The Panthers were relatively busy clearing some cap space, adding depth, and shoring up the forward position as the free-agent market opened at noon on Saturday.
Jussi Jokinen bought out
The Panthers opened the day exercising a buyout on final year of veteran forward Jussi Jokinen’s contract. He was placed on waivers on Friday but went unclaimed.
The 36-year old, who served as the Panthers’ assistant captain in two of his three seasons with the team, had one year left on his deal at a cap hit of $4 million.
“I want to thank Jussi for his three years of dedication to the Florida Panthers,” said General Manager Dale Tallon. “He has been an excellent mentor for our young players and is one of the classiest players in the game. We wish him success in his future endeavors.”
The buyout will cost the Panthers a total of $2.66 million split over the next two seasons.
Jokinen recorded 37 goals and 95 assists in 231 games with the Panthers since signing as a free-agent on July 1, 2014. He recorded a career-high 42 assists during the 2015-16 season but struggled to produce last year after suffering a nagging knee injury prior to the season.
Panthers move on from Jagr
When the free-agent market opened on Saturday, it was revealed that the Panthers and forward Jaromir Jagr had cut ties.
Jagr, 45, became an unrestricted free-agent when the Panthers opted not to re-sign him beforehand. Since the season came to an end in April, Dale Tallon has stated on numerous occasions that he and Jagr’s agent, Petr Svoboda, were engaged in ongoing contract talks but that there was nothing to report yet.
However, according to the Sun-Sentinel, Jagr never received an offer from the Panthers and that Svoboda’s demands were “unrealistic” for a 45-year old.
The Panthers, as Tallon and new head coach Bob Boughner have noted several times before, wanted more speed in their lineup next season, and Jagr simply doesn’t have that anymore.
“We really didn’t make an offer,” Tallon said on Saturday. “They made an offer to us early in the negotiations and then we just had a lot of discussions and kept talking and talking right until actually [Friday] night.”
However, it’s a bit odd that Tallon would continue to publicly string the process along if the Panthers had no significant interest in bringing Jagr back.
In addition to countless milestones, Jagr recorded 16 goals and 30 assists in 82 games this past season despite playing without Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on most nights.
It was the first time in 4 years that Jagr played in every game of the season.
The legendary right-winger was on a 1-year deal – as he has been since the 2011-12 season – worth a base salary of $4 million. He tallied 130 points in 181 games since being brilliantly acquired by the Panthers for a 2015 2nd-round pick (Ryan Gropp) and a 2016 3rd-round pick (Rem Pitlick).
Two top-6 forwards inked
Aguably one of the more exciting moves of the day, came when the Panthers announced the signing of 28-year old Evgeny Dadonov to a 3-year contract worth $12 million.
His deal carries a full no-move clause in all three years as well as a modified no-trade clause in year 3.
“I wanted to sign Dadonov 3 years ago but his contract status wouldn’t allow it,” said Tallon on Saturday afternoon at the BB&T Center. “In all the three World Championships I’ve been involved in with Team USA, he’s been the best player in the tournament.
Drafted by the Panthers in the 3rd round of the 2007 Draft, Dadonov tallied 20 points in 55 games with the Panthers before being traded to the Hurricanes during the 2011-12 season.
The once highly-touted prospect left for Russia to play in the KHL where he went on to record 240 points in 311 career games and most recently notched a career-high 30 goals and 66 points in 53 games for SKA St. Petersburg.
Dadonov has fared well in the past three IIHF World Championships, posting a 33 points in 30 games. His offensive reputation put him in a position to return to the NHL with many teams said to be interested in his services.
“He’s a totally different player than when he first came over [to North America],” said Tallon. “High speed, great work ethic, gets on pucks, makes plays, our fans are really gonna like him. He plays a hard, 200-foot game and [he’s] very creative, very fast.”
The Chelyabinsk, Russia-native possesses a high-end offensive abilities, including a quick, precise release, and good vision, as well as an above-average skating ability.
“He’s gonna fit in nicely, probably play with Barkov and Huberdeau,” Tallon said.
The Panthers also added Radim Vrbata on a 1-year deal worth $3.75 million.
The contract has a base salary of $2.5 million, although Vrbata will earn an additional $250,000 when if he reaches 10, 15, and 20 goals and 45 points (total $1 million), as well as another $250,000 if the Panthers make the playoffs.
The 36-year old right-winger has reached the 50-point mark in 4 of the last 6 seasons and has averaged 21 goals over his last 4 seasons. He managed 31 goals – the second-highest total of his career – during the 2014-15 season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Vrbata led the Arizona Coyotes in scoring last season with 20 goals and 35 assists in 81 games as an assistant captain.
It’s certainly an impressive stat line considering the Coyotes scored the fourth-fewest goals in the league and the next highest total on the team was just 39 points.
With Jokinen (buyout), Jagr (free-agent), Reilly Smith (traded to Vegas), and Jonathan Marchessault (chosen by Vegas) now gone, the Panthers needed to add a couple of top-6 capable forwards at the very least.
“Obviously the team lost goals with guys who went to Vegas, so hopefully I can be the guy who can score some goals,” said Vrbata.
Vrbata’s deal is relatively cheap and risk-free, and it definitely seems like a stop-gap as the Panthers wait for their other prospects to be ready for the NHL.
The veteran is more than capable of playing and producing on the second line, and the first line wouldn’t be out of the question if necessary.
“I see him playing on the second line with Trocheck […],” said Tallon.
Haley, depth added
In addition Vrbata and Dadonov, the Panthers signed 31-year old forward Micheal Haley to a 2-year deal worth a total of $1.65 million.
Not known for his offensive skills, Haley is passionate, tough player who has racked up 16 points and 350 penalty minutes in 130 career NHL games.
He has 1,098 penalty minutes in 478 AHL games and spent the last two seasons playing for the San Jose Sharks, where the Panthers’ new head coach, Bob Boughner, served as an assistant.
“[Boughner] loved him in San Jose,” said Tallon. “He can skate, he can play left wing or center, he likes the gritty part [of the game] and will pay the price and protect his teammates, and he’s great in the locker room as well.”
“Micheal will help support our core group with his leadership and toughness,” said Boughner. “I know what sort of impact he has in the room and on the ice. He’s the type of person and player that we need.”
The signing of Haley comes only a few days ago at the Panthers’ “Summer Summit” that Tallon openly questioned the need for an pure enforcer.
“Can you name me one tough guy on [the Penguins] in the last 2 years?” Tallon said, in response to a fan asking how the team would replace Shawn Thornton, who retired at the end of last season. “That person that has to [fill that role] has to play very well as well and contribute offensively.”
Haley played in 8 more games than Thornton last season and recorded 8 more points plus almost double the penalty minutes (128).
Time will well, but on paper, it’s a questionable move at best, especially when Tallon has repeatedly expressed his and the coaching staff’s desires and willingness to play young players.
Hawrluk, Mamin, Repo, Malgin, and McCann are just a few players the Panthers have that can contribute more offensively (and some can play with an edge), but it’s likely that Haley will take a potential spot away from one of them.
On the AHL side of things, the Panthers signed 5 other players to 1-year, 2-way deals, including Chase Balisy, Reece Scarlett, Connor Brickley, Curtis Valk, and Harri Sateri.
Balisy, 25, led the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, in scoring with 45 points in 76 games and served as an assistant captain. He became an unrestricted free-agent when the Panthers opted to not tender him a qualifying offer as a restricted free-agent last week.
Scarlett was also re-signed after the Panthers didn’t tender him a qualifying offer as a restricted free-agent. He was acquired by the Panthers at the trade deadline from New Jersey in February in exchange for Shane Harper and was injured in his first game with the Thunderbirds.
He went on to miss the rest of the AHL season, but the 24-year old has some upside, especially as a puck-moving defenseman with an offensive touch.
Connor Brickley will return to the Panthers after he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes last October for center Brody Sutter. The Panthers drafted Brickley in the 2nd round of the 2010 Draft and he managed just 5 points in 23 NHL games prior to the trade.
Brickley was chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft but never signed as a restricted free-agent.
He saw a slight dip in AHL production last season, totaling just 26 points in 69 games for the Hurricanes’ affiliate compared to 27 points in 24 fewer games for the Panthers’ affiliate the season before.
Curtis Valk signed a 1-year entry-level deal with the Panthers and will likely suit up for the Thunderbirds in the top-6 this coming season.
The 24-year old, 5-foot-9 center led the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, in scoring with 46 points in 75 games and will certainly bring much-needed offense to the Thunderbirds’ lineup. His does have NHL upside, although it wouldn’t be much more than a bottom-6 role, if at all.
Finally, Harri Sateri was signed by the Panthers out of the KHL where he spent the last 3 seasons with Vityaz Podolsk. The 27-year old goaltender posted a 2.50 goals-against average and 0.929 save percentage in 42 games.
He recorded a 2.26 goals-against average and 0.916 save percentage for Finland at the World Championship and shut out Team USA during the quarterfinals. Prior to playing in the KHL, Sateri spent 3 seasons in the AHL with the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate.
Sateri is expected to serve as the third goaltender on the Panthers’ depth chart and mentor Sam Montembeault, the organization’s 20-year old prospect who will be playing in his first pro season with the Thunderbirds.
“We want Montembeault to be mentored and have protection in the minors right now,” said Tallon. “Third goalie is very important, depth in the organization. The third goalie usually gets to play important games for you and that was the decision behind that.”
The Panthers also lost a handful of players to free-agency, including Kyle Rau to his hometown Minnesota Wild, Michael Sgarbossa to the Winnipeg Jets, Adam Wilcox to the Buffalo Sabres, and Paul Thompson to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Werier relieved of duties
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Saturday that Steve Werier, who had been serving as the Panthers’ assistant general manager since last May, was relieved of his duties.
Werier played a pivotal role in the acquisition of Mark Pysyk from Buffalo, Reilly Smith two years ago and the free-agent signings of Jonathan Marchessault – who scored 30 goals last season – James Reimer, and Jason Demers.
The team’s website now lists him as the VP of Legal Affairs, which was the position he held prior to the promotion to asssitant general manager.
Smith and Marchessault are no longer with the organization after both were acquired by the Vegas Golden Knights during the expansion draft process, while the Panthers are said to be shopping Demers.
Pierre LeBrun, also of TSN, reported that Demers prevented a trade to Vancouver using his modified no-trade clause, a deal which The Province says would’ve brought Erik Gudbranson back to Florida.
Gudbranson was traded – not by Tallon, but by last year’s analytically-minded front office which Werier had a major voice in – to the Canucks in exchange for Jared McCann, a 2016 2nd-round pick, and a 2016 4th-round pick.