The Panthers announced today that they’ve signed Reilly Smith to a 5-year, $25 million contract extension, making him the 3rd player to be extended by the team in just the past 3 days. The Panthers have made quick work over the past several days, weeks, and months with regards to locking up their core players to relatively cheap long-term contracts, and today’s deal is no exception.
Reilly Smith is coming off his first season with the Panthers after being acquired in a deal just over a year ago that sent Jimmy Hayes to the Bruins for the 25-year old right-winger and Marc Savard’s contract, which they ridded themselves of at the end of May. The Toronto-native fit seamlessly into the Panthers’ lineup and contributed on a nightly basis whether that was by scoring, setting up teammates, making a solid defensive play, or pressuring opposing players on the penalty kill; Smith was one of the team’s most consistent forwards.
In what can be considered a breakout year, Smith passed the 20-goal mark for the first time in his 4-year NHL career and was one of 4 players on the Panthers to reach 25 goals this season, a total he fulfilled by scoring an empty-netter with 5 seconds remaining in the regular-season finale. He got off to a hot start in the Panthers’ first-round playoff series against the Islanders by tallying 4 goals and 4 assists in the first 3 games before being silenced for the remaining 3. Smith was set to become a restricted free-agent at the end of the upcoming 2016-17 season.
When looking at the big picture, it’s clear the direction the Panthers are heading. They’ve identified a group of core players – which could see some additions as time goes on – and they’ve committed themselves to keeping those players with the team long-term, which is something the franchise as a whole hasn’t really done at all in the past. It’s not for a lack of trying but rather the Panthers just haven’t been able to assemble a core of solid players before Dale Tallon took over the helm in 2010. Combine that with unstable ownership and general managers without much foresight and you get a very unattractive place to be overall.
It all started on New Year’s Eve in 2014 when the Panthers signed Nick Bjugstad to a 6-year deal worth $24.6 million and they were able to agree to another 6-year deal with Aleksander Barkov worth $35.4 million in January. Aaron Ekblad also signed for 6 years on Friday while Vincent Trocheck signed a 5-year deal yesterday. With Smith signing today, the Panthers will look to get Jonathan Huberdeau locked up next, and they’re already said to be deep in talks on that front. The Panthers are in really good shape and have the money to get a deal done with Huberdeau, so barring him or his agent asking for an astronomical figure, he should be signed long-term at some point too.
In general, it’s been exciting to watch the evolution of the Panthers over the past several years and even the past several days and weeks as they’ve made some incredibly smart moves which have allowed them to squeak as much value out of their cap space as possible while also bettering the team now and in the long run. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, signed free-agent Roman Polak to a one-year contract today which put them over the salary cap while the Panthers remain $5 million under the ceiling despite signing some big names and being stuck with Dave Bolland.
With the addition of Jason Demers, Keith Yandle, and James Reimer, as well as the maturation of the team’s young stars, the Panthers are suddenly more of a force to be reckoned with than they were even just over a month ago.
You can check out our full season review of Reilly Smith by clicking here.