SUNRISE, Fla. – It was a busy day on Thursday in Sunrise.
Florida Panthers General Manger Bill Zito hit the offseason ground running, making several moves that should positively impact the team for the foreseeable future.
First came the buyout of veteran Keith Yandle.
The 34-year-old offensive-defenseman is one of the most popular players in the NHL, and he’s currently the league’s longest standing ironman, having played in an amazing 922 consecutive games.
Assuming he continues to avoid injury (and healthy scratches), Yandle needs to play in another 43 games to become the NHL’s all-time leader in that department, a record currently held by Doug Jarvis’ 964 straight games played from 1975 to 1987.
If and when that happens for Yandle, it won’t come with him wearing a Panthers sweater.
The team announced Thursday morning that the remaining two years on Yandle’s contract would be bought out, making him an unrestricted free agent.
“We would like to extend a sincere thank you to Keith for all that he’s contributed to the Florida Panthers organization and to the South Florida community over the past five seasons,” Zito said Thursday in a statement released by the team.
The buyout news comes on the heels of Wednesday’s revelation that the Panthers did not ask Yandle to waive his no-movement clause, which would have left him (and the two years left on his contract, with a $6.35 million average annual value) unprotected in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft coming up next Wednesday.
Now we know why Yandle wasn’t asked.
According to CapFriendly, the buyout will save the Panthers $4 million in salary cap space for the 2021-22 season, but that number goes down to less than $1 million ($958,333 to be exact) the following year.
Over the next four years (twice the length of the remaining years on the contract that Florida is buying out), Yandle’s cap hit with the Panthers will be $2.34 million in 21-22, $5.39 million in 22-23, $1.24 million in 23-24 and $1.24 million in 24-25.
As the saying goes, that’s the price of doing business.
During his time in South Florida, Yandle was a reliable source of scoring from the back line and one of the best in the league at quarterbacking a power play.
Last season, however, Yandle’s offensive prowess took a step back, which made his defensive deficiencies that much more glaring.
Florida originally signed Yandle during the summer of 2016 to a seven-year deal worth $44.5 million, along with the full no-movement clause.
An amazing teammate and all-around good person that has been beloved by his peers throughout his career, Yandle will be missed in South Florida and hopefully his career will continue to be prosperous wherever he lands next.
“While a decision of this kind is never an easy one to make, we believe that this shift is necessary as we look towards the 2021-22 season and our club’s future,” Zito said.
SPEAKING OF THE FUTURE…
Not long after the team announced the Yandle buyout, Florida re-upped with a pair of integral parts of the team’s success last season.
Speedy winger Anthony Duclair and reliable defenseman Gustav Forsling, both restricted free agents who each spent one season with the Cats, will be sticking around South Florida for the next few years.
We’ll start with Duclair, who was signed to a three-year extension worth a total of $9 million, according to CapFriendly.
During his first season in Florida, Duclair logged 32 points (10-22-32) in 43 games while skating to a career-best +27 on-ice rating.
He proved to be a bit of a Swiss Army Knife for head coach Joel Quenneville, providing valuable minutes across the lineup, whether he was asked to skate on the top line or in the bottom six.
“Anthony brought great speed and skill to our club this season,” Zito said. “We look forward to seeing him continue to be a creative playmaker for us on the ice and a valuable member of our community.”
Despite competing in just 396 NHL games during his career, Florida is the sixth team Duclair has played for since making his debut during the 2014-15 season.
His new deal is the first multi-year agreement Duclair has signed since his initial entry-level contract with the New York Rangers, who drafted The Duke in the third round (80th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
“We are thrilled to have (Duclair) as a part of the Panthers family for years to come,” Zito said.
Shifting focus to Forsling, the 25-year-old blossomed into an incredibly consistent two-way defenseman for Florida last season after being plucked off the waiver wire during training camp.
According to CapFriendly, Forsling’s three-year deal is worth a total of $8 million, with an average annual value (AAV) of $2.66 million. That could prove to be a bargain should he continue to be the player that he was last season.
Forsling, a young but somewhat unproven player who had some familiarity with Quenneville from when they were both in Chicago a few years back, was considered a depth signing at first.
That changed following the season-ending leg injury to All-Star defenseman Aaron Ekblad in late March.
Forsling thrived after being given a larger role and more responsibility by Quenneville, skating on Florida’s top defensive pairing with MacKenzie Weegar and providing key minutes on special teams.
“After joining the Panthers in January, Gustav had a career season setting personal records and establishing his defensive game to bolster our blueline,” said Zito. “We are looking forward to watching him continue to develop his game with our club.”
During his first season in Florida, Forsling racked up 17 points (5-12-17) on 94 shots on goal while logging a stellar +17 on-ice rating and skating in 19:57 per game, all career highs.
In addition to becoming a key contributor to Florida’s penalty kill, Forsling also had one of the biggest goals for the Panthers during their first-round playoff series against eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay.
During a must-win Game 3 in Tampa, Forsling tied the game with just over three minutes left, forcing overtime in a game Florida ended up winning (thank you, Ryan Lomberg) to avoid an 0-3 hole in the series.