With the draft firmly in the rear-view, it is time to shift our focus to the impending start of NHL free agency on Friday, July 5th. For the Florida Panthers that means the future-centric mindset of the NHL Draft will be put on the back burner while the team addresses the needs of immediate present. In the coming weeks we will start to see the Panthers 2013-14 roster take shape.
Panthers’ GM set the bar high for team upheaval during the 2011 offseason but I doubt we will see changes of that magnitude this year. What we will see will probably be more akin to last offseason where the Panthers tinkered with an already established lineup. This might be bad news for fans hoping to see the roster blown-up following last year’s dismal performance but despite their abysmal 2013 record, I believe the Panthers can see marked improvements while sticking with last season’s core line-up.
Here are some of the pressing issues that the Florida Panthers will be addressing as we begin free agency:
Restricted Free Agents:
The Panthers have a number of decisions to make regarding their crop of restricted free agents. Jacob Markstrom, Shawn Matthias, Peter Mueller and Jack Skille all will require new contracts this offseason. Who will the Panthers bring back? First and foremost, the Panthers will absolutely be re-signing Markstrom. The 23 year old projects to be Florida’s goaltender of the future and he could even be the full time starter when the puck drops this fall.
Shawn Matthias, Peter Mueller and Jack Skille are not so easy. The Panthers may want to make roster space for younger prospects or free agent signings and if that is the case, one or more of these players could be out the door. Shawn Matthias was the most productive of this trio last year and has shown the ability to play wing or center which is important given the recent addition of Aleksander Barkov. I think he will definitely be back with the Panthers this year. As for Skille and Mueller, I honestly have no idea. Both are young and can be had for a low price but the question remains as to where the Panthers rate them compared to the young players who could potentially fill their roster spots.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Florida has a trio of unrestricted free agents in Stephen Weiss, Tyson Strachan, and Jose Theodore. All signs are pointing towards Stephen Weiss testing out the free agent market but the fact that the Panthers have not traded his negotiating rights might indicate that the team is making a concerted effort to re-sign the long time Panther.
Jose Theodore will more than likely not be back with the Panthers next year. As for Tyson Strachan, the trade of fellow defenseman T.J. Brennan increases the odds that Strachan will be back with the Panthers next year. Earlier this off-season I wrote that the Panthers would probably keep either Brennan or Strachan but not both. With Brennan gone, the Panthers could easily sign Strachan and use him as a third-line d-man or as an injury fill in.
Possible Trades and Free Agent Signings:
The Panthers have reportedly been shopping forward Tomas Fleischmann and goaltender Scott Clemmensen. Fleishchmann led all Panthers in scoring last season but he is owed $4.5 million each of the next two seasons. Clemmensen struggled in the backup role last season and the Panthers would probably prefer to move the 35 year old rather than pay him the $1.2 million they owe him this season.
The fact that Clemmensen is being shopped by the Panthers adds fire to the rumors that Florida could be interested in adding a big name goaltender. The Panthers have been mentioned in the same breath as Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov. Ryan Miller is still under contract with the Sabres for one more year so Florida would have to make a pretty substantial trade which I really do not see happening. Bryzgalov is an interesting option as he was just bought out of his contract with Philadelphia and could be signed as a free-agent. The Panthers, with plenty of cap space, could easily offer Bryz a substantial contract if the team does not feel confident in moving forward with Jacob Markstrom.
While the big name rumors are the most fascinating, I think adding a Bryzgalov or a Lecavalier is a long shot. Chances are, we will see the Panthers add a couple of lesser known role players. Players that can contribute but also players that Florida does not have to break the bank to sign.
Share your thoughts about free-agency in the space below. What do you think Florida will do? Which RFA’s will the Panthers keep? Who do you want the Panthers to sign in free agency?