This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Florida Panthers took last place and will round out week four.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Panthers currently have six forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $56,548,333. Florida will be on the hook retained salary for Jason Demers ($562,500), the buyout of Scott Darling ($2,333,333) and a recapture penalty following Roberto Luongo's retirement ($1,094,128). Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $20,961,706 in cap space and 10 spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Of the four forwards, Wallmark is probably the only one worth signing above and beyond his qualifying offer considering Saarela has only had a cup of coffee in the NHL, Hunt spent much of the year in the minors and Toninato offers limited offensive upside. The Panthers barely had time to look at Wallmark, but he's reached the 25-point mark in three straight years and would be worth extending some additional term. A three-year, $2.7 million contract would be a significant raise for the 20-year-old and would retain his RFA rights at the end. With the development of Chase Priskie – who led the all AHL Springfield defesemen with 35 points – the club probably doesn't need to keep both Weegar and Brown. The offensive upside provided by Weegar makes him the stronger candidate for being re-signed and it might make sense to offer some extended term with a four-year, $7.6 million deal.
Kyle Riley: Toninato has frequently sat as a healthy scratch this season, and he's only notched 11 points in the 46 games he's appeared in, so while he's worth keeping around as a depth option, I wouldn't be willing to shell out much more than his QO. Saarela has played well in the minors this season (12 goals, 31 points in 43 games) and hasn't looked out of place in limited action with the big club (four points in nine games), either. The 2015 third-round pick is still just 23 years old, and he should be ready to take on a bigger role at the NHL level next year, so I think a two-year, $2 million contract would be good for both sides. Wallmark is a solid bottom-six player that can chip in on the power play on occassion, but he has limited offensive upside. Nonetheless, I think a deal similar to the one I proposed for Saarela should get it done. Dryden has been excellent with AHL Springfield this season, picking up 13 goals and 29 points in 35 games, but he hasn't had any success at the NHL level over the course of his first three professional campaigns, totaling just 15 points in 63 appearances. Nonetheless, I still think he's worth keeping around on his QO. Between Brown and Weegar, Weegar's the far superior player, so the Panthers should prioritize re-signing him and let Brown hit the open market. The 26-year-old blueliner has picked up 18 points while averaging over 20 minutes of ice time in 45 games this campaign, so he'll be looking for a pretty significant raise. I'd be happy with locking him down with a four-year, $10 million deal.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: If Boyle is willing to come back on another veteran minimal deal, it would make sense to add a player of his experience to a relatively young forward group, but there is no reason to break the bank to make it work. Pysyk nearly reached the 20-point mark for the first time in his career thanks in large part to the fact that he frequently lined up at forward this season. While the flexibility would be nice, it just doesn't seem worth having to give him upwards of $3 million. Similarly, the club should consider letting Haula walk given his injury woes; he's played in just 63 contests over the previous two seasons. Nearly $21 million in cap space affords the club the opportunity to retain both of its high priced free agents. At 30 years of age, Hoffman probably won't find a lot of clubs offer up seven-year deals and I don't think the Panthers should either. A five-year, $32.5 million contract would be a slight bump above the deal Mats Zuccarello inked in 2019, which accounts for Hoffman's better scoring touch. I would expect Dadonov to come in slightly lower than Hoffman and on par with the $5.25 AAV Jakob Silfverberg is making. Given his age, Dadonov should still be able to command at least 5-6 years in term, so I'll land at a five-year, $27.5 million contract for the winger.
Kyle Riley: Hoffman would have hit the 30-goal mark for a second straight campaign had the NHL not suspended play, so the Panthers are going to need to pay up to retain his services. He'll be looking for a long-term deal, and if Florida isn't willing to offer him one, he'll be able to find it elsewhere with ease. I think it'd be worth it to keep the 30-year-old winger in the fold with a six-year, $45 million deal ($7.5 million AAV). Dadonov is a good player, but if the Panthers make the decision to back up the Brinks truck for Hoffman, they should let him walk in free agency. As AJ mentioned, Haula hasn't been able to stay healthy over the past two seasons, and it's starting to look like his 55-point campaign with the Golden Knights in 2017-18 was more of a flash in the pan than a sign of things to come. Nonetheless, if he's willing to return at a disconted rate (two years, $5 million), it'd be worth it to roll the dice and hope he bounces back next year. Boyle is still a useful player, but he'll be 36 next season, so unless he's willing to sign another cheap one-year deal, the Panthers should let him head elsewhere. Pysyk has actually transitioned to playing forward pretty well this year, but he's already overpaid, so Florida shouldn't think twice about letting him walk.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: After playing in 50 games for Florida during the 2018-19 campaign, Borgstrom was only able to crack the lineup four times this past season. Heading into next year, the center is far from a lock for the 23-man roster, so he probably won't be offered anything other than his qualifying offer (one-year, $874,125). The emergence of Chris Driedger not only cost Montembeault his spot on the roster this season, but also will probably prevent him from earning a significant pay increase. The organization is thin in terms of signed goaltenders, so offering the 23-year-old multiple years on a two-way deal worth $850,000 AAV makes a lot of sense.
Kyle Riley: Borgstrom hasn't been able to put the pieces together at the NHL level yet, but he was selected in the first round in 2016 for a reason, so there's no reason to give up on him just yet. His QO should get it done. Montembeault has been awful in limited action with the big club over the past two seasons and he hasn't been great in the minors, either. Nonetheless, he's worth keeping as organizational depth, but I wouldn't offer him anything more than his QO.
AJ Scholz: When you need to re-sign guys like Hoffman and Dadonov for a combined $12 million, it eats into your available cap space pretty quickly, but its something that the club needs to prioritize in the offseason. Once they get those guys back under contract, the Panthers can start to figure out what to do with the rest of their free agents. It won't leave the organization with a lot of money to spend outside of the club, though their season is no doubt more dependant on Sergei Bobrovsky rediscovering his dominant game more than any other factor, especially when he makes $10 million AAV.
Kyle Riley: With the plan I outlined above, the Panthers would enter the 2020-21 campaign with approximately $6 million in cap space to work with. You may be thinking, if the team still has $6 million to work with, why would they let Dadonov walk in free agency? Well, the heart and soul of the team, Aleksander Barkov, will be needing a massive contract extension after next season, so the Panthers would be wise to look towards the future this offseason rather than solely focus on their short-term goals.