SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are hitting the midway point of their preseason schedule as perhaps the most competitive training camp in team history continues to move swiftly toward Opening Night.
By competitive, I don’t mean guys are at each other’s throats and fighting on the ice. The mood among the team has been pretty harmonious, to be honest.
The competition, as we all know by now, is for a few coveted spots that remain up for grabs on the first 23-man roster of the regular season.
How that all shakes out continues to be one of the most talked about storylines of camp.
Another hot topic that has simmered a bit of late is that of Panthers captain Sasha Barkov and his discussions with the team regarding a contract extension.
Barkov is entering the final year of a 6-year deal that paid him an average annual value (AAV) of $5.9 million.
That’s an impressive number that most players would be more than happy to sign up for, but Barkov has placed himself among the NHL’s elite centermen and as such, the 26-year-old Finn has earned himself a hefty raise.
How much of a raise has yet to be determined. Negotiations for an extension began during the offseason but little progress had been made by the time Barkov arrived in South Florida for training camp.
Speaking to the press on the Panthers Media Day, Barkov appeared confident that a deal would eventually get done.
“I think we’re for sure making some progress, but I’m not the guy you want to talk to,” he said, referencing his agent Todd Diamond, who has been heading negotiations with Panthers GM Bill Zito. “I have people who take care of it, and I think we’ve been on good terms (with the team), so it’s all good.”
Things may very well be all good between Barkov’s camp and Zito’s crew, but Local 10 News learned on Friday they have been moving along at a less-than-brisk pace.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hair? Working at a slow and steady pace worked out well for Mr. Tortoise.
But as of today, the two sides are not close to an agreement.
There is nothing abnormal about that. Negotiations almost always begin with the two sides reasonably far apart, and over time they find a way to meet somewhere in the middle.
Zito knows he can’t let one of the NHL’s best two-way players, who could very well crack 100 points this season, slip through his fingers.
During his time as assistant GM in Columbus, Zito earned a reputation as a hard negotiator. How hard he pushes Barkov and Diamond is the question.
At the end of the day, Zito isn’t going to let Barkov walk, and Barkov, by all accounts, is a reasonable, level-headed guy. A deal will get done.
Back on Media Day, Local 10 asked Barkov if he’d like to retire as a Florida Panther.
“Right now, that’s the only thing I think about, playing for the Florida Panthers,” Barkov answered. “I love playing here, I love what we’ve started building here. The team is getting better, the organization is getting better, hockey in South Florida is getting bigger and better, so I’m really excited about everything that’s going on here. I haven’t really thought about anything else other than going into this season.
“Wearing a Panthers jersey is a huge honor for me and I’m really happy where I am right now.”
Expect discussions between Diamond and Zito to continue as the season gets closer, but there is no guarantee that a deal will be done prior to Opening Night.
There is hope, though. Stay tuned.