The Florida Panthers signed defenseman Dylan Olsen to a two-year contract yesterday, now giving them six defensemen on the roster and only one remaining restricted free agent to be signed – Dmitry Kulikov.
Also under contract currently are Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic – who will compete for time on the last defensive pairing along with Olsen. Expected to sign at some point before the season starts is the first overall pick, Aaron Ekblad bringing their total to seven blue liners.
So where does Kulikov fit into all of this? The former first round pick has failed to take the next step in his progression, but the magic number for defensemen to fully grow is 300-games according to Dale Tallon,
Tallon said that of Erik Gudbranson, but it holds true for Kulikov who surpassed the 300-game mark last season and currently sits at 313. So while he hasn’t taken his game to the next level, if history holds true this is the year he breaks out.
So would it be fair to give up on him at this point? The Panthers have a log jam at defense and with no players are exempt from waivers (other than Ekblad, who would have to go to juniors), they would have to be exposed to other teams before being sent to the minors.
While the upside is still there, with seven defensemen (including Ekblad) it doesn’t make much sense to add any more – even someone like Kulikov. The Nikita Nikitin contract (2-years $9-million) has done the Panthers no favors in negotiating with their defender as you would imagine Kulikov would want a higher AAV.
As far as the Panthers bottom-pairing, the combination of Petrovic, Robak, and Olsen all bring a great blend of upside and skill to play now. With minutes eater Brian Campbell, as well as Gudbranson taking on a bigger role and of course Ekblad there isn’t a need for any of the bottom three to play big minutes – so paying a player potentially $4.5-million plus to play bottom line minutes just doesn’t make sense.
The Panthers are looking for a trade, a package of Kulikov and one of their centers that are now blocked could bring in that goal scoring forward that they are looking for – in an offseason approach that screams more ‘win now’ than later, why not? Your future on the blue line is still safe with Ian McCoshen and Mike Matheson.