Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Panthers Lock Up Their Core

When you think of teams who have built through the draft well, the Florida Panthers occasionally get lost in the mix despite all their young players. They made the playoffs last season before being eliminated in the opening round, but there were a lot of things to like about how they used their young players to get them to the dance. Despite some questionable trades this summer, the Panthers have opened up salary to be able to retain the majority of their dynamic youngsters for the foreseeable future. And that should make fans in Sunrise very happy when it comes to success and playoff appearances.

The Florida Panthers announced today that they have signed 2013 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau to a six-year, $35.4 million contract extension that kicks in for the 2017-18 NHL season. The deal carries an average annual value of $5.9 million. Huberdeau posted a career-high 20 goals and 59 points, and had a goal and three points in the playoffs. By locking up Huberdeau, the Panthers have literally locked up the core of their team.

The Panthers now have ten players locked up for the next four seasons: Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad, Keith Yandle, Roberto Luongo, James Reimer, and Jason Demers. In 2016 alone, the Panthers have committed more than $184 million in contracts to five players who are all age 25 or younger in Huberdeau, Ekblad, Barkov, Trocheck, and Smith. You have to wonder if the Panthers are headed for a situation similar to the Blackhawks with all these young players locked into massive deals.

When you consider the players listed above, though, Panthers fans have to be happy. If you include Jaromir Jagr coming back to the Cats, they legitimately have two scoring lines that can skate and score with almost any team in the league. They can all skate, they have some good size, and they certainly know how to score. Playing in a division with teams that are on somewhat of a decline - Boston, Detroit, and possibly Montreal - should have another playoff appearance on everyone's minds. The possibility of this team making some serious noise in the playoffs shouldn't be a surprise either.

They have an excellent young defenceman in Aaron Ekblad, an offensive blue line threat in Keith Yandle, some better two-way play from Jason Demers, and have yet to mention the plucky threesome of Alex Petrovic, Jakub Kindl, and Steven Kampfer. Toss in an elite goaltender in Roberto Luongo and a significant upgrade to the back-up in James Reimer, and this Florida team suddenly isn't just a pleasure skate for two points.

However, this game is played on paper as much as it is on ice, and the business side of the game might hamstring the Panthers going forward if other players start to have break-out seasons. Jared McCann, who came back for Erik Gudbranson, could possibly take a step forward in Florida, and Jayce Hawryluk was a standout player in junior with the Brandon Wheat Kings. If either of these players has success over the next few seasons, what do the Panthers do when it comes to their new contracts?

Of course, we can "what if" all we want because unless it happens on the ice, it won't happen on paper. At the end of the day, the only "what if" that should matter is what if the Panthers make a deep run in the playoffs? I'd say that locking up all those young players would be seen as a wise move as the ten players locked in for the next four years are going to determine who's around and who may be gone once those four years are up.

While youth may be fleeting, the Panthers are counting heavily on it for their success.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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