SUNRISE, Fla. – Buckle up, hockey fans.
The NHL’s annual free agency frenzy will begin on Wednesday at Noon ET.
Like most years, it promises to be an exciting day. Star players will be changing addresses and massive amounts of money will be handed out to hard working and deserving hockey players.
The Florida Panthers head into the new league year pressed up firmly against the salary cap but still a team many will be keeping an eye on.
Florida currently has less than $1 million in cap space.
They’ll get some temporary relief from Anthony Duclair, who is expected to be placed on LTIR along with his $3 AAV (average annual value). Duclair underwent successful Achilles surgery last month and is projected to be out until midway through the season.
When he returns to Florida’s lineup, so will his $3 million cap hit. It does provide some flexibility and buy time to consider and maneuver potential trades and buyouts.
Panthers GM Bill Zito has been trying to move veteran forward Patric Hornqvist but to this point has been unable to find a partner. According to a source, teams have been unwilling to take on the full value of Hornqvist’s contract, which has one year remaining at $5.3 million.
While it takes two willing partners to make a trade, another option to open up some quick cash would be a buying out Hornqvist’s deal. The cap hit for such a move would be $1.76 million this season and the same $1.76 million next season, according to CapFriendly.
The positive is that Florida would have another $3.5 million in cap space to work with, but this would really have to be a last resort.
Think about it… if the Panthers were to retain a similar amount of Hornqvist’s contract in a trade with another team, they would A- likely get some sort of compensation in the deal and B- it wouldn’t cost anything against the cap after this season.
Bottom line…it’s going to take moves to make moves. If Zito and Co. are going to pull from the free agency well, they’ll likely have to be active on the trade or buyout front to do it.
HUBY EXTENSION SOON?
Contract extension talks between the Panthers and All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau have been ongoing over the past couple weeks.
Huberdeau is entering the final season of a six-year deal that paid out an AAV of $5.9 million. He was drafted third overall by Florida in 2011 and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 2013.
Over the past few years he has blossomed into one of the best players in the NHL, culminating in his 115 point campaign last season.
It’s been a smooth process between Florida GM Bill Zito and Huberdeau’s agent Allan Walsh, and it’s starting to sound like a deal is getting close.
Huberdeau has been very open about his desire to sign a long-term deal and remain with the Panthers for years to come, and it seems both sides are nearing the agreement phase.
Last year the Panthers locked up captain Sasha Barkov long term with an 8-year deal worth $80 million. Huberdeau will get a similar deal, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see him receive a slightly higher AAV.
As is usually the case this time of year, Huberdeau is back in his native Quebec spending time with family and friends, having fun on the water, playing golf and hockey and training for next season.
He’s in his happy place, and all indications are that his new contract won’t be far behind.
Like Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar is also entering the final year of his contract and will be a UFA following the season.
Zito also has spoken with representatives for Weegar regarding a possible extension, but the 28-year-old’s name has come up in trade talks of late.
Weegar has been made aware that he could be moved to another team, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
How keen Zito truly is on moving Weegar remains to be seen.
During his time as Florida GM, Zito has put an emphasis on keeping a stockpile of defenseman.
Weegar will be due a nice pay increase on his current, expiring three-year that carries an AAV of $3.25 million, and if that’s too rich for the Panthers blood, getting back some futures and cap relief may be the route they take.
On the flip side, Florida is a team in win-now mode that plans to contend for a Stanley Cup next season. It’s a difficult position to reach that only a handful of teams can boast finding themselves in. Keeping Weegar for the final year of his deal and going after a championship may seem like a better bet than letting him go.
It’s hard to find any situation with Weegar being traded that will end with Florida’s defensive corps being better than they are today.
Free agent forward Mason Marchment is coming off a breakout season.
He entered the 2021-22 campaign with just 10 points and 37 NHL games under his belt but that didn’t stop him from showing up for Florida in a big way.
Despite being limited to just 54 games due to various bumps and bruises suffered during the year, Marchment finished last season with 18 goals and 47 points while providing a hard-nosed, physical element that isn’t particularly common among players who are in the point-per-game realm.
While the sample size is obviously small, it’s going to be noticed when a guy scores 47 points in 54 games while racking up 53 penalty minutes but still skating to a plus-29 on-ice rating, and all that coming with above average possession metrics.
On Tuesday’s DFO Rundown, Frank Seravalli reported that Marchment is looking for a deal similar to the one signed by Florida teammate Carter Verhaeghe last July, which was a three-year deal worth $12.5 million, which carries an AAV of $4.1 million.
If that’s the case, teams that want to pursue Marchment, including the Panthers, will have to weigh the risk-reward factor.
Was Marchment’s impressive 54 games last year enough to garner a term deal at four-plus million per, or will teams believe they are getting in on the ground floor of what could be a bargain deal?
There are several clubs expected to pursue Marchment when the clock strikes noon ET on Wednesday, but one in particular to keep an eye on is the Edmonton Oilers.
Edmonton is looking to add some punch up front, both literally and figuratively, to replace Zack Kassian and Evander Kane, if Kane ends up signing elsewhere.
Physicality is a key element of Marchment’s game and something the Oilers wisely want to surround their superstar forwards with.
There are also strong ties between the Oilers and the Marchment family. Mason’s father, Bryan, played parts of four seasons in Edmonton during his 17-year career and was with the Oilers when Mason was born in 1995.
It’s obviously a very tough time for the Marchment family following the sudden and tragic death of Bryan Marchment last week.
GIROUX AND MALKIN
Florida is still hoping to find a way to keep UFA Claude Giroux. As I previously reported, Giroux is looking for a new deal with an AAV in the $5-6 million range and something two or three years in length.
It’s hard to see things working out with the Panthers on those numbers. Giroux could end up moving down on either of those asks depending on his desire to stay with Florida and chase a Stanley Cup, but it wouldn’t be surprising in the least for him to see what his market value is, and which teams are providing offers, before making an ultimate decision.
Evgeni Malkin intends to test the free agent waters after failing to reach a new deal to stay with Pittsburgh. He may end up back with the Pens or he may move on, but it’s only stating facts that Malkin has a house in South Florida and over the years has been linked to the Panthers as a possible destination should he ever leave Pittsburgh.
Have I heard anything on this front over the past couple days? No.
Does it make sense given Florida’s current cap situation? No.
Is it something I’ll be keeping an eye on, nonetheless? Yes.
Malkin will be 36 when the season starts. He’s won multiple Stanley Cups. Does he want to push for another one? Would he be willing to take a discount to do so? How strong of a desire, if any, does he and his family have to live year-round at their beautiful Fisher Island home? These are questions we should learn the answers to in the coming weeks.