With Barkov Locked in, Panthers Look to Next Step
What’s Happening: The Florida Panthers locked down their cornerstone player on Friday in the next major step to being a perennial contender. Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov signed an 8-year $80 million contract extension — to kick in after this coming season — making it the largest in dollar amount ever doled out by Florida. Barkov also now shares the highest AAV title on the club, sharing that accolade with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Barkov, selected number 2 overall by the Panthers in 2013, has been their captain since 2018. The 26-year-old is entering his ninth season with Florida and continues to be considered one of the best players in the NHL. Last season, the Finland native won the Selke Trophy for best defensive player and finished sixth in the voting for the Heart Trophy, hockey’s MVP. In 529 career games, he has 465 points. He was also ranked #10 on TSN’s list of best NHL players heading into this season.
The next trophy he and the Panthers are gunning for is Lord Stanley.
Why It Matters: Signing Barkov long term surely sends a signal to the team and league that the Panthers are serious about contending. A would-have-been UFA after this season, Barkov leads a core that is locked in for the long-term. He also captain’s a club that is looking to build off a mightily successful if not surprising campaign last season.
Placed in a stacked pandemic division with the Carolina Hurricanes and would-be Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the Panthers finished one point behind the Hurricanes for the division title. Making the playoffs for the first time since 2016, they also gave the Lightning all they could handle in the first round, eventually bowing out four games to two.
Cementing Barkov in building off that momentum seemed essential. “He’s the cornerstone that we build around from a hockey perspective, from a culture perspective, from a leadership perspective,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said.
The Bigger Picture: Which begs the question: what can the Panthers do this season?
It goes without saying that the Panthers haven't had a ton of success since entering the NHL in 1994. They’ve earned a playoff berth only seven times in their 27 seasons and other than going to the Cup in 1996, have failed to make it out of the first round on the other occasions.
Last year felt slightly different, however, and they have a core to build off of. Back in their traditional division, it can be argued that they are the only contending team that improved. The Lightning lost many players to cap casualties, ditto the Maple Leafs who have their own playoff warts, and the Bruins are aging and have a transition in goal for the first time in a long time.
But with the addition of players like Sam Reinhart, and the potential of Spencer Knight in goal, the door seems open for Florida. Barkov on board means it should stay that way.
Links from the Rink
All Eyes on Eichel: Will we finally have movement?
Where Does Your Team Rank? ESPN’s mega season preview
Extended Stay: Zibanejad signs for 8 years with Rangers
The Unsigned: Ottawa preparing to start season without Brady Tkachuk
Get Kraken: NHL storylines to follow this season