This offseason could possibly be the most important one in the history of the Florida Panthers. With 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 four RFAs in the series, check out our looks into Erik Gudbranson and how he should be signed (he was), what the Cats should do with the offensively-gifted Dmitry Kulikov, what to do with the first piece of the Kris Versteeg trade, Dylan Olsen, and the second piece of the trade, Jimmy Hayes.
The fifth restricted free agent we look at in this series is Brandon Pirri, who has been qualified, a player who was the recipient of much attention earlier in the season, as he had been labeled as Chicago's potential second line center. Pirri never panned out and fulfilled that role on the Blackhawk roster, leaving them with a gap on their team and leaving the young forward who led the AHL in scoring in 2012-2013, back in the minors yet again. That's when Dale Tallon stepped in, trading away the Panthers 2014 third round pick and their 2016 fifth round selection in order to acquire him. Pirri is 23-years-old, and was taken in the same draft as both Dmitry Kulikov and Dylan Olsen, so, just as they must prove themselves as NHL caliber players, so must the Toronto native prove himself as capable of producing at the top level if he wishes to stick on a pro roster. In terms of contract, Tallon would most likely want to sign Pirri to a deal that locks him up through the rest of his RFA years, without over-paying him for his services to the team.
What then, is Pirri worth to the squad? Obviously, the pay difference between a top six forward role and a top nine forward role is something to look at, as it makes no sense to pay a player to put up top six points and minutes, only to have him sit on the bench most games and under-perform. Also, its worth considering how much Pirri is factored into the future of the Panthers, as slightly overpaying him now in order to ensure his services in the future may be beneficial for the club.
Pirri started the season in the Blackhawks training camp, where he was initially slotted to be the team's number two center, until he suffered an undisclosed injury and missed out on several preseason games. He was sent back down to Rockford with the designation of "player to watch", as he was expected to return from the minors when needed throughout the season. He was called up to Chicago early in October, and had 3 points in three games skating on the fourth line, before being promoted to the second line by the end of the month. Eventually, Pirri's production tapered off and he was sent back down to Rockford in early December. He was recalled in January, but went pointless in four games before being sent back to the AHL again. He would stay in Rockford until early March, when the Panthers traded for him and inserted him onto the pro roster. Pirri did seem to do a tad better with the Panthers, going from 11 points in 28 games with the Blackhawks to 14 points in 21 games with the Panthers. He even closed out the season with 7 points in seven games, impressively sparking the team's offense to victory on several occasions. Pirri looked to have the so-called "killer" instinct that led to him darting into open space, receiving a pass, and finishing a scoring chance, something that the Panthers severely lacked throughout most of season. If he can continue that into the next season, he should add an element to the team's offense that was severely lacking in 2013-2014.
Analysis - Pirri looks to be a top six type goal scoring player that the Panthers sorely need to have on the roster if they wish to compete in the Atlantic Division. He also looks to be the type of player who could shift over to the wing and still be productive, as his style of play is more dependent on other players getting him the puck than on him driving play himself. Quite frankly, when compared to Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, he doesn't have the size or strength to be an NHL center. Pirri also isn't the best at retrieving the puck, but when another player can get him the puck, he can be quick and effective with it. Given that, it looks like he should fit into a top six role with the Panthers, and will most likely continue to develop, meaning that he should be offered a contract that reflects this by club brass.
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. Numbers 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 all situations unless specified (If reading the numbers bores you, skip to the analysis portion of each section for the summary).
Pirri had a bit of an offensive explosion late in the season, totaling 14 points in 21 games. However, we recall (yet again) that secondary assists have little correlation to player skill, and we look at P1 (goals + primary assists). Over 21 games with the Cats, Pirri had 9 primary points. This is equal to 35 P1 over an 82 game season, which puts him in the same offensive tier as Mikkel Boedker, Mason Raymond, and Radim Vrbata. With that in mind, Pirri could be a decent second line winger for the Cats, and produce enough to help the team win games, though he won't wow anyone with his stats. Also, out of Pirri's 9 P1s, 7 of them were goals, which puts him on pace for a 27-goal season. I would take a 25-goal scorer on Bjugstad's wing, especially at this stage of the rebuild.
Before we jump to conclusions, however, we take a look at some of the other stats that could show us the story behind Pirri's success. The first is his shooting percentage, which was 15.2% with the Panthers. Seeing as he shot 10.7% in the AHL, we can expect his shooting percentage, and goal production to go down next season. His assist total, however, wasn't that high. His teammates on ice shooting percentage on the season was a below average 7.1%.
Conclusion - Pirri will most likely see decreased goal totals next season, as he shot well above his average rate last year. As he gets better teammates around him, however, he should see an increase in his assist totals, as his teammates were below average at scoring this year.
Pirri was used significantly on the power play last season, as he was on the ice for 27.1% of the team's PP time, as compared to only 22.9% of the even strength time and 0.3% of the team's shorthanded time. He also saw consistent zone starts, as he started 33.3% of his zone starts in the offensive zone, 36.4% of his starts in the neutral, and 30.3% in the defensive zone. This means that he wasn't necessarily sheltered from defensive responsibilities this season. As a bit of a digression, part of Pirri's success with the Cats may be attributed to confidence from the coaching staff. In Chicago, his zone starts were heavily offensive (72.5% ratio of offense to defense). What does it say about a player when you refuse to start him in the defensive zone? That you can't trust him to skate the puck out of the zone? Pirri saw relatively similar teammates and opponents (Quality of Competiton - 27.5%, Quality of Teammates - 27.2%), meaning that he wasn't racking up points against lower skilled opponents.
Conclusion - Pirri wasn't really sheltered from much. He wasn't counted on to play a defensive role, but, while in Florida, he was given his fair share of defensive responsibility. There aren't any red flags as we move onto his Corsi data.
Defense is best measured by possession; a good defenseman is able to get the puck off the stick of his opponents, and onto the stick of his teammates.
Looking at Pirri's possession stats, we see no red flags. In Chicago, (a very skilled possession team), Pirri didn't match up to the rest of his team. In Florida, however, at 5-on-5, Pirri had a Corsi of 49.9%, and a Fenwick of 50.4%. The team did better with Pirri on the ice, with his relative Corsi being +1.1%, and his RFF being +1.6%. As we recall from the usage data, he wasn't sheltered in his zone starts, and his 5-on-5 play matches up.
Conclusion - There really shouldn't be too much misgiving about re-signing Pirri. There aren't any red flags in his stats, and though he had a higher shooting percentage than normal, moving him to wing may help him maintain his current goal totals. At center, Pirri is a decent possession player, and someone who gets about the same amount of shots for the team with him on the ice than with him off it. With an above average player like Barkov or Bjugstad centering him, however, he wouldn't be as responsible at driving play up the ice, and he would be able to focus more on just producing offense (shots). The more shots Pirri gets, the more he's going to score, especially if the shots are taken in high scoring areas. Pirri may just end up being a crucial piece of the team's future.
There are no red flags to re-signing Pirri. He should be able to fill a role the organization needs at wing, and be able to work with Gallant and Huberdeau to fix the Panthers' painful power play. I look forward to having Pirri suit up in a Panthers jersey next season.