CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – It’s hard to argue that Sasha Barkov isn’t the best homegrown player to ever suit up for the Florida Panthers.
Selected by Florida second overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Barkov made an immediate splash for the Cats.
He made the team as an 18-year-old rookie and scored a goal in his first NHL game, giving fans a tiny glimpse of things to come.
Barkov has steadily grown over his eight years in the league, becoming Florida’s captain and stoic, on-ice leader…always giving maximum effort and playing an inspiring brand of high-end, two-way hockey that coaches drool about having in their number one center.
“What he can achieve on the ice is limitless,” said Panthers General Manager Bill Zito. “Who Sasha is as a person, as a teammate, as a leader, as a friend to his teammates, to our community, is equally limitless, and a testament to who he is.”
Now a 26-year-old Lady Byng and Sekle Trophy winner, Barkov is considered among the best of the best in the top league in the world.
And as of Friday, he’s being paid like it.
Local 10 News has confirmed that Barkov and the Panthers have agreed on a maximum eight-year extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $10 million.
The deal was formally announced by the team at a press conference in Fort Lauderdale not far from where the team’s new practice facility is being built.
“Being with the organization that drafted me, that gave me a chance to play here, and developed me into the player and human being I am right now, and to be able to stay here as long as possible, it’s a huge thing for me,” Barkov said Friday. “I’ve really loved every second of my career here and never thought about anything other than being here, playing here, and trying to win a Stanley Cup here.”
The extension offers Barkov a well-deserved raise on his last contract, which paid out an AAV of $5.9 million over six years.
It was a great deal when he signed it as a teenager.
Now he’s one of the most well-paid players in the NHL.
“It’s the statement that it sends around the league,” Zito said. “He chose to be here. He didn’t want to pursue free agency; he chose to lock himself in for eight years, for the maximum amount of time. That’s really important for us as we expand what we’re trying to do, in trying to get the right players to come here for the right reasons.”
The new deal for Florida’s captain comes at a time when the team is facing higher expectations than perhaps ever before.
Fresh off their best regular season in team history, the Cats are viewed among a handful of teams that can compete for the Stanley Cup.
This season Barkov will center a line that could be among the most productive in the NHL, with ascending sniper Carter Verhaeghe on his left and fellow second overall pick (the year after Barkov) Sam Reinhart on his right.
Reinhart, acquired during the offseason in a draft weekend trade with Buffalo, has averaged 22 goals per season since his rookie year in 2015-16.
“Coming into this season and seeing what’s happening here, I’m really happy to be back with the team,” Barkov said.
Barkov has seen his game steadily grow over the course of his career, but things seemed to shift into high gear during last season’s abbreviated campaign.
In 50 games, Barkov amassed 58 points, which is impressive enough on its own, but he also displayed amazing vision and creativity with the puck, unparalleled possession skills, and sound, reliable two-way hockey.
“He’s the cornerstone that we build around,” Zito said. “From a hockey perspective, from a culture perspective and from a leadership perspective.”
Added Barkov: “The whole hockey community in South Florida is growing. I notice that every day. I’m really happy and proud to be a part of that, and really honored to stay here for a long time.”