Panthers May Need to Make Drastic Moves to Obtain Cap Space

The Florida Panthers ended their historic season on an awful note. After grabbing the Presidents’ Trophy and finishing with their best regular season in franchise history, they were swept by their cross-state rivals in the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in the second round of this past postseason.

This past trade deadline, general manager Bill Zito decided to go all-in for this past season by making some blockbuster trades. This includes nabbing forward Claude Giroux, defenseman Ben Chiarot and defenseman Robert Hagg. While they managed to get some salary retained on those contracts, it still puts Florida in a bind financially. In addition, they do not have a first round pick for the next few years as they sent them away to acquire said pieces. And considering the way the season ended, it may force them to make moves that some fans and even ownership might not be pleased with to shore up some extra dollars.

Is There Enough Money to Get the Wash Done?

The Panthers’ current cap hit going into free agency is just under $80 million with about $3 million to work with in cap space. However, that is not enough money to tackle their laundry list of unrestricted free agents that includes forwards Mason Marchment and Noel Acciari. This also includes their one restricted free agent forward in Eetu Luostarinen, who made a noticeable impact near the end of the season.

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In addition, they have some key pieces going into next season that are on the last year of their current contracts, such as forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weeger and defenseman Radko Gudas. Of course, they are also being weighed down by the buyout of former defenseman, now free agent, Keith Yandle’s contract with a dead cap carry of over $5 million. In addition, the captain Aleksander Barkov starts his new deal at $10 million a year next season.

On the bright side, this is the worst part of the Yandle hit and it settles down to a little over $1.2 million annually for the next two seasons. But the heaviest blow to the checkbook comes at a bad time since general manager Bill Zito needs all the pennies he can get if he wants to retain what he has.

Who Could Be Shipped Out?

Multiple players could find themselves on their way out due to cap constraints but it’s going to be hard on general manager Bill Zito to pick who’s getting shipped out of Sunrise. One player that could come to mind is Patric Hornqvist. While he does bring grit and playoff experience, his $5.3 million per year deal is too much for a 35-year-old forward who’s been on the bottom-six all season.

Patric Hornqvist Florida Panthers
Patric Hornqvist, Florida Panthers (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Although very unlikely due to his no-movement clause, there was a rumor going around that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky could be on the move. While he actually played well this past regular season and playoffs, finding a way to get an extra $10 million in play money is not the worst thing in the world considering who’s due for a new contract and the rise of the backup in Spencer Knight.

What Will Zito Do?

Zito clearly has his hands full going into this next offseason. More than likely, at least two of their three deadline acquisitions will not return. However, Giroux has stated that he would like to come back. Considering his heavy cap hit from last season, unless he takes a very team-friendly deal, it’s going to be difficult to bring him back in.

Related: 5 Takeaways From the Florida Panthers’ 2021-22 Season

In addition to that, Zito is likely looking for every possible way to get Huberdeau locked up before a potential shot at the market by the next offseason. With his numbers being Hart trophy worthy this past season, he’s going to want a massive pay raise.

Ultimately, the way the year ended leaves a lot of questions for the front office to answer. On paper, this team had the talent to make a deep playoff run. But with the heart-shattering way the season ended, it could mean a completely different look for the team in the 2022-23 season.

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