SUNRISE, Fla. – MacKenzie Weegar wanted to stay in South Florida.
Bill Zito wanted to keep Weegar in a Florida Panthers sweater.
Friday, those worlds finally collided.
Zito and the Panthers have signed Weegar, a restricted free agent, to a three-year contract extension, avoiding an arbitration hearing scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 8.
The deal is worth a reported $9.75M, with a three-year average annual value (AAV) of $3.25.
“MacKenzie is a solid two-way competitor who brings tenacity and skill to our lineup,” Zito said in a statement released by the team. “He has developed into a key member of the Panthers both on and off the ice and we look forward to him taking the next step in his career.”
Weegar, 26, was selected by the Panthers in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft. He made his debut with Florida four years later, receiving a late season call up and playing in the final three games of the 2016-17 season.
Earning himself an everyday role in the NHL the following year, Weegar’s play has steadily improve over the past three seasons in Florida.
Despite playing a career-low 45 games in 2019-20, due to a combination of injuries and the COVID-19 league stoppage, Weegar finished with a career-high seven goals and 18 points. He also registered a plus-6 rating despite playing on a team that gave up more goals (228) than all but three of the NHL’s 31 clubs last season.
When healthy, Weegar lined up almost exclusively alongside Aaron Ekblad on Florida’s top defensive pairing, which explains why his ice time jumped to a career-high 20:07 last year. He’ll likely at least start training camp skating with Ekblad.
“I think he’s a wonderful player,” Zito said of Weegar when speaking to the media in early October. “When we were in the bubble, I spent a lot of time watching him and he’s a dynamic guy, very competitive. I liked watching him a lot, not even knowing that (becoming Florida’s GM) would be an opportunity. I think he’s a great young player and I’m really glad to have him.”
With Weegar under contract, the Panthers have six defensemen locked up for multiple years; Aaron Ekblad is making $7.5 million a season (AAV) through 2024-25, Keith Yandle has three years left with an AAV of $6.35M, Anton Stralman has two years remaining at $5.5M per, Radko Gudas inked a 3-year deal with Florida worth a total $7.5 million ($2.5M AAV) last month and Markus Nitivaara, acquired in a trade with Columbus, is signed for the next two years with a $2.7 million AAV.