Florida Panthers: Recapping the First Day of Free Agency for the Cats

July 1st is a day that all fans wait for anxiously, hoping their teams sign the biggest whale. For Florida Panthers fans, the same obviously applies.

For the Cats, July 1st was a quiet day, which didn’t offer much action from the Panthers’ end. The day kicked off with a contract extension for centerman Jared McCann (two years), followed by the addition of netminder Michael Hutchinson.

Dale Tallon wasn’t going to let McCann go without a contract offer of some sorts, and recognized his importance towards the Panthers’ center depth:

“Jared is a versatile two-way centerman who possesses excellent speed and suits our team well. He has improved his game during his time with our organization and we look forward to him taking the next step in his development with the Panthers.”

With Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck both penciled in as the #1 and 2 centers, McCann will likely fill in as the team’s third or fourth centerman. With Jared now locked up for another two seasons, the Panthers are looking strong down the middle of the ice and possess a center matchup that’ll continue to haunt teams for the foreseeable future.

Next on the list is goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who previously played for the Winnipeg Jets. After Sateri walked and joined the Red Wings in Detroit, the Panthers desperately needed to fill that hole. Why not do it with an experienced yet not too old netminder like Michael Hutchinson, who holds an ample amount of experience playing in both the NHL and AHL.

Hutchinson has featured in a grand total of 102 games with the Jets, while participating in 137 AHL contests with the Manitoba Moose, St. John’s IceCaps, and the Providence Bruins. We mustn’t forget that Hutchinson played a big role in St. John’s run to the Calder Cup Finals back in 2014, recording a .938 SV% that landed him the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy, given to the most valuable player in the AHL playoffs.

At age 28, Hutchinson is neither old nor young, but won’t be the answer to the Panthers’ future in goal. At this point, he’s a band-aid that’ll patch up the third goaltender spot for another season or two, but won’t carry the torch after Luongo’s retirement.

Dale did what he had to do to replace Harri Sateri, finding himself a competent replacement in Michael Hutchinson. But moving forward, the answer to the future in goal will have to be revealed soon, as Luongo’s expiry date is approaching ever so quickly.

So, in terms of July 1st, the Cats remained quiet yet busy on their own targets. Florida didn’t go out and sign a whale like Toronto did with John Tavares, but they addressed their areas of concern, re-signing and signing players that would fit their system for both the present and the future.

Before July 1st kicked off, the Panthers acquired forward Mike Hoffman, checking off the need for another top-six winger. Additionally, before the Hoffman acquisition, the Cats went out and signed defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich from the KHL, bringing in a defensive-minded player who prides himself on playing D, which is something the Cats were looking for.

Furthermore, the Panthers also worked on contracts of their own, re-signing Frank Vatrano to a one-year deal on June 29th and re-upping defenseman Alexander Petrovic to a one-year contract. Petrovic’s contract renewal may come as a surprise to many (which includes me), but it seems that Dale isn’t giving up on the right-handed defenseman, keeping the 26-year-old in South Florida for another season.

The day wasn’t a home run like what you saw with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it certainly wasn’t a total failure either. For what it’s worth, the Cats did just fine on Free Agent Frenzy, playing it safe and walking out the door with their need (a third goaltender).

Overall, the Panthers were quiet as usual on the first day of free agency, but addressed their areas of concern. The important thing is that they didn’t get stuck with any long-term contracts that they’d regret down the road from now, which is problematic in this salary cap era.