Two seasons ago, Florida GM Dale Tallon brought in nine new players to get to the NHL's salary cap floor. While the first season ended in a playoff spot, the following campaign ended with the worst record in the league. Going into this off-season, the Panthers' payroll will be at $51,722,875, with only nine players on the NHL roster coming off the books. Beside pending UFA Stephen Weiss, no expiring contract is higher than $2 million.
With the cap ceiling set at $64.3 million next year, the Panthers have only $17,399,625 to spend in free agency. While Weiss, Tyson Strachan, and Jose Theodore are the only UFAs coming off the books, RFAs TJ Brennan, Jacob Markstrom, Shawn Matthias, Peter Mueller, Colby Robak, and Jack Skille will all be looking for their pound of flesh. And let's not forget whomever the Panthers select at second overall, much buzz surrounds the pro debut of Hobey Baker Finalist Corban Knight.
Assuming Knight signs the same deal Nick Bjugstad and Drew Shore did (around $1,100,000) and the second overall pick signs at $3,539,722 (the mean of the last three second overall picks cap hits), that leaves $12,759,903 for the remaining six RFAs, not including Rampage forwards Zach Hamill, Jon Rheault, and Scott Timmins (the "Wade Redden rule" makes their salaries count against the cap).
So why not just amnesty-buyout defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Filip Kuba, freeing up $8,125,000? Well the new CBA says players on Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) cannot be amnestied, and while Kuba's cap hit is higher than his talent level, the same can be said of Brian Campbell, and at least Kuba's contract ends the following the season (Campbell's deal ends in 2015-16). Even if Ed Jovanovski is healthy and amnestied, his cap hit may be removed from the roster, but the organization will still have to pay two-thirds of his remaining salary in a lump sum ($2,750,000 for the next two seasons).
The Panthers have 29 players signed for next season (2 goaltenders, 18 forwards, and nine defensemen) as they move into a new division where they will be joined by five playoff teams from this year. The Cats and their seven division rivals will fight for three guaranteed playoff spots and a possible wildcard.