Call it a (CBA) Year: Kulikov to remain with Florida Panthers

2009 - Dmitry Kulikov 9 0 3 3 -7 8 0 0 0 0 3 0.0

The fourteenth-overall pick in '09, Cats defenseman Dmitry Kulikov - staring at a firm collective bargaining agreement rule regarding initial contracts with rookies - will be staying in Sunrise for the remainder of the 2009-10 season.

At least as far as his entry-level contract reads. Whether he rockets up the ranks in the NHL Calder race, or finds himself back with Drummondville of the QMJHL, he'll officially have "burned" the first year of his deal with the Cats when he steps on BAC ice tomorrow against the Senators.

For the player, it's a terrific arrangement: no matter what happens, he's that much closer to restricted free agency. The club? No loss if the guy ultimately busts within those three years of the initial league contract, but in the event he blossoms, he's that much closer to restricted free agency.

And I'm predicting RFA-raiding madness in the next couple of seasons.

Anyway, as a Florida fan how can I be anything but thrilled the almost-19 year-old (October 29th) will stay with the big boys? His numbers are not quite rookie-of-the-year caliber, but on a bad team he's been steady, mature, and a bright spot without equal yet found on the roster.

GM Randy Sexton really had this situation settled after the exhibition season, based upon Kulikov's play, but he won't completely admit to it:

"A lot of different things gave me some comfort that this wasn't a nine-game honeymoon, that he could actually do it."

Whatever the reasoning behind the decision, Panthers fans have something to cheer about.