Marc, guaranteed on a 1-year deal, and Eric on a training camp tryout.
Marc is a defenseman and is likely to grab the open spot on the blue line.
He had a nice season with Detroit.
It is a 1-year deal at $750,00, a bargain for the team, and a good situation for the player.
Eric basically sat out last season but his history with new coach Paul Marice is long.
They were together for many years in Carolina and Staal is an experienced veteran.
He doesn’t have a guaranteed deal yet but one could assume once he gets to camp, if he’s physically in good shape, something will get done.
Staal has had a great career and could even play a Joe Thornton-type role at minimum.
At maximum, he grabs a spot in the regular line-up and has one last push is him to win a cup.
Staal is a class person and will add to the team’s culture.
Also added for depth was veteran defenseman Anthony Bitetto who spent many years in Nashville and goalie Alex Lyon.
He will be the 3rd goalie, likely the AHL starter in Charlotte, and called up if injury occurs to Sergei Bobrovsky or Spencer Knight.
Lyon has some NHL games under his belt with Philadelphia and has been solid in the AHL.
The Elephant in the Room
Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar are both still with the team.
Both have one year left on their contracts.
Both are homegrown players, drafted and developed by the Panthers.
Both love South Florida, are key parts of the team’s core, have seen the bad times, and are enjoying big roles in the current good times. But both need to get paid.
The talks have been ongoing and one would think deals get done at some point.
The big question becomes a pretty simple one.
With Huberdeau and Weegar continuing to team up with Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, the goalies, and others like Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Lundell, and Gustav Forsling (to name a few), are the Panthers a Stanley Cup team?
Because if Huberdeau and Weegar get the big long deals they have earned, along with the others that are locked in, it is unlikely there is much space for any more major additions.