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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Sabres solidify D-corps, acquire Dmitry Kulikov from Panthers

Matt Larkin
Dmitry Kulikov. (Getty Images)

BUFFALO – The Buffalo Sabres walked away with an impact Russian defenseman early in the NHL draft after all. No, it wasn’t Mikhail Sergachev, as they passed on him for a forward in Alex Nylander during Friday’s first round at No. 8 overall. Instead, GM Tim Murray upgraded his blueline Saturday morning by acquiring veteran Dmitry Kullikov and pick No. 33 (Rasmus Asplund) in Saturday’s draft from the Florida Panthers for D-man Mark Pysyk, picks No. 38 and No. 89.

Some trades are easier to understand than others, and this deal, first reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, makes perfect sense for the Sabres. They were very clearly in the market for a veteran top-four blueliner, commonly linked to the Anaheim Ducks’ Cam Fowler. Kulikov, a tenacious left-handed shooter who blocks shots with aplomb, shores up Murray’s blueline. Rasmus Ristolainen remains the cornerstone piece, and Kulkov, Cody Franson, Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges provide depth. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kulikov play on the top pairing with right-shooting Ristolainen.

Just as we’ve seen with the Leafs landing Frederik Andersen and the Coyotes signing Alex Goligoski, the Sabres send a message here they’re ready to start competing as a playoff hopeful. They’ve amassed a nice pile of promising young scorers in Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Nylander. They have their No. 1 stud blueliner in Ristolainen. Why not pick up an impact veteran in Kulikov, still young at 25, and start trying to push for a post-season berth in the weak Atlantic Division?

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Panthers fill need for backup goaltender, send Grimaldi to Avalanche for Berra

Jared Clinton
Reto Berra (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

One of the Florida Panthers’ needs heading into the off-season was a backup goaltender to relieve Roberto Luongo here and there.

Al Montoya had performed admirably over the past two seasons in just that role, but with some options for him to go elsewhere — and maybe even earn a larger share of the net duty — the 31-year-old appeared ready to head elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. That left the Panthers in the market for some backup help, but they took care of that Thursday by shipping Rocco Grimaldi to the Colorado Avalanche for netminder Retto Berra.

Berra, 29, is locked up at $1.45 million for the upcoming campaign, per CapFriendly, and he’s coming off of a somewhat decent run in the Colorado goal this past season. Read more

Panthers gamble pays off as Yandle signs seven-year, $44.45-million deal

Jared Clinton
Keith Yandle (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

First it was the Arizona Coyotes locking up unrestricted free agent Alex Goligoski after trading for the blueliners rights, and now it’s the Florida Panthers who have become successful in landing one of the best available rearguards before the free agent market even opens.

After trading a sixth-round pick and conditional fourth-round selection to the New York Rangers for Keith Yandle’s rights, the Panthers have locked the defenseman up to a seven-year, $44.45-million contract that will pay the 29-year-old $6.35 million per season, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. It’s a massive payday for Yandle, who was reportedly looking for the max seven-year term on the open market and got that plus a sizeable raise of $1.1 million per season.

According to ESPN’s Craig Custance, Yandle’s new contract also includes a no-movement clause in each of the first six seasons and he’ll have a limited no-trade clause in the final year of the contract. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Latest on Campbell, Stamkos, Malkin, Fleury, Shattenkirk and more

Brian Campbell (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

As the 2016 NHL draft draws near, trade activity is picking up. On Monday, the Anaheim Ducks shipped goaltender Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two draft picks, the New York Rangers dealt defenseman Keith Yandle‘s rights to the Florida Panthers, while the Nashville Predators dealt the rights of college prospect Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Panthers acquisition of Yandle’s rights makes sense if Brian Campbell departs via free agency on July 1. The Miami Herald’s George Richards reports Panthers GM Tom Rowe expects Campbell, 37, to test the market.

It also douses recent trade speculation involving Panthers blueliner Dmitry Kulikov. The Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov claims the Panthers frequently get inquiries about the 24-year-old blueliner but he’s not on the trade block.

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