After jumping out to a fast and furious start to the free agency period, the Florida Panthers have come to a screeching halt, focusing on using their last remaining salary cap dollars towards resigning their restricted free agents.
Now in late-July we have reached a point in the offseason where hockey ‘events’ will be far and in between. Prospect developmental camp has come and gone, and now the only thing left is to countdown till training camp opens.
But there are a few things that the Panthers have to take care of in the coming months, some are immediate needs and the other is something that can be solved during training camp.
- Sign Jimmy Hayes
Hayes remains the lone remaining restricted free agent for the Panthers, and his signing would give 14-forwards at the NHL level. Coming over in the Kris Versteeg trade along with Dylan Olsen, Hayes was given an opportunity to play in the NHL that wasn’t available with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Showing the potential of a true-power forward, Hayes was able to blend his size and skill to create plays and cause havoc in front of the net. Of the 11-goals he scored, three were power play goals – two of which happened were in the same game.
- Sign Aaron Ekblad
The first overall pick has yet to sign a contract, but we all know one is coming at some point. Ekblad has played at the junior level for the past three seasons and this past season he has shown there is no need for him to play a fourth.
Even if he starts out on the third pairing, Ekblad has the ability to become a top-4 defender his rookie year. The Buffalo Sabres have already signed second overall pick Sam Reinhart to an entry level deal, so expect a deal for Ekblad to come before training camp starts.
- Solve The Goaltending Situation
While this isn’t an immediate pressing need, and you wouldn’t think that a team that has Roberto Luongo would have any problem when the Panthers signed Al Montoya on the first day of free agency he created one at the backup position.
At the trade deadline Florida traded for Dan Ellis to be their backup to Luongo for the remainder of the season as well as this coming. Ellis struggled in six games with the Panthers last season, posting a .835 SP and a 4.81 GAA.
Montoya had a breakthrough season last season, and thought was he would explore options that would allow him to get an increased work load, but his .920 SP and 2.30 GAA from a year ago will be a welcome addition behind Luongo.
It will be interesting how the battle in camp in preseason will play out, but the thought is that Montoya will be the backup behind Luongo and Ellis will be on his way out.
Likely to be waived, Ellis could find himself the starting goaltender with Florida’s AHL affiliate – the San Antonio Rampage.
With only $6-million in cap space remaining and a full roster, don’t expect anything more than depth signings from this point and while these three things are obvious – that is where we are at in the offseason.