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Florida Panthers and free agency: Forwards

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Cats have some key RFAs to re-sign at this position

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers - Game Five Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Florida Panthers enter the offseason with over $13 million (according to CapFriendly’s current lineup) in cap space, but before they dip into the murky pond that is unrestricted free agency on July 28, they are going to have to make decisions on some key contributors from last year’s squad who need new deals. Let’s take a look at where the Cats stand in the forward department as we approach the NHL’s annual free agent frenzy.

NHL Roster Forwards

Restricted Free Agents

  • Sam Bennett (2020-21 Cap Hit: $2.55 million)
  • Anthony Duclair (2020-21 Cap Hit: $1.7 million)
  • Juho Lammikko (2020-21 Cap Hit: $725K)
  • Lucas Wallmark (2020-21 Cap Hit: $950K)

Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Alex Wennberg (2020-21 Cap Hit: $2.25 million)
  • Nikita Gusev (2020-21 Cap Hit: $1 million)

The key player in this bunch is center Sam Bennett, who fit in quite nicely after being acquired from the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. The former fourth overall pick quickly found chemistry with Jonathan Huberdeau on the second line and produced six goals and 15 points in 10 regular season games with the Cats. Bennett added a goal and four assists in 5 playoffs games against the Lightning. He was suspended for Game 2 of the series. The versatile forward, who like the three other RFA forwards on this has arbitration rights, is expected to be re-signed at some point this summer and will need to be protected in the expansion draft no matter what scheme general manager Bill Zito plans to employ.

Signed to a one-year, $1.7 million deal in December, the Panthers got a productive season from speedster Anthony Duclair, who put up ten goals and 32 points in 43 games. One would think that both player and club would like to extend this relationship, but how much is that going to cost? If the Cats can get Duclair to return at the right number, then they should do so. Duclair is a player that could be at risk in the expansion draft, especially if the Panthers go with the 8-1 scheme to protect defenseman Gustav Forsling.

In his first season running the Cats, Zito brought over a known commodity in Alex Wennberg and the Swedish center rewarded him with one of his best regular season performances after being bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Wennberg suited up in all 56 games and set a new career-high with 17 goals. Like Duclair, Wennberg is another skater the Panthers would likely want to bring back, but his strong showing might’ve priced him out of Florida, as I’m sure they are going to be other interested suitors who might come in with a stronger offer.

After appearing in 40 games with the Panthers in 2018-19, Juho Lammikko spent the next season and a half in Europe before returning to the fold. Lammikko scored his first four NHL goals and added an assist in 44 regular season games. A nice depth piece who will be available to Seattle, look for the Cats to try to re-sign Lammikko to a league minimum, two-way deal with a high AHL salary to keep him in North America.

The Panthers have acquired Lucas Wallmark twice now, but It doesn’t look like he is in their future plans. After returning to Sunrise via a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on April 8, Wallmark played four scoreless games with the Cats and spent the rest of his time on the Taxi Squad. On June, 15, Wallmark signed a one-year contract with KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow. The Panthers will need to qualify Wallmark to retain his NHL rights. Might be best to simply cut bait here.

After coming down with COVID-19 early in the season, Nikita Gusev couldn’t duplicate the success of his first North American campaign, putting up just two goals and five points in 20 games with the New Jersey Devils, leading to the termination of the remainder of his contract. The Panthers added Gusev to its roster on April 11, and he put rebounded somewhat to produce two goals and five points in 11 games played. If the Cats can get the 29-year-old to sign another deal around the $1 million mark, he’d be worth taking a flier on.

Minor League Forwards

  • Scott Wilson (UFA), Patrick Bajkov (RFA), Brad Morrison (RFA with arbitration rights)

Not sure any of these three players are worth bringing back. Wilson, who put up 3 points in 8 games with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, is now 29-years-old.

Patrick Bajkov seems stuck at the ECHL level, where is a pretty effective scorer, and only appeared in 2 of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits 8 playoff games.

Brad Morrison, acquired from the Blackhawks in the Vinnie Hinostroza trade, is a former fourth round pick of the New York Rangers who has struggled to establish him as an AHLer yet.