Panthers sign Aleksander Barkov to 8-year, $80 million extension

It is a pretty great day to be a hockey fan in South Florida.

The Florida Panthers took care of a major contract situation on Friday by signing captain Aleksander Barkov to a massive eight-year, $80 million contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2029-30 season.

Barkov’s deal is heavy on signing bonuses, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun. He’ll receive a $1 million base salary for the life of the deal  with signing bonuses going from $11 million in the first three years to $10.6 million, $9 million, $7 million, and then $6.2 million in the last two seasons.

The deal also comes with a full no-move clause for the first seven years. In the final year, Barkov must submit a 16-team trade list.

Barkov is in the final year of his current deal that carries a $5.9 million cap hit, per Cap Friendly. He would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Now the Panthers no longer have to worry about that latter point.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Barkov, 26, has become one of the NHL’s elite all-around players, blending top-tier offense with shutdown defense.

He is one of the top offensive forwards in the league, and is also the reigning Selke Trophy winner as the league’s best defensive forward.

For years the Panthers had him signed to a bargain, team-friendly contract against the salary cap. After wildly outperforming that deal the team has signed him to the largest contract in team history.

The Panthers are coming off a 2020-21 season that was the best regular season performance in franchise history. That performance, as well as the offseason additions of Sam Reinhart and Joe Thornton, and the emergence of top prospect Spencer Knight in goal, has raised expectations to previously unknown heights in Florida.

Barkov is a major factor in that progress.

Now that his contract is taken care of the next core player that is due for a new deal will be Jonathan Huberdeau, whose current contract expires at the end of next season. He is still signed for a team-friendly rate of $5.9 million against the cap.

PHT Morning Skate: Jack Eichel, Brady Tkachuk updates

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.

Free agent updates: Eichel, Tkachuk

Dr. Ali Rendely provided useful perspective on the Sabres/Jack Eichel surgery situation during a recent appearance on The Jeff Marek Show. On one hand, Dr. Rendely reinforced that Eichel should probably be able to decide which procedure he prefers. Neck surgery is serious, after all.

That said, Rendely clarifies that a six-month window, if not more, is likely a realistic minimum recovery period for both artificial disc and fusion options. (There were indications that disc replacement could get Eichel back on the ice significantly sooner than fusion, but Dr. Rendely indicates otherwise.) If you have even a fleeting interest in the Sabres/Eichel surgery situation, this interview is easily your time. [The Jeff Marek Show]

• Along with the Eichel/Sabres trade/surgery situation, Brady Tkachuk‘s RFA status with the Senators ranks among the top unresolved issues of this offseason. In what is now “32 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman updates on Eichel and Tkachuk.

  • With Eichel, there’s “a real push to find a solution.” On one hand, it feels like we saw this move earlier this offseason. On another, Friedman notes: “Eichel’s displaced disc can’t be allowed to just sit on the nerve.” So perhaps that creates a sense of urgency?
  • Speaking of urgency, Friedman reports that Brady Tkachuk and the Senators aren’t in “Defcon 1” mode about his contract. Understandably, Tkachuk might want to make sure the Senators are actually committed to contending before he signs a long-term contract. (Honestly? The Senators might be wise to play it safe with a bridge deal, anyway.)

Whether it’s 30 or 31 or “32 Thoughts,” Friedman’s regular column is always worth your time. Friedman hit a number of topics this week, including more insight on Robin Lehner‘s comments. [Sportsnet]

Other links from around the NHL/hockey

• Injury updates for Quinton Byfield (Kings), Jack Hughes, and others. [PHT]

Alex Ovechkin told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that he “doesn’t even think” about Wayne Gretzky’s goals record “right now, to be honest.” Was he being honest, right then? (Wobbles hand in the way that indicates serious doubt.) [ESPN]

• What happened in the NHL preseason games on Wednesday (Oct. 6). [NHL.com]

• Honestly, it feels like Josh Ho-Sang is overdue for a true chance in the NHL. Considering the Maple Leafs’ recent history of solid redemptions, it’s tempting to demand as much for JSH in Toronto. This post provides perspective, without totally dousing that fire. [Pension Plan Puppets]

• With the likes of Dougie Hamilton out, and new goalies + Tony DeAngelo in, the Hurricanes should look different in 2021-22. Why Vincent Trocheck is the “link” for these new-look Hurricanes. [The Score]

Aleksander Barkov, Patrice Bergeron, and other pending UFAs who might sign proactive extensions long before they could reach free agency next offseason. [The Athletic, sub required]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL season (Part 2)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue counting down the 30 biggest storylines to watch across the league for the 2021-22 season.

We are looking at 10 storylines each Monday until the start of the season. We continue today with storylines 20-11, including looks at the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, the top rookies, pending free agents, the salary cap, and new Stanley Cup contenders.

[You can read Part 1 here]

What stories make the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

20. The Philadelphia Flyers offseason. Now this is the type of offseason you expect from the Flyers. Big moves! Bold moves! Maybe even crazy moves! The trades for Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson have the potential to be huge additions, but the Rasmus Ristolainen trade is a little difficult to figure. Do they think they can turn his career around? Of course, all of these moves will be rendered pointless if Carter Hart does not play better in goal this season.

19. What do the Montreal Canadiens do for a repeat? The Canadiens shocked the NHL by making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final. Carey Price found the fountain of youth and helped lead them to upsets over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas before running into the Tampa Bay Lightning buzzsaw.

They are bringing back a very different roster, however. Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are gone, Tomas Tatar left in free agency, Shea Weber will not play this season, while Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, and David Savard join the team. They are also getting Jonathan Drouin back after he missed most of the 2020-21 season and all of the playoffs. They also have potential breakout seasons for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield to look forward to. But is this roster good enough to even get back in the playoffs in a tough division?

18. The salary cap situation in the NHL. We are still looking at a situation in the league where salary cap increases are going to be minimal in the coming years. There are obvious ramifications for contending teams close to the cap and with pending free agents to sign. It could also make more players available in trades and allow teams with excess salary cap space to utilize that in trades.

17. Potential unrestricted free agents. A lot of significant players are entering the final year of their contracts this season with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alexander Barkov, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, John Klingberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Mika Zibanejad leading the way. Many of those players will re-sign with their current teams. Some might even retire (Fleury? Bergeron?). But there are a few players that they could end up changing teams, including Forsberg, Hertl, Gaudreau, and maybe even Rielly.

16. The rookie of the year race. Always one of the more intriguing individual award races because it highlights new stars coming into the league. This year’s favorites have to include Caufield in Montreal, Spencer Knight in Florida, Moritz Seider in Detroit, Quinton Byfield in Los Angeles, and Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

[NHL Power Rankings: Calder Trophy candidates for 2021-22 season]

15. Can Islanders break through to the Stanley Cup Final? It has been three decades since the New York Islanders played in a Cup Final, but they are getting closer every year. They just can not seem to get over the final hurdle that is the Lightning, having lost to them two years in a row in the Eastern Conference Final/Semifinal round. They are bringing back mostly the same roster, but will have a full season of Kyle Palmieri, a returning Anders Lee, and the offseason additions of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention one of the league’s best coaches and a sensational goalie duo with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

Their regular season performances never look impressive. But they are probably one of the last teams you want to see in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs.

14. New York Rangers changes. The Rangers’ rebuild was not going fast enough for ownership, so a lot of changes were made this offseason in the front office, coaching staff, and even on the roster. Chris Drury takes over for Jeff Gorton in the GM chair, Gerard Gallant replaces David Quinn behind the bench, and the team attempted to get tougher this offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich, while also acquiring Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, and Barclay Goodrow. It is the Tom Wilson impact. The Rangers can say it is not all about Wilson all they want, but it is pretty clear that is what this is about. Is that the right step for a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate (Artemi Panarin), a Norris Trophy-winning defender (Adam Fox), and an impressive collection of young talent? We are about to find out.

In the end, though, the success or failure of this season will depend on the development of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin. If that quartet becomes impact players, the Rangers will be very good. If they do not, the Rangers’ rebuild will remain stuck in neutral.

13. Panthers becoming a Cup contender. This might be the first time ever that the Florida Panthers are entering a season with real, championship level expectations. This is a really good roster with a couple of All-Stars at the top of it (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) coming off the best regular season in franchise history They also added Sam Reinhart to the mix this offseason. If Spencer Knight can take over the goaltending job and play to his potential this could be a sleeper Cup team.

12. Can Avalanche get through Second Round ceiling. On paper the Colorado Avalanche might have the best team in the NHL. They are loaded from top to bottom with a deep, talented group of forwards, an excellent defense with young stars, and a strong goalie with the offseason addition of Kuemper. They have been Cup contenders and favorites for a couple of years now. But they remain stuck in the Second Round, having lost their three years in a row.

When a team like this can’t get through a particular round, or can’t take that next step, it is easy to get frustrated and think that some kind of change needs to happen. We heard it constantly with the Washington Capitals and how they needed to change and who they needed to trade. We heard it all the time with the Lightning. Eventually talent breaks through and wins. The Avalanche have the talent to get there. They just need to be patient and stick with the process and talent they have. It is championship caliber, and still has its best days ahead of it.

11. Can the Oilers finally take advantage of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are the two best offensive players in the world. They are both league MVPs, winning the award in three of the past five seasons. Most teams will go decades, maybe even their entire existence to this point, without getting one player like this, let alone two of them together at the exact same time. You can not waste that luck. The Oilers are wasting it. Badly.

They made some significant changes this offseason with the additions of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci. But even with that depth still looks suspect, as does this defense (largely due to the changes there with an aging Keith and Ceci replacing Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson), and they are counting on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to have another strong year when he has only had one good season in the past three seasons. Still a lot that can go wrong here, even with two megastars at the top of the lineup.

Panthers open training camp with very high expectations

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jonathan Huberdeau stepped onto the ice Thursday for his 10th training camp with the Florida Panthers, more than anyone else on the roster.

And this one, he said, had a different feel.

“We know what we can do,” Huberdeau said.

There hasn’t been a Panthers season with expectations this high in a generation. Coming off what was by far the best regular season in team history and having most of that core back along with its top six scorers, Florida opened camp on Thursday with perhaps more optimism than ever.

“I think expectations are not a bad thing,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think internally there’s expectations, as teammates, as linemates. I think that’s a healthy situation to be in. Our division is going to be in a position where you’re going to have to have a heck of a year just to make the playoffs.”

Florida went 37-14-5 last season in the truncated, play-only-your-own-division season necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. The .705 winning percentage was fourth-best in the NHL but still didn’t amount to playoff success. The Panthers lost in a first-round matchup to Tampa Bay in six games, and the Lightning went on to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

That meant Florida’s playoff drought — no series wins since 1996 — continued.

“We know we had our opportunity last year and we really let it slip a little bit,” said winger Patric Hornqvist, a two-time Stanley Cup winner. “We got beat there against Tampa in a really good series, but if we can play that over … it felt like we gave them a few games. I’m not saying we were better than them, but it felt like we have more to give. And I think this year is going to be our turn and we’re going to make sure we don’t let it slip like that.”

Training camps in the NHL go by in an instant. The Panthers have only three days of practices before opening their preseason with a pair of games Sunday against Nashville. They brought 47 players into camp, and there aren’t a ton of jobs available — but Quenneville is giving everyone a look.

They went in two sessions on Thursday for about an hour apiece of on-ice work, with things being split up as equitably as possible.

“Conditioning is part of it, getting a little bit of structure in how we have to play,” Quenneville said. “The repetitions as you go through practicing and games is going to be very familiar. Players will make the decisions for us by how they play and how they compete. … It’s a good situation.”

NO MASKS

Unlike last season, Quenneville and his coaching staff were able to be on the ice without wearing masks Thursday — a sign that the Panthers are fully vaccinated.

“We don’t have to worry about any of that stuff,” Quenneville said.

GOALIE MATTERS

The presumed No. 1 and No. 2 goalies entering the season — Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight — were in different sessions of camp Thursday. Quenneville said he has some idea how he wants to handle the goaltending situation, with Bobrovsky coming off an unsteady year and Knight making a quick splash upon joining the Panthers when his final college season ended last fall.

Bobrovsky “made some adjustments” to his game in the offseason, Quenneville said.

“Bob’s going to have the workload and Spence will push him in some areas and some ways,” Quenneville said. “I think it’s a good, healthy situation. Bob gets the net and Spencer’s going to be the guy learning and absorbing.”