Lord Stanley’s old silver mug has been handed out and we are now just a week away from the opening of the NHL’s annual free agent frenzy, although it’s happening in October this year instead of the usual July.
Taking a look at the Florida Panthers current financial situation, the Cats are projected to have $21,738,712 of cap space (thanks CapFriendly) to work with this offseason, the seventh-most in the league.
That’s the good news. The not so good news is that the Panthers only have 12 players signed to the NHL roster, so new general manager Bill Zito is going to need spend wisely, especially if the plan is to craft a lineup capable of contending for a playoff spot.
Let’s take a look at where the Cats are on defense. As of this morning, they have four players under contract at the NHL level. Those four defensemen account of $20,123,333 million against the cap.
Signed: Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Anton Stralman, Riley Stillman
RFA: MacKenzie Weegar
UFA: Mark Pysyk
Signed: Brady Keeper, Chase Priskie, Max Gildon, John Ludvig, Vladislav Kolyachonok, Alec Rauhauser, Jake Massie, Ethan Prow, Tommy Cross
RFA: Thomas Schemitsch, Emil Djuse
What’s the plan?
Like with his forward group, Zito can quickly (and cheaply) round out his defense by signing RFA Weegar to a new deal, and promote AHL prospects Keeper and Priskie to fill the final two spots now that Josh Brown has been traded to the Ottawa Senators. That, however, doesn’t at all seem to be the plan as the Cats have already been linked to pending UFAs Alex Pietangelo and Torey Krug. I’m not sure that the Panthers will be able to reel in one (or who knows, maybe both if they can find a way to jettison Keith Yandle) of those big fish, but that indicates that adding a top-four defenseman, one of Florida’s two-most glaring areas of need, is Zito’s first priority this offseason. In addition to that, moving on from Brown and signing a more experienced and accomplished third pairing defender could also be in the cards.