Florida Panthers NHL Free Agency: Day 1 Recap

Florida Panthers Free Agency

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JULY 08: Bill Zito of the Florida Panthers looks on during Round Four of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 08, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Sunrise, FL – Depth was the name of the game for the Florida Panthers on the first day of NHL free agency.

As is par for the course on a Stanley Cup-winning team, guys that are lower on the depth chart played themselves into bigger contracts with other teams that are hoping to squeeze larger roles out of them.

Win some, lose some

Fourth-line center and key penalty-killer Kevin Stenlund signed with the Utah Hockey Club for $4 million over two years, doubling his average annual value (AAV) that he had in Florida. His linemate in Ryan Lomberg signed with the Calgary Flames – the team he began his career with – for the same exact terms as Stenlund. Lomberg made a total of $3.05 million in his four years with Florida.

One of the biggest question marks for the Panthers this summer was whether they’d be able to afford re-signing both Sam Reinhart and Brandon Montour. Working with about $19.5 million in cap space, the Panthers came to an agreement with Reinhart for an eight-year deal for an AAV of $8.6 million. That made Montour – the Panthers’ second-pair defenseman – the odd man out. He got a big payday from the Seattle Kraken for $50 million over seven years.

Fellow defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going to the Toronto Maple Leafs for four years at an AAV of $3.5 million.

Montour and Ekman-Larsson were power-play quarterbacks for the Panthers this past season, meaning the team will have to look elsewhere for help in that role.

Hard to replace

Backup goaltender Anthony Stolarz is also going to Toronto for two years with an AAV of $2.5 million. The 30-year-old was one of the best backups in the league this year, allowing an average of 2.03 goals per game with a .925 save percentage.

The Panthers re-signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a four-year contract with an AAV of $1.15 million. The 33-year-old spent the first seven years of his career with Florida before bouncing around the league for seven years. He returned to Florida this past season on a one-year contract. He will likely retire as a Panther, as he will be 37 when this new contract is up.

Nick Cousins, Steven Lorentz, Kyle Okposo, and Vladimir Tarasenko are the last of the unrestricted free agents still in limbo. Restricted free agent Anton Lundell is still in negotiations with the Panthers. Josh Mahura, another restricted free agent, did not receive a qualifying offer from the Panthers, therefore making him an unrestricted free agent.

New signings

The Panthers bolstered their fourth-line with signings of A.J. Greer and Jesper Boqvist – both for two years with an $850,000 AAV, and Tomas Nosek for one year and $775,000.

Former Panthers goaltender Chris Driedger is returning to Sunrise on a one-year deal. He recorded a 21-8-4 record, .931 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average over 35 total games with the Panthers from 2019-2021. He was left unprotected during the 2021 expansion draft and has spent the last two seasons with the Seattle Kraken. There, he started 26 games and went 10-15-1 with a 2.93 goals allowed average with a .900 save percentage. This past season, he played just two games with Seattle. Most of his time was spent with Seattle’s American Hockey League Affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

This leaves questions regarding Spencer Knight, who spent the entire 2023-24 season with AHL Charlotte Checkers due to the logjam of Anthony Stolarz and Sergei Bobrovsky. Driedger and Knight will compete for the backup job at training camp in September.

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