Panthers News & Rumors: Barkov Extension, Vatrano, & More

In today’s edition of Panthers News & Rumors, we will be discussing Bill Zito’s comments about Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov’s contract, a possible trade of Frank Vatrano, and Aaron Ekblad’s status heading into training camp.

Barkov’s Extension Status

At the end of the 2021-22 season, Barkov’s contract will run out and he will be an unrestricted free agent. However, according to Bill Zito, an extension should be on the horizon soon. When asked if there was a set date he would trade his captain ahead of his contract expiry on NHL Sirius XM Radio (The Power Play With Boomer & Hahn, Sirius XM, 8/16/2021) Zito said “there wouldn’t be one, because I’m confident we’ll work something out.”

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov
Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) skates in the first period of the NHL preseason game between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning on September 25, 2018, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Zito went on to say that an extension would “probably” come ahead of the Panthers’ 2021-22 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 14. Barkov’s agent, Mike Gandler, has not commented on the situation at hand at this time. Barkov’s current contract pays him $5.9 million per year, but after winning the Selke Trophy last season, he should expect a significant raise in pay. With the Panthers having $14.5 million in cap space to work with next offseason, the expectation is they should have enough money to give Barkov what he wants.

An early estimate would have Barkov signing a contract for around $9.5 million, pricing him around the same cost as Brayden Point and Alexander Ovechkin. With Florida being a no income tax state, the Panthers may be able to get that number down to $9 million, but only time will tell.

Vatrano and Acciari On The Trade Block?

With the Panthers’ forward core looking deep, Frank Vatrano is one of the players they can afford to ship off. With a need on defense, and specifically the left side of it, the team is in a good position to shop some of their excess forwards to fill that need.

Frank Vatrano Florida Panthers
Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vatrano’s name was already brought up in rumors when the Panthers were trading for Sam Reinhart, with early reports suggesting that he was to be included in the package to get him. While he remains on the roster for now, Zito may still consider moving him and his $2.5 million cap hit to make a move for a defenseman.

With the signing of Joe Thornton, Noel Acciari also seems to be a piece that is movable for the Panthers. The 29-year-old center has one year left on a $1.6 million contract and could possibly allow the organization to acquire more value due to his team-friendly contract while giving their young players a chance. With Anton Lundell, Aleksi Heponiemi, and Grigori Denisenko possibly challenging for a roster spot, Vatrano and Acciari seem to be on their way out to make room for the youngsters in the lineup.

Ekblad’s Injury Status

On March 28, Ekblad fractured his left leg and remained out for the season after being given a 12-week recovery time. Twenty weeks later, the Panthers’ blue-chip defenseman seems to have found his footing and remains on track to return for training camp in September.

Aaron Ekblad Florida Panthers
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

According to David Dwork of WPLG Local 10 News, Ekblad has been skating at Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs, Florida, over the past couple of months. He says that Ekblad is “looking like his usual, strong skating, mobile self.” This mirrors comments from Zito from last month, where the general manager said that Ekblad will “absolutely” be ready for training camp.

With the season less than two months away, the Panthers look to be going into it at full health, with Ekblad fully recovered from his leg fracture from last season.

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