The free agent signing period begins Friday, July 1. The Florida Panthers have approximately $24 million to spend just to reach the salary cap floor, which means the team will need to be active to reach that mark. So over the next few days, we’ll be taking a look at some of the free agents that we hope might be on the Cats radar (and vice versa). In this instalment, we’ll take a look at Michal Handzus.
Perhaps the biggest center available in the free agent pool this year, Michal Handzus will certainly draw attention from teams looking for size. His 6’4″, 217 lb frame provides a big body in the slot to screen goalies on offense and to play physically in the defensive zone. He appears to be the ideal third line center that is on the market.
Since Brooks Laich signed, Handzus has been getting more calls from teams looking for a player with a physical presence and a scoring touch. From the third line on the LA Kings last year, Handzus scored 12 goals and had 18 assists. The year before, Handzus scored 20 goals with 22 assists. His size also makes him an asset on special teams, as he protects the puck well and effectively screens goalies on the power play. On the penalty kill, Handzus proves himself to be a great two-way center. LA Kings Insider writer Rich Hammond calls Handzus’ defensive skills “impeccable”, as the Kings’ PK unit was very often in the top ten in kill percentage all year. Perhaps Handzus’ most impressive statistic is his durability: he has played at least 79 games in the NHL each season since 2000-01.
If there was a knock on Handzus, it might be that he lost a step in his skating skills. He appears slower on the ice than he was in his past, and that could be an omen of a further decrease in scoring this year.
This one issue could shy the Panthers away from Handzus. Dale Tallon is looking for offense this year, and Handzus doesn’t exactly provide that as much as some other free agents. Florida doesn’t necessarily need help on the penalty kill either, and they could be looking for younger, faster players to fill out their roster. Expect Handzus to get a two or three year contract from the Capitals at about $3 million a year. They’re the team looking for some toughness to complement the flashy scorers of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom.
But don’t totally count the Panthers out just yet: Dale Tallon could be persuaded to offer Michal Handzus a deal.