This offseason could possibly be the most important one in the history of the Florida Panthers. They have a wealth of developing talent that looks to finally be ready to push the team to make the jump from underachieving to legitimate playoff contender. One key development this summer will be signing free agents, both unrestricted free agents that can fill holes in the depth chart, and restricted free agents, the Panthers' very own drafted talent that will hopefully make up the core of the lineup as they push for playoff contention. With that in mind, we'll take a look at all of the restricted free agents the Panthers have this year, and whether or not their play has earned a contract renewal, and if so, how lucrative of a contract they should receive. (For the first two RFAs in the series, check our looks into Erik Gudbranson and how he should be signed and what the Cats should do with the offensively-gifted Dmitry Kulikov.)
The third RFA we look at is a player Dale Tallon added recently when he shed the underachieving Kris Versteeg, Dylan Olsen. Olsen was initially drafted into the Blackhawks organization by Tallon back in 2009, and had been languishing in Chicago's farm system until Tallon traded to acquire the defensive prospect. While playing for the Panthers, Olsen has shown some of the promise and skill that would be expected from a former first round pick, though there were also still flashes of inconsistency in his game. Olsen and Kulikov are very similar, in that they are both 23-years-old and creeping closer to the point in their careers where they may make or break their staying power and efficiency at the NHL level. An added wrinkle that signing Olsen brings, is whether or not he will be signed to a two-way contract. This would mean he could be sent down to the minor leagues at a reduced salary that doesn't count against the team's cap hit. Olsen most likely would prefer to sign a one-way deal, and solidify his position on Florida's NHL roster without fear of being sent down to San Antonio.
There are multiple questions to signing Olsen; does he deserve a one-way contract? Or is better to try and sign him to a two-way? If he does sign the one-way contract, what's his value at this point? How much should his contract be worth? To answer these questions, we look to both the scouting report and the advanced statistics.
Olsen is considered more of a defensive-minded defenseman, who uses his speed to stay in position and his size and strength to ride opponents off the puck. Generally, he is solid at doing this, though, in order to more fully reach the level of play needed to be effective at the NHL, he's had to do work to improve his foot work, coordination, and mental game. This season with the Cats, Olsen showed that he definitely has the tools to play at the NHL level when he burst on the scene in the month of December, playing in 14 games, and posting 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points, with a plus/minus of 4, while averaging 16:41 TOI per game. The Panthers went 8-3-3 during that stretch, as the surprise offensive punch that Olsen packed carried the team to several key victories. Unfortunately, Olsen went down for the majority of the month of January with the dreaded lower-body injury, and returned for four games before he was sent down to San Antonio during the Olympic break to keep gaining experience by playing and to further return from the injury. After returning from the Rampage, Olsen fit more into the defensive role expected of him, and was less offensively explosive as before. He still provided a consistent presence on the back end, and was capable of shutting down forwards when needed. Thee defender finished the year with 44 NHL games played, 3 goals, 9 assists, 12 points, 8 PIM, 55 shot blocks, 116 hits, and a plus/minus of -3 while averaging 15:26 TOI a game. Going off of the scouting report, Olsen was a very solid top-six defenseman for the Panthers, and showed the offensive upside earlier in his season that could make him an effective top-four type defenseman for the Panthers in the future.
Analysis - Olsen seems to have warranted a one-way contract with his play. As for the value of the contract, it should be for a short length (no more than three years) and worth as much as a top-six defenseman would fetch on the open market, maybe a little more, as he has shown flashes of the ability needed to play as an effective top-four defenseman.
The reason we look at the statistics is to determine whether or not there are major discrepancies between what the scouting report and what the numbers say. Number never lie, and our eyes do deceive us on occasion. The stats aren't meant to replace the scouting report, though it's possible, if the two don't match up, that we have to make a decision as to which we value more. The numbers aren't perfect, and they don't tell the entire story behind how an NHL player performed during the season, though they do tell us enough to allow us to see how effective a player truly was, without most of the observer bias we see present in scouting reports. That, is what makes the analysis of stats so effective. (All stats taken from extraskater.com; rates and ratios are taken from 5 on 5 close unless specified)
Offensively, the youngster showed ability to contribute that wasn't expected of him, though the surprise was most certainly a pleasant one. Recalling that secondary assists are gathered more because of luck and have little correlation to player skill, we look at Olsen's P1 (goals + primary assists) when measuring his offensive skill instead of his overall point total. He amassed 5 secondary assists during the season; his P1 total is only 7, while his overall total is 12. We can expect Olsen's totals to decline slightly, though, in an 82-game season, he would have had a P1 of 13, which is the same amount Dmitry Kulikov had on the season, which is impressive considering Olsen played in a top-six role while Kulikov played a top-four/top-two role. Remembering Kulikov's report, however, he suffered from poor teammates and bad puck luck. Olsen is considered to be much less offensively-gifted than Kulikov, and in terms of Quality of Teammates, he played with Nick Bjugstad, Jimmy Hayes, and Scottie Upshall (26.6%, 24.7%, and 23.4% shared TOI respectively) the most. Kulikov's "most played with trio" of Brad Boyes, Bjugstad, and Tomas Fleischmann, we recall, combined for 102 points on the year, while Olsen's trio only combined for 93. So, Olsen, a less talented player, played less time, and with worse teammates than Kulikov, but was on pace to have the same season statistically as him.
That doesn't sound right; so next we check the "puck luck" stats. At even-strength, Olsen had a PDO of 97.8; on par with the team average. His on ice shooting percentage, however, was 8.2%, which, relative to the team without him, was +1.5%. He only shot 5.0% this season, his teammates, however, shot at 8.8%, much higher than Kulikov's 4.2% teammate shooting percentage. So, Olsen most likely was slightly lucky during the season, at least compared to the rest of the roster. Compared to the rest of the NHL, however, he still suffered from the problem that the rest of the Panthers' defensemen suffered from, a lack of forwards who could score. The league average shooting percentage is around 9%; Olsen's on ice shooting percentage is below that. Hopefully, then, as the forwards mature and Tallon adds to the roster, his total won't see too much change, and may get better before it gets worse (assuming he doesn't have an unlucky year, of course.). To get 15 P1 out of Olsen next season would be spectacular, seeing as the stats indicate he may be exceeding expectations in that regard. Just as a basic guess, his point totals for next season will most likely range from 15-25, if he plays the entire season. Solid numbers for a defensive defenseman.
As for power play usage, there isn't much of a red flag, though his usage was strongly skewed towards the penalty kill (27.9% EV, 3.3% PP, 25.8% SH of the team's total time). This is what was expected of him and it shouldn't change come next season. The same also stands for his zone starts, as those were defensively oriented as well (29.6% OZ, 38.1% NZ, 32.3% DZ). This is how he should be used and it won't change much come next season either.
Analysis - If anything, Olsen's offensive production will be a pleasant surprise (again) for the Panthers. Though he may not reach this year's totals, it's also possible that he finds a way to surpass them. Regardless, his production in his role as a shutdown defenseman most likely won't be a concern next year.
Defense in the NHL is best measured through possession stats, the more effective a player is at taking the puck from the opponent and getting it to his forwards, the better of a defenseman he is. Shot blocking totals can be deceptive, the more shot blocks a player has, the more they are in their own zone, and the less effective they are defensively. Shot blocking, for the most part, is an over-rated skill, but can still add value to a player when it isn't truly there. This isn't the case with Olsen. Recalling that he plays much more shorthanded than he does on the power play, and his possession stats in all situations would be strongly skewed negatively, we look at his 5 on 5 close stats (close meaning when the score is within one, to remove bias from teams padding stats or sitting back and trapping) to get an accurate representation of how Olsen is in terms of possessing the puck). His Corsi For % at 5 on 5 close is 50.3% with a Relative Corsi For % of +0.8%. His Fenwick numbers tell a similar story, with his FF% being 50.6% with a RFF% of +0.9%. The Panthers are very minutely better at possessing the puck when he is on the ice, and they are at least over the 50% mark. For a top-six pairing, these numbers are very solid. Olsen has better possession numbers than many players that would be considered top-four (or better) defenseman, including Hampus Lindholm, Tobias Enstrom, and Jack Johnson. It's understood that he plays less time, and thus his sample size is much less, and thus more prone to bias, so it's likely that we'll see fluctuation in Olsen's Fenwick and Corsi numbers next year. It's also possible that his teammates contributed more to his positive possession numbers than he did, though not very likely.
His plus/minus stats, however, are slightly inflated. At 5 on 5 close, Olsen had a PDO of 99.3, which is +3.7 when compared relative to the team with out him. He not only experienced some puck luck on offense, he also got it on defense, at least in close situations. His on ice save percentage was .916%, and his ROISV% was +1.6%. This led to him having a Goals For % of 48.1% with an RGF% of +11.8%. Though his plus/minus totals may be slightly inflated, there shouldn't be much of a decline, due to the fact that in all even strength situations Olsen's OISV% was much lower (.897%, -1.5%) and caused his totals to balance out, though only to a certain degree. They still were slightly more positive than they should have been, at least based off of his possession numbers.
Analysis - Though the chance at error with the analysis of Olsen is greater than with a defenseman who logged many more minutes this season, the conclusion we draw about his possession stats is that there is reason to be excited. Olsenseems to be a very solid possession player who can make his team better when he gets the chance to be an effective force from the back end. Unless we see a significant amount of variance next year, he will most likely prove to be an asset for the Cats, and do much more good than harm as a top-six defenseman. As for plus/minus, it's mostly a matter of luck. If Olsen has a good year, his plus/minus will improve, and if he has a bad year, it will decline. It's more likely it declines, however, even though the decline will be very slight, as he was more lucky than unlucky this season in terms of PDO.
Shorthanded, Olsen had good possession numbers (+3.9% RFF), but had an atrocious on ice save percentage (.738%), highlighting the fact that the penalty kill will perform better next year with the addition of Roberto Luongo, which fixes the club's goaltending issue.
Though the scouting report differs ever so slightly from what we see in the advanced statistics, there isn't enough discrepancy to raise a red flag. Unless he has an unlucky season, Olsen should see only minimal decline in his offensive production and plus/minus rating, and even then it's also possible that we see improvement from him in those areas. Regardless, as a defensive defenseman, his best contribution to the team is to help them control the puck, and he does just that for the Panthers. Olsen deserves a one-way contract, and money somewhere in between that of a top-six and top-four defenseman, as he is a very solid player to have among the top-six and it's likely he will jump into a top-four role in case of an injury.