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The Florida Panthers Got Weird This Offseason

The Panthers have been busy, with no shortage of (odd) moves following their best season in franchise history. We tried to make sense of it all.
Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

On May 17, 2010, Dale Tallon became general manager of the Florida Panthers, a team that had missed the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons. In 2015-16, Florida enjoyed its best regular season in franchise history and a disappointing first-round playoff loss that was offset by the idea that after years of struggling and slowly building, the Panthers were no longer a laughingstock—they were finally a team pointed in the right direction.


Five months after signing a three-year extension, Tallon was "promoted" in a front-office shakeup usually reserved for teams that haven't reached the playoffs in nine years. Tom Rowe went from assistant GM to the boss' chair; Eric Joyce went from AHL GM to NHL assistant GM and Steve Werier went from vice president of legal and business affairs to assistant GM.

There's not much in the way of management experience between Werier and Rowe as the team is reportedly making a push to be more analytical and mathematical. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but the Panthers' offseason has been head-scratchingly odd. They're remaking an organization that didn't seem to need to any changes.

READ MORE: The Montreal Canadiens Made an Awful Trade and It Doesn't Make Any Sense

It's one of the stranger cases of a team ignoring the "If it ain't broken, don't try to fix it" rule.

Here's one person's attempt at trying to understand the Panthers' offseason, because nothing says clicks like breaking down the offseason of the NHL's 29th-most popular team.

May 26

The move: Florida trades defenseman Erik Gudbranson and a 2016 fifth-round pick to Vancouver for forward Jared McCann and a 2016 second- and fourth-round pick.

The thinking behind it: Gudbranson is a top-four defenseman whose possession numbers say he's not very good in that role. While he is big and physical, he's not much of a puck mover. But there's always a market for a player like Gudbranson, so the new regime moved him less than two weeks after all the front-office moves. McCann is 19 years old and was a first-round pick by the Canucks in 2014. He played 69 games last season as a rookie and while that experience is nice, his nine goals and 18 points hardly make him a guaranteed top-six player in the coming years.


Does it make sense?: Yes! This move contains all the trappings of logic and an organizational change of attitude.

Will it work?: Who knows? McCann is just getting started in the NHL and Gudbranson could be a serviceable defenseman for years.

June 23

The move: Florida signs defenseman Keith Yandle to a seven-year, $44.5 million contract.

The thinking behind it: The Panthers are clearly all about defensemen that can move the puck, and with Brian Campbell about to leave as a free agent, they wanted an able replacement. Yandle can exit the zone on his own or make a good first pass to get that done. He's excellent on the power play. Yes, this is a massive overpayment but there are only so many defensemen available with his offensive skill set.

This deal might work out. And it might not. This is the common theme of the Panthers' offseason. Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Does it make sense?: Sorta? The problem with Yandle is he's a liability defensively and as his legs begin to go—he turns 30 next season—the contract is only going to get worse. You know all the things you hear about Erik Karlsson's defense that aren't true? They are true about Yandle, and if the Panthers want to get past the Lightning or Penguins, they won't be able to hide him from their top scoring lines.

Will it work?: Maybe? Yandle will put up his 50 points and be great on the power play; it's just a matter of whether the holes in his defensive game are masked by his teammates.

June 25

The move: Florida trades defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and a 2016 second-round pick to Buffalo for defenseman Mark Pysyk for a 2016 second- and third-round pick.

The thinking behind it: The Panthers made this move because Pysyk's underlying numbers are much better than that of Kulikov. Sure. Fine. Rowe said the Panthers needed a right-handed shot to replace Gudbranson, who they didn't really have to replace, but OK. Pysyk is allegedly a better puck-mover than Kulikov, too, so OK, you're seeing what the Panthers are thinking here.


Does it make sense?: Basically? We're at the point of the offseason where the Panthers are now making moves to replace the things that they didn't need to replace in the first place, as the Panthers were a 103-point team this past season that would have won their first-round series if not for rotten luck and rules not applying to the Islanders when a net is empty.

Will it work?: Man, if you're not picking up a theme here, it's that all of these moves COULD be fine but maybe not. This will probably be a wash that's forgotten about in a year but then again maybe this is the move that wins one of these teams a Cup.

July 1

The move: Florida signed defenseman Aaron Ekblad to an eight-year, $60 million contract.

The thinking behind it: This is the start of the confusing moves. Has Ekblad been great his first two seasons? Roger that. Do you want him to be part of the Panthers' future for a long time? Oh you know it. But why, when he's only two years into his entry-level deal, is there a rush to give him a contract that carries the sixth-highest cap hit when the deal begins in 2017-18? Is it not odd that Ekblad—who again is on his ELC now—is getting about $300K less than Victor Hedman, who was headed toward UFA status?

In his two seasons, Ekblad has played 64 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes with Campbell, who is no longer with the team. Ekblad's Corsi goes from 56.5 with Campbell to 45.1 when they are apart. Wouldn't the prudent things for a GM to do here be either a) try to sign Ekblad, who has zero leverage right now, to a more team-friendly deal or b) wait a season to see how Ekblad gets along with Yandle as his regular partner?


Does it make sense?: Not in the least. At the very best, you are paying Ekblad exactly what he is and will be worth; the object of managing a roster isn't to low-ball all your players but Ekblad's agent must have thought this offer was from a spam account when he saw the text or email.

Will it work out?: It's impossible to know, but sure, it could. Ekblad got a Calder in his first year and scored 15 goals last season. He may be the next Drew Doughty only the Drew Doughty everyone thinks Drew Doughty is.

July 1

The move: Florida signs goaltender James Reimer to a five-year, $17 million contract.

The thinking behind it: There are threads of logic at which to tug but they all unravel at the slightest pull. Luongo will likely miss the first month of next season… but that's not a reason to give a goaltender a five-year deal. Maybe Reimer is the silent successor to Luongo… but his contract runs through 2022 and he's coming off a (should've been) Vezina finalist season. Perhaps the Panthers plan leave Luongo exposed in the expansion draft… but why would Las Vegas take that contract?

You get a five-year deal. And you get a five-year deal. And you… get the point. Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Does it make sense?: Making sense is all relative at this point. This signing is a complicated math equation; either you see it like Will Hunting or John Nash and completely understand it or you see it like me and find yourself asking strangers on the street to explain it to you. Throw in the fact the Panthers acquired Reto Berra on June 23, and your mind will explode trying to understand what changed between then and July 1.


Will it work out?: God. Again, it could. Reimer may be bad next season. He may finally establish himself as the No. 1 goaltender we thought he could be in 2013. He may retire to write erotic fiction novels set on Saturn in 2069. Let's wait and see.

July 2

The move: Florida signs Jason Demers, to a five-year, $22.5 million contract.

The thinking behind it: He's a good defenseman and this is a contract that pays him fairly for his services. Like everyone here, he's a positive relative possession player in recent years.

Does it make sense?: Yes! This is the one move that's not like the others and makes you wonder if it happened by mistake.

Will it work out?: Yes. Nobody will think about this deal until it ends.

July 3

The move: Florida signs forward Reilly Smith to a five-year, $25 million contract.

The thinking behind it: It's time to start paying players one year in advance for career seasons in goal scoring. Smith is a very nice player who had eight points in six playoff games last season. This is unconfirmed, but the Panthers may be under the impression that anyone that scores around 25 goals and needs a new contract 365 days later is owed a $5 million contract.

When you get confirmation that your deal is for reals. Photo by Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Does it make sense?: He's a possession-plus player and that's probably driving this deal more than the goals. But he shot 14.5 percent last season, about 3 points higher than his career average. So, from a negotiating standpoint, if you love his possession but hate paying a premium for his scoring, you could have waited a year to see if his shooting percentage returned to norms. If it did and he scored 19 in 2016-17 and you love the player, you could shave a million bucks per year off a new deal and he'd still take it. This is another deal that's not team-friendly at all.


Will it work out?: Sweet fancy Moses, all these deals are questionable but could all be fine. It's like a new show on the USA Network. Even the bad ones have redeemable qualities. Royal Pains got eight seasons. Smith could be the Royal Pains of the Panthers.

July 4

The move: Florida signs forward Vincent Trocheck to a six-year, $28.5 million contract.

The thinking behind it: If we don't lock him up now… well we could wait and see if his 25 goals in his second full season is a fluke and then make a decision because he's only 22, but we better pay out the nose now in case it's not a fluke.

Does it make sense: Smith shot 14.5 percent last year; Trocheck shot 14.4 percent, also slightly above his small sample size of career numbers. While Smith had three straight similar seasons before getting his contract, Trocheck needed one good one to get his deal. Considering the Panthers' focus on puck-moving defense and signing guys to huge deals before they need to, the 2016-17 team slogan should be, "What's The Rush?"

Will it work out?: Damn it, maybe. Trocheck could be a late bloomer and ready to post 25 goals per season for the duration of his contract. Or maybe he scores 25 total goals the next two seasons. There should not be this much guesswork in contracts and there doesn't need to be.

Another problem with all these huge deals for young players is how they will react to having the weight of those deals on their shoulders. On the flip side, what will they do now that they lack any financial motivation?" It's an odd franchise message. "Congrats on losing in the first round and having one outstanding season—your reward is financial security for next five-to-eight years!"

It's also a fascinating summer because it looks like they are pushing all-in with Luongo's career heading toward the sunset, but they anointed Reimer the goaltender of the future, and if they clearly trust him, again, what's the rush?

Five years from now, when the Panthers are either the class of the East or a cautionary tale about doing too much too fast and sinking a ship that was sailing in the right direction, nobody should pretend they saw either thing coming. If the salary cap doesn't budge over the next few years, the Panthers may lose a player or be unable to sign the help they need because they overspent this summer.

Or maybe none of it matters.