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.

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.”

Florida Panthers 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Florida Panthers.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 37-14-5 (79 points); second place in Central Division
• Postseason: Made First Round, lost in six games to Lightning
• Offensive leaders: Aleksander Barkov (26 goals), Jonathan Huberdeau (61 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Sam Reinhart (traded from Buffalo), Christopher Gibson, Zac Dalpe, Joe Thornton
• Free Agent Subtractions: Lucas Wallmark (CSKA, KHL), Keith Yandle (buyout), Nikita Gusev (PTO, Toronto), Devon Levi (traded to Buffalo), Alexander Wennberg (signed with Seattle), Anton Stralman (traded to Arizona), Chris Driedger (expansion draft)

Biggest question facing the Florida Panthers?

• When will Spencer Knight ascend to the No. 1 throne?

Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract — the one that carries a $10 million cap hit! — does not come to an end until after the 2025-26 season. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon, but Knight is clearly the future in goal. The 20-year-old left Boston College and played six times in the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. Over that small sample size he put up a .939 5-on-5 save percentage, per Natural Stat Trick.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

The brief stint was encouraging, and with Bobrovsky getting outplayed and losing his No. 1 gig to Chris Driedger at times last season, it seems inevitable the Panthers will soon have a very, very expensive backup goaltender (his actual salary for the next two seasons is $12 million). It will be interesting to see head coach Joel Quenneville’s plans in net, whether he decides to give them a close split of games or ride the hot hand when the situation calls for it.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Per Cap Friendly, the Panthers have a little more than $1 million in room under the ceiling after a summer of extending Gustav Forsling, Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe, and Sam Reinhart. The rest of the business featured cheap deals, like Joe Thornton’s one-year, $750,000 deal.

The likely increasing of the salary cap ceiling by about $1 million for 2022-23 will be welcome news, but there are plenty of questions ahead for the Cats. Barkov, Frank Vatrano, and Noel Acciari are among those who can hit the unrestricted free agent market next summer. As important to keep tabs on, Jonathan Huberdeau will be a UFA in summer 2023, while Knight will be restricted in the same offseason.

Barkov, however, is the No. 1 priority and will see his cap hit rise greatly from its current $5.9 million total. It will take some cap maneuvering from general manager Bill Zito to make it all fit while continuing to push this team further. That Bobrovsky contract will cause issues until it’s gone from their books.

spencer knight
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Breakout Candidate

• Spencer Knight

There are expectations now in Florida. If you don’t count the 2020 Qualifying Round — the NHL does not! — the Panthers have failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1996 and 1997. Many seasons have ended early since that Cup Final appearance a quarter-century ago, but now the pressure is on to win. Ownership has spent the money and it’s time to deliver. The hope is that Knight is the one to take the goaltending lead, even with Bobrovsky there. A time-share split is likely, but as we saw against the Lightning there needs to be some consistency at some point.

Best-Case Scenario

Aaron Ekblad returns from his broken leg and picks up where he left off last season when he had 11 goals and 22 point in 35 games. That would help solidify a backend that added Montour at the trade deadline and saw MacKenzie Weegar breakout and earn Norris Trophy votes. Getting a Barkov extension done during the season would go a long way to alleviating fears that this could be his final season in Sunrise. Moving back to the old division alignment will be a big part of the Panthers’ push for a second straight playoff appearance. There are enough points in that division to be had to give them enough of a cushion to ensure another postseason berth.

Worst-Case Scenario

How much of a distraction might the Barkov situation be as the season drags on and he remains unsigned? And should the Florida Panthers be out of a playoff spot come trade deadline time, does Zito look to get something for a potential UFA or take the risk and let extension talks continue into the summer for the franchise’s most important player?

PointsbetFlorida Panthers Stanley Cup odds

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.