Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Florida Panthers free agent signing history.
Florida Panthers Free Agent Hits and Misses
Best Signing: Carter Verhaeghe
Carter Verhaeghe signs two year deal in Florida.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) October 9, 2020
The Panthers today sit in a much better position than they have for much of their franchise’s existence. Nearly three decades of failure finally ended with their first playoff series victory since 1996 this season. With that track record, it should come as no surprise that the team lacks a history of notable free agent signings. The Florida Panthers free agent signings ranking has a lot more candidates for “worst” than it does for “best”. Another unsurprising fact: the best signings all come from recent years. Who would’ve guessed that the best Panthers teams in franchise history boast some of the franchise’s best free agent pickups?
Sitting atop the list, the award goes to Carter Verhaeghe as the best of the Florida Panthers free agent signings. The forward only had 13 career points to his name when the Panthers inked him to a two-year deal back in October of 2020. Before signing with the Panthers, Verhaeghe had uneventful stops with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Florida grabbed him from there, and in 43 games through 2020-21 he piled up 36 points. Skating alongside Aleksander Barkov certainly helped, but Verhaeghe proved to be more than just a product of strong linemates. His advanced metrics stand out in a big way too.
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This past year, he blew past his career-highs yet again, with 24 goals and 55 points through 78 games. He was also the team’s best player in the postseason, collecting 12 points in 10 games. That included the overtime series-clinching goal against the Washington Capitals in game six of the first round. He received a well-deserved extension to boot and will earn $4.167 million per year for the next three seasons in South Florida.
Honourable Mentions: Anthony Duclair
As for other Florida Panthers free agent signings worth noting, look no further than Verhaeghe’s teammate Anthony Duclair. Duclair looked poised for a strong career after his first full NHL season, scoring 20 goals and finishing in the top-10 for Calder votes as a 20-year-old. Then, his production spiralled downwards, resulting in move after move for the young winger. In just his first six NHL seasons, Duclair suited up for five different NHL clubs. Then, he signed a one-year deal with the Panthers in December 2020.
Duclair arrived in Florida at the same time as Verhaeghe and slotted on the opposite wing on his line. That means, both guys skated with Barkov regularly. Unsurprisingly, Duclair found success here and netted 32 points in 43 games. That earned him a three-year extension at $3 million annually, settling him down for the first time in his career. That wasn’t the end of his growth, though. His big breakout came this past season when he broke the 30-goal plateau for the first time. In 74 games, Duclair amassed 31 goals and 27 assists for 58 points.
Between Verhaeghe and Duclair, Florida arguably found the best two value signings of the past couple of seasons. Now, they both represent fixtures on the team’s wings, important pieces of their core.
Worst Signing: Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky signs with the Panthers. pic.twitter.com/l53M8Qkz9d
— The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) July 1, 2019
Though he remains on the team today, he wasn’t signed by current General Manager Bill Zito. No, the hockey mind responsible for not only Bobrovsky but for all four honourable mentions on the list is Dale Tallon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because this Bobrovsky contract deserves plenty of attention first.
When Bob signed in Florida, he was playing consistently great hockey. He came off a 2018-19 campaign where he posted a .913 save percentage and 37-24-1 record for the Columbus Blue Jackets. In seven seasons with Columbus, he won two Vezina Trophies as the league’s top netminder. When he went to free agency, he was the highest profile goaltender available. And Florida knew it, especially as James Reimer hit free agency and Roberto Luongo retired. So, from that regard, it’s understandable why Florida wanted Bobrovsky. But on a seven-year, $70 million deal? That kind of contract is extremely rare for goaltenders, and hardly ever do they work out.
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The deal also included a no-trade clause (as if the cap hit and the term wasn’t enough to push other teams away). His subpar performance in each of the first three years of the deal to date has guaranteed that no other team wants to pay him $10 million a year. Today, Florida sits nearly $4 million over the cap, and just dealt Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in what was partially a cap-motivated move. Yes, they acquired Matthew Tkachuk in return and signed him to a big deal. But that’s a single large-dollar contract. They don’t have space to give two big contracts out, ones that Weegar and Huberdeau will rightfully earn this next summer. Zito is juggling through the mess Tallon left him with, but this Bobrovsky contract will plague their books for another four years. Bob’s bloated contract and inconsistent play are what make him the worst of the Florida Panthers free agent signings.
Honourable Mentions: Keith Yandle, Dave Bolland, Jason Demers, Anton Stralman
Speaking of deals plaguing the Florida Panthers books with free agent signings…let’s talk about Keith Yandle. The defenceman best-known for his offensive ability and Ironman Streak came to Florida in 2016. He just wrapped a 47-point campaign up with the New York Rangers the year before. Technically, Tom Rowe signed Yandle to this contract. However, Tallon had just received an internal promotion, so this one still happened under his watch and tenure. And Yandle performed fine for the first few years of the deal. But the problem with this signing was that Florida handed a 30-year-old defenceman a seven-year contract worth $6.35 million annually.
Again, Yandle performed for the first half of the contract. He actually put up great advanced stats for the full life of the contract, too. But those numbers don’t always tell the whole story. And despite producing high assist totals (between 36 and 53 assists from 2016-2020), he really struggled more than the numbers suggest. In his own end, Yandle represented a massive liability to the team. Despite all those points, he posted a -24. Part of the issue was Yandle, at that stage of his career was more of a specialist than a regular. 114 of his 231 points came on the powerplay. He quarterbacked a talented powerplay unit well but really wasn’t worth a dime outside of those minutes. His ice time plummeted through the last couple of years of the deal, ending with a buyout.
That buyout also contributes to Florida’s cap problems today, with a $5.4 million penalty from it this season alone. It’ll drop after this year to $1.24 million for the next two years before finally disappearing for good.
Bolland inked a five-year contract with Florida worth $5.5 million annually in the summer of 2014. That came after he won multiple Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks but a disappointing injury-riddled season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This was a massive cap hit for a player who never scored 20 in a season. Bolland played only 78 games across two years of the contract, then injury wrecked his career. To unload his contract, Florida had to part with their 2015 first-round selection (Lawson Crouse) to incentivize the Arizona Coyotes to make the trade. They did receive a couple of mid-round draft picks back but lost a sure-fire roster player. Those picks turned into players who still have yet to crack the NHL.
Another bad Panthers contract was Jason Demers. And yes, he was another Dale Tallon + Tom Rowe signing. Demers received a five-year contract worth $4.5 million per season, a bigger cap hit and a longer term than any other contract he had received in his career. He posted bad possession metrics and only got through one year with the Panthers before they found a way to dispose of his contract. Unfortunately, they had to retain 12.5% of his deal to do so, leaving dead money on their books for four times as many years as the player actually suited up for them. Yikes.
And lastly, Stralman penned a three-year deal with Florida at $5.5 million annually back in 2019. Tallon spent big in his time with Florida, but with nothing to show for it. Stralman also produced awful possession metrics and struggled at both ends of the ice. The defenceman was 33 when he signed the contract, which came in at the highest cap hit of his whole career. To think he could live up to it, especially at 33, then 34, and then 35 years of age, looks naive at best. And to get him off the books? Florida salary dumped him to another team, parting with a 2024 second-round pick to do so. These contracts left the team either with fewer picks, fewer prospects, or salary cap penalties for years to come. The repercussions have still yet to be felt in full.
— theScore NHL (@theScoreNHL) July 28, 2021