Florida Panthers Team Report
by Neil Becker
The Florida Panthers fanbase has reason to be excited about the upcoming season.
Coming off a season that saw them finish fourth overall with 79 points, the Panthers made a statement by making some key off-season moves to put them on the fringe of being Stanley Cup contenders.
The biggest move came on July 24th when the Panthers acquired 25-year-old forward Sam Reinhart from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for goaltender Devon Levi and Florida’s 2022 first-round draft pick.
Reinhart, who was drafted by Buffalo second overall in the 2014 draft, is coming off a solid season that saw him score 25 goals and 40 points in 54 games. A change of scenery to South Florida should really jump-start Reinhart’s career. Reinhart has played 454 career games and has scored 134 goals along with 295 points. In early August, this restricted free agent agreed to a three-year contract.
Looking to add some veteran leadership Florida signed future hall of fame forward Joe Thornton to a one-year $750,000 million dollar contract. This 42- year-old veteran, and former 1997 first overall pick of the Boston Bruins played last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his one and only season with Toronto, he scored five goals and 20 points in 44 games. In his illustrious career, Thornton has played with the Bruins, San Jose Sharks, and Leafs before becoming a Panther.
Meanwhile, it looks like veteran left-winger Anthony Duclair has found a home with the Panthers.
Drafted 80th overall in the 2013 draft by the New York Rangers, Duclair has bounced around in playing for the Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators, and the Panthers. On December 17, 2020, Duclair, who was a free agent, signed a one-year $1.7 million dollar contract with the Panthers. He played 43 games last year and scored 10 goals and 32 points. In mid-July, he agreed to a three-year contract extension for $9 million.
Another forward who has excelled with a change of scenery is rugged centerman Sam Bennett who on July 26th, agreed to a four-year $17.6 million dollar contract extension. This 25- year-old, who was drafted 4th overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2014 draft, played six full seasons in Alberta before getting traded on April 12, 2021, to the Panthers. After the trade Bennett played in 10 games where he scored 6 goals along with 15 points while racking up 33 penalty minutes.
Forward Zac Dalpe who is 31 years old, and spent the past five seasons in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization signed a two-year two-way contract with the Panthers. Last year, he played only 12 games with the Blue Jackets where he scored 2 goals and 3 points.
The club didn’t extend qualifying offers to unrestricted free agent forwards Lucas Wallmark, Patrick Bajkov, or Brad Morrison.
Florida still must make a decision on pending unrestricted free agent left winger Scott Wilson. This 29-year-old, who has played with the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Pittsburgh Penguins agreed back on October 21, 2020, to a one-year, two-way contract with the Panthers. He played last season with AHL’s Syracuse Crunch where he scored a goal and three points in eight games.
The Panthers also offered centreman Carter Verhaeghe, who scored 18 goals and 36 points a three-year contract extension.
Forward Maxim Mamin who was drafted 175th overall in the 2016 draft by Florida is coming back after spending the last couple of seasons with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow. Following his second season which saw him score 15 goals and 35 points, Mamin agreed on July 28th to a one-year contract with Florida worth $975,000.
Another off-season move saw unrestricted centerman Alexander Wennberg sign a three-year deal worth $13.5 million with the Seattle Kraken.
Also re-signing was right-winger Juho Lammikko for one season. Lammikko is coming off a campaign that saw him score 4 goals and 5 points in 44 games.
A decision still has to be made about left winger Nikita Gusev who is an unrestricted free agent.
The Panthers suffered a big loss when on July 21st, they lost goalie Chris Driedger to the expansion Seattle Kraken. Upon being selected, he agreed to a three-year deal with Seattle for $10.5 million. Last year he posted a 14-6-3 record with a 2.07 G.A.A.
Goalie Evan Fitzpatrick, who was drafted second round by the St. Louis Blues in the 2016 draft, got an invitation on a PTO to the Panthers training camp.
Meanwhile, Panther’s goalie Philippe Desrosiers, who refined his skills last year on the Panthers extended taxi squad, signed as an unrestricted free agent, a one-year contract with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
Agreeing to a one-year two-way contract were goalies Christopher Gibson and Sam Montembeault.
On defense, Florida re-signed defenceman Chase Priskie to a one-year two-way contract. Becoming unrestricted free agents are defenceman Ethan Prow, Alec Rauhauser, Emil Djuse, Tommy Cross, Jake Massie, and Brady Keeper. Meanwhile veteran blueliner Keith Yandle got his contract bought out and Gustav Forsling got a three- year extension. Defenceman Lucas Carlsson and Noah Juulsen both received one-year two-way contracts and Brandon Montour who is known for his offensive skills signed a three-year extension worth $10.5 million.
Once again it will be an exciting season in South Florida as they are one of a handful of teams who can seriously compete for the Stanley Cup.