Ekblad doesn’t believe front office shake-up will change Panthers’ game

Dhiren Mahiban
Aaron Ekblad. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Florida Panthers have made several offseason moves in the name of analytics this summer, including the naming of Tom Rowe as the club’s general manager replacing Dale Tallon who was named president of hockey operations.

The Panthers are coming off a season in which they finished with a franchise-best for wins (47) and points (103) while winning the club’s second division title. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad acknowledged he’s noticed a shift in focus within the team’s front office.

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Panthers coach Gallant ‘a little bit surprised’ by number of moves team made

Jared Clinton
Gerard Gallant (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

The past campaign was the most successful regular season the Florida Panthers have ever put together, so you’ll forgive coach Gerrard Gallant if he didn’t expect to see his club shaken up this summer.

After coaching Florida to an Atlantic Division title and 103-point season, Gallant’s Panthers underwent somewhat of an overhaul in the front office, and that has in part led to a number of on-ice changes for the organization, as well. Dale Tallon was moved from his post as GM and Tom Rowe took over, the deck has been shuffled in the front office and Gallant has seen a few major pieces of the 2015-16 team head elsewhere this off-season.

“You’d like to have your team back as a coach but at the same time there’s salary-cap issues that come into play,’’ Gallant told the Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov. “It’s different than it used to be before. I definitely was a little bit surprised, but overall we got a pretty good club. You put it on the board and you’re pretty excited.’’ Read more

Report: Panthers kicking tires on free agent defenseman Kris Russell

Jared Clinton
Kris Russell (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Free agency opened 11 days ago, but defenseman Kris Russell, who was a hot commodity at the trade deadline, has yet to find himself a place to play in the upcoming campaign. However, there may be a new suitor throwing their hat in the ring for the free agent blueliner.

The Florida Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov reported Sunday that the Florida Panthers are “showing interest” in Russell, 29, who spent the past season with the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars.

As one of the top free agent defensemen remaining, Russell has likely positioned himself to land a deal with what could be a significant raise on the $2.6 million he earned during the 2015-16 campaign. That could make the chance Russell lands in Florida slim, though, even if the Cats are at the very least testing the waters on signing the rearguard. Read more

Why James Reimer was a sneaky-good signing for the Panthers

Matt Larkin
James Reimer. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

Unrestricted free agent goalie James Reimer’s starting options dried up in a hurry. The Carolina Hurricanes re-upped Cam Ward, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Frederik Andersen and the Calgary Flames dealt for Brian Elliott. No other NHL team had an obvious need for an unquestioned No. 1.

But the deal Reimer signed with the Florida Panthers July 1 is the type that makes you say “Ohhh, I get it.” Is a five-year, $17-million contract with a $3.4-million hit starter money? No, but it sure as heck ain’t backup money, either. The Cats have set themselves up with an ideal fallback for – and perhaps successor to – Roberto Luongo. His contract actually ends after Reimer’s, but Luongo is 37. The odds of him playing out that deal through 2021-22 are slim. Luongo appeared in 62 games this past season. Before the all-star break he posted at 2.08 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Afterward: 2.82 and .907. He understandably wilted down the stretch and admitted to feeling exhausted during Florida’s first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.

Reimer, for starters, can spell Luongo for 25 or even 30 games in 2016-17. Reimer has had longer looks as a starter than the departed Al Montoya, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Reimer play a 1B role instead of taking on strict backup duty. The $3.4-million annual investment suggests as much. Reimer is 28, with many good years left, so he could take over the No. 1 job in a couple years depending on when Luongo retires or suffers a significant age-related decline.

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Aaron Ekblad’s eight-year, $60-million extension with Panthers a no-brainer

Matt Larkin
Aaron Ekblad (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

We’ve seen oodles of controversial trades and some surprising money handed out this week, so it’s refreshing to see a sensible contract handed out to a good, young, star player. The Florida Panthers have agreed with defenseman Aaron Ekblad on an eight-year, $60-million extension that kicks in for 2017-18. The contract may not be made official Friday with all the free agent hoopla happening but is all but completed.

Ekblad, 20 and a restricted free agent next summer, rocketed past any thought of a short-term, financially modest bridge deal pretty much the moment he took the ice as a rookie in 2014-15. His 39 points were the third most in NHL history by a defenseman in his age-18 season, trailing only Phil Housley’s 66 in 1982-83 and Bobby Orr’s 41 in 1966-67. Ekblad’s numbers were all the more impressive considering the low-scoring era in which he plays. He took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.

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