Jonathan Huberdeau was the last major piece of the young Florida Panthers core that general manager Tom Rowe needed to lock up. He got that done this week, putting Huberdeau on a deal that will have him in a Cats jersey for the next seven seasons.
It’s been a busy 12 months for Rowe and former general manager Dale Tallon, locking up Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Reilly Smith, and Vincent Trocheck to long-term deals, on top of acquiring Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, James Reimer and Reto Berra, as well as putting Jaromir Jagr, the team’s leading scorer, on another one-year contract.
“It’s nice to see all the young guys get locked up,” said Huberdeau on a conference call Thursday. “I still had a year to go. There wasn’t any pressure to sign now… I’m just really happy we got the deal done and now I can just think about going to play hockey and be in Florida with all the guys. I’m really happy about it.”
A Mix of Confidence and Promise
The Panthers are coming off the franchise’s best season in terms of wins and points. They surprised the NHL last year, even if an early exit from the postseason was a disappointment. It was year they can use to build toward the future.
“Last year we had a real good year,” says Huberdeau. “Nobody expected that, but we did it. So that’s the most important thing. We’re confident and we know what we can accomplish.”
— Florida Panthers PR (@FlaPanthersPR) September 7, 2016
They found success with a wide spread of young players and much older players. The team had the young core, but also Jagr (43), Shawn Thornton (38), Willie Mitchell (38), Roberto Luongo (36), Brian Campbell (36) and Derek Mackenzie (34). Now, the balance is shifting to that younger group with Michell and Cambell departing, along with Dave Bolland, Jiri Hudler, Al Montoya and Teddy Purcell, among others.
The Panthers are a team in transition, handing the reins to the young core after a few seasons of holding veteran players that were able to usher their promising young stars into the league.
“I feel fortunate. [Jagr] teaches me a lot of things,” said Huberdeau of the opportunity to play on a line with Jagr and Barkov. “I can learn a lot of things from a guy like [Jagr]… Every day I think I’m lucky to play with these players.”
The Florida Window
“The owners show confidence in their core guys,” says Huberdeau. “We know we have the right players, it just shows confidence.”
There is a lot of confidence that this group can bring success to Sunrise for years to come. Only time will tell if they’ve made some excellent signings — which seems likely with guys like Ekblad and Barkov — or if they maybe had too much faith in players whose future is less certain, like Bjugstad and Smith.
Currently, the Panthers have 10 players who will still be under contract in the 2020-21 season. That includes Barkov, Huberdeau, Ekblad, Trocheck, Bjugstad, Smith, Yandle, Demers, Luongo and Reimer.
By comparison, there are only six teams in the NHL that have at least five contracts on the books for the 2020-21 season. The highest among those are the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Kings, all of which have six contracts.
— Florida Panthers PR (@FlaPanthersPR) September 8, 2016
Rowe and the Florida management group is betting big that they’ve done things right with this roster. This is the group Rowe appears to believe he can win with, and that he can win with for years to come.
With the Panthers winning the Atlantic Division last season, it’s clear that their Stanley Cup window is now. Most of their top prospects have graduated to the NHL and many that haven’t aren’t around any longer. Rocco Grimaldi was traded to Colorado. Lawson Crouse, arguably the team’s top prospect entering the summer, was traded to Arizona. Quinton Howden and Dylan Olsen were left unsigned. It has been a statement summer for the club. The moves say that they are ready and this is the team they’re going with.
“We believe in each other,” says Huberdeau of the team’s young core. It’s a formidable group, and their window is just starting to open.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.