Florida Panthers RFAs - Part 1 of 2: Who will stay and who will go?

Dale Tallon and Mike Santos have quite a busy summer ahead of them. Let's break it down a little:

  • Have a successful 2011 NHL Draft
  • Find a new head coach and assistants to fill the void of the recently-fired Peter DeBoer
  • Find a new minor league affiliate now that ties with the Rochester Americans are being severed
  • Make a splash during the free agency period this summer
  • Convince Tomas Vokoun to return, or finding another starter to man the pipes next season

Pretty big list, huh? One topic that isn't quite covered too thoroughly is the massive list of restricted free agents the Panthers currently have on the roster. With twenty players currently at RFA status come July, Tallon and Santos will have to look within the organization and decide which players are really worth resigning for next season, and which ones are going to be let go. With nearly $30 million in cap space to play with, there will be plenty of money floating around to resign any players they feel will help the team next season. Let's take a look at a list of the players and delve into their potential value to the team. This feature has been split up into two sections due to the size, so watch for part two soon.

Shawn Matthias Position: Center 2010 Cap Hit: $821,667

When healthy and motivated, Matty has proven to be a pretty solid centerman and filled in for DeBoer on several different line combinations. He's still pretty young and has more refinement to come with his offensive and defensive play, but with the right coach he could be a solid third-line center for the Panthers. If he is able to recover fully from his ankle injury, there's a good chance he will be re-signed at a decent cap hit, and given another couple years to grow his game as a Panther. However, there are questions regarding the coaching and play style Tallon would like to implement, and how well Matty will fit in.

Likelihood to be re-signed: Medium

Steve Bernier Position: Right Wing 2010 Cap Hit: $2,000,000

Often invisible during the 2010 season, except for some small stretches, Bernier was not much of a factor for the Panthers, with only five goals and ten assists in 68 games. Bernier regularly received third and fourth line minutes and other than the occasional physical effort, he didn't really contribute much offensively. Don't expect to see Bernier back next season.

Likelihood to be re-signed: Low

Niclas Bergfors Position: Right Wing 2010 Cap Hit: $900,000

Bergfors is undeniably a talented player, but amongst his stops in New Jersey, Atlanta and Florida, he has yet to put together a really solid offensive season. Bergfors was acquired from the Thrashers along with Patrick Rissmiller in exchange for Radek Dvorak and a 5th round pick. He has been knocked by coaches and fans throughout his career for his drive to play hard for a full 60 minutes every game, and a player like that will really get weeded out thanks to the new management philosophy in Florida. However, he had some minor success this season after being dealt and could factor into the plans if he is able to re-sign at a decent cap hit.

Likelihood to be re-signed: Medium

Michal Repik Position: Right Wing 2010 Cap Hit: $816,667

This past season was the most NHL action Repik has seen in his short professional career, thanks in part to the large number of injuries the Panthers suffered at the forward position. At only 22, Repik is still young and is still developing his game, and so if re-signed will likely spend maybe one more season in the minors. However, he is a very speedy and offensively creative player, something Florida indeed lacks up front. If he can shore up his defensive deficiencies, it's likely we'll see him back in the NHL again soon, possibly in a Panthers sweater.

Likelihood to be re-signed: Medium

Byron Bitz Position: Right Wing 2010 Cap Hit: $687,500

Bitz was a no-show this season while having difficulties recovering from a hernia surgery he suffered during training camp. With no chance to audition for Tallon and company, it's likely we won't see Byron back in action for the Panthers next year.

Likelihood to be re-signed: Low

Mike Santorelli Position: Center 2010 Cap Hit: $600,000

Santorelli had a breakout year, scoring 20 goals and making Mike Santos look like a thief by stealing Santorelli away from the Nashville organization. He was offered a two-year contract in March and will likely be back with the Panthers next season as a second or third line center. Expect to see big things from Santorelli next year.

Likelihood to be re-signed: Offered two-year contract

Jack Skille Position: Right Wing 2010 Cap Hit: $600,000

Acquired in the Michael Frolik trade, Skille didn't show up much on the scoreboard, but he made his presence felt with his tenacious physical play and his size around the net. Tallon is familiar with Skille as he drafted him during his tenure in Chicago, and some would say Tallon gave up a fair amount to acquire him, so many think we'll see Skille back in a Cats sweater next year.

Likelihood to be re-signed: High

Keaton Ellerby Position: Defense 2010 Cap Hit: $1,300,000

Ellerby finally cracked the defensive lineup for the Panthers this season in a big way, showing great strides in both his offensive and defensive skills, and was relied upon after the trade deadline. Paired up with Dmitry Kulikov, Ellerby showed he is nearly ready for a full-time starting role in the top six and is living up to his draft position. Expect to see Ellerby re-signed and starting every game next year, if he stays healthy and has a good offseason.

Likelihood to be re-signed: High