On the first day of free agency, the Panthers were relatively quiet compared to the rest of the league, although they did make 3 underrated additions including James Reimer, Jonathan Marchessault, and Colton Sceviour. The team also announced later in the day that defenseman Aaron Ekblad was signed to an 8-year contract extension worth $60 million.
A report emerged late on Thursday that the Panthers were preparing a 5-year offer for a free-agent and it turned out to be goaltender James Reimer who spent 6 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before being dealt to the Sharks last February. Not only does the move give the Panthers a solid number-1 option in the near future while also moving the recently-acquired Reto Berra down to the 3-spot in the AHL, but it gives them some insurance for the upcoming season with Roberto Luongo rehabbing his hip after undergoing minor surgery in May.
Reimer’s deal will keep him a Panther through the 2020-21 season with an annual average salary of $3.4 million which isn’t bad considering he could eventually become the team’s starter. The signing does put the Panthers in an interesting situation when it comes to AHL as they now have 3 goalies that could potentially play there: Berra, McKenna, and Brittain. McKenna was solid for the Portland Pirates last year as the starter and Brittain was serviceable as his backup, but Berra appears to push both of them down one spot. McKenna is certainly fit for an AHL starting job and it would be a bit odd for Brittain to go back to the ECHL after having a decent year aside from some consistency issues, so we’ll have to keep our eyes out for further moves, if there are any.
The Panthers also signed Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour to 2-year deals worth $750,000 and $950,000 respectively. While the Panthers seemed to have interest in some of the bigger names on the market, that interest waned as the asking prices went up, although they continued to pursue Marchessault and Sceviour who were two of the more underrated players available.
Marchessault has been one of the more prolific point producers in the AHL over the past several years especially during the 2014-15 season when he put up 67 points in 68 games for the affiliate of the Lightning and during the 2012-13 season when he recorded 67 points in 74 games. Sportsnet listed him as a “value add” based off of his analytics which show that his points per 60 rate of 1.61 trailed Steven Stamkos’s rate of 1.69 by a mere 0.08. Marchessault, 25, also led the Lightning in shots per 60 by a wide margin with a rate of 9.23 and also managed a 5v5 CF% of 54 despite being deployed in a role that was primarily defensive.
“He can literally play it all,” Lightning forward Tyler Johnson told the Tampa Bay Times in January. “He can be a first-line guy or play the fourth line. He has that grit, has that skill, a very versatile player.”
Marchessault has the potential to be the Panthers’ equivalent of Conor Sheary or Bryan Rust who played important roles in the Penguins’ recent Stanley Cup championship. Sheary and Rust are both similar in size, age, playing style, and contract when compared to Marchessault, so it’s certainly something to think about; you just never know.
Colton Sceviour was also signed to a contract after being drafted by the Dallas Stars and spending 7 years developing with the franchise. The 27-year old winger tallied 11 goals and 12 assists in 71 games this past season while playing in a defensive role in a fast, aggressive Dallas system. He brings grit, versatility, the ability to kill penalties, and offense considering his goal totals in the AHL from 2011 until 2014 were 21, 21, and 32. With the Panthers’ 3rd line being ripe for offensive production, Sceviour could see a vastly different level of deployment than he was used to with Dallas and that could bring out some better numbers for the Red Deer-native.
Later on in the day, the Panthers announced that they agreed to an 8-year, $60 million extension with 20-year old defenseman Aaron Ekblad which will kick in at the start of the 2017-18 season. Ekblad, who was selected first overall at the 2014 NHL Draft, won the Calder Trophy in his rookie year and has already posted 39 and 36 points in his first two NHL seasons which total 159 games.
The Ontario-native has already emerged as a top-2 defenseman playing tough minutes against the other team’s top lines. This past season, Ekblad’s 12 even-strength goals set a franchise record for the most goals by a defenseman at even-strength. His contract is the largest ever doled out by the Panthers and the richest second contract ever for a defenseman in NHL history. The deal will lock up Ekblad through his first 4 years of unrestricted free-agency when he’ll surely be worth more.
“I want to play here forever,” said Ekblad after the signing was made official.
The Panthers had some free-agents of their own, including Al Montoya, Quinton Howden, Brian Campbell, and Teddy Purcell. Howden signed with the Winnipeg Jets, his hometown team, while Campbell signed with the Blackhawk, Purcell signed with the Kings, and Montoya signed with Montreal. Campbell reportedly turned down a 1-year deal worth $5 million from the Panthers so it’s pretty clearly he was set on returning to Chicago where he won a Stanley Cup in 2010. Garrett Wilson, Dylan Olsen, John McFarland, Rob Flick, and Corban Knight were among the Panthers’ other players who became unrestricted free-agents.