Florida Panthers Unrestricted Free Agents: Decisions, Decisions


The Florida Panthers have four veteran forwards with expiring contracts after this season. Should they stay or should they go?

It’s no mystery around the NHL that the Florida Panthers are a team on the rise thanks to the development of their young players. After a 15th place finish in the Eastern Conference last season and 29th overall in the NHL, they are currently 9th in the East. With a great rest of the season, they still have a slim chance at a playoff spot. Many of their veterans over the last two seasons have not been playing up to their contracts and that has been a large element of why the team is not in a playoff spot currently. All four players have been involved within a revolving door of healthy scratches this season decided by head coach Gerard Gallant.

"Four veteran forwards are unrestricted free agents after this season and general manager might have some tough decisions to make on who to keep or toss for the future."

Young players that are currently with the American Hockey League San Antonio Rampage such as forwards

Rocco Grimaldi


Vincent Trocheck

, and

Quinton Howden

are all candidates to make the big club permanently in the next couple of seasons. There are also the possibilities of forwards that Tallon will want to acquire to the team by free agency or through a trade.

Let’s start with the first of the four unrestricted free agents forwards: Tomas Fleischmann. He is in his fourth season in Florida and in his first season of 2011-2012, he looked to be a terrific signing playing on a top line with former Panthers forwards Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg. They were a key reason of why the team made the playoffs that season. He finished the season with 61 points and had 35 points in the following shortened 48-game season of 2012-2013. However, over the last two seasons, he has been a huge disappointment. He only scored 28 points in 80 games last season and is playing similarly this season with 15 points in 41 games.

It is almost certain that Tallon will attempt to trade him by the trade deadline on March 2nd, but not many playoff teams might want to add a 30-year old forward on pace for only 30 points. He has been earning $4.5 million per season in this current contract. Unless he will accept a significant drop in salary, it is doubtful that the Panthers will want to keep him on the roster in the future if they want to make room for other players in the lineup.

Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers /

Florida Panthers

Next up is forward Tomas Kopecky. He is also in his fourth year in Florida and has taken a similar path to Tomas Fleischmann. For his average of $2.85 million per season, he played relatively well with 32 points in 80 games in 2011-2012 and had an even better season in 2012-2013 with 27 points in 47 games. After suffering in injury problems in 2013-2014, he played in 49 games and only scored 12 points. This season has been unfortunately worse with only 7 points in 45 games.

Although his point total hasn’t been exponential, his play on the penalty kill has been very useful. That may be the one element that Tallon may be thinking of when deciding to re-sign him or not for a short-term contract at 33 years-old. He is likely a candidate also being used to trade by the deadline.

Forward Scottie Upshall is another player that will be a very tough decision on whether to bring back or not. He has always had unfortunate injury problems on and off throughout his career and now at age 31, Tallon has to consider that. Upshall hasn’t been on the scoresheet much in his four years as a Panther with only 10 points in 53 games during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons. He had a much better season in 2013-2014 while staying healthy with 37 points in 76 games and has digressed this season with 11 points in 36 games.

Overall, many fans do not think Upshall is worth the $3.5 million per season that his contract includes. His injuries in the past and often unnecessary penalties due to his over-energetic play have hurt the team. He is a vocal leader in the locker room and to the media and seems to want to stay in Florida long-term. Tallon will have to make that decision on if he would offer the 31 year-old a short-term contract with not as much salary per season. He would also be difficult to trade with all of that being said.

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Last, but not least is forward Sean Bergenheim. He signed with the Panthers in 2011-2012 with the rest of the crop, but played the shortened 2012-2013 season in the Finnish Hockey League. The 31 year-old signed for $2.75 million per season and has mostly lived up to expectations as one of the hardest working players on the team. While he has never been one of the team’s top scorers, he is a very respectable 3rd line winger with 23 points in 62 games in 2011-2012, 29 points in 62 games in 2013-2014, and currently has 18 points in 37 games this season.

I personally am a big Sean Bergenheim fan and would like him to get re-signed for what I see game in and game out on what he brings to the team. However, if it comes down making room for the young upcoming players coming up, that would be the necessity for Tallon to look into. Out of the four players that are unrestricted free agents mentioned, Bergenheim is likely the easiest one to trade. Some teams looking to make the playoffs could use a guy like him that digs deep in the corners and can score a goal here and there.

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