Panthers continue revamping blue line by signing Demers
Even after NHL teams committed over $600 million in contracts on the opening day of free agency, there was still plenty of money left to spend for those willing to jump in.
On Saturday, the Florida Panthers signed defenseman Jason Demers to a $22.5 million, five-year deal as they continued to overhaul their blue line. Florida isn't afraid to spend this offseason, as it showed in locking up top defenseman Aaron Ekblad on a $60 million, eight-year extension and trading for and signing Keith Yandle to a $44.45 million, seven-year contract.
While others have hesitated to shell out long-term, big-money free agent deals, new Panthers general manager Tom Rowe has taken an aggressive approach with his group in win-soon mode. The Panthers made the playoffs and have what Rowe called the best group of young forwards in the league, led by Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Demers said it was a ''no-brainer'' for him to sign with the Panthers.
''I want to go somewhere where I have a chance to win,'' Demers said on a conference call Saturday. ''They got a lot of young talent, and we can be very competitive for a lot of years. They've been building toward this the past two or three years. It's an exciting time to be in Florida right now.''
Being right at the start of a Stanley Cup window made the Panthers spenders. Top Cup contenders such as the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals have made low-budget tweaks early in free agency while the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers went for it.
On Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Roman Polak to a one-year deal, and the Islanders signed winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau to a one-year deal.
''Every team's in a different spot and there's different reasons for everybody to make decisions out here,'' said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, who signed defenseman Dan Hamhuis to a $7.5 million, two-year deal Friday.
''Some teams are geared to go for the Stanley Cup, some are rebuilding, so it all depends where you're at. It depends on the free agents, the ages of them. There's so many different factors that go into play. In the end you hope you're making the right decisions.''
The need for big contracts scared some GMs away from the top free agents and led them to consider other options. The St. Louis Blues weren't willing to go to five years to bring back captain David Backes, so the 32-year-old center signed for $30 million with the Bruins.
After also letting right wing Troy Brouwer leave for $18 million over four years from the Calgary Flames, Blues GM Doug Armstrong looked at free agent signings around the league and preferred to stay out of most of the top action because of a fear of what it would do long term.
''There's a constant dribble of buyouts every year and it's always players signed on this date,'' Armstrong said, referring to July 1.
''Philosophically you don't want to be signing players thinking there's a greater percentage chance that they're going to be bought out. And I'm not saying that about our two (departing) players. I'm just saying in general term scares me.''
Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said the same thing after signing only one-year deals with Russian winger Alexander Radulov ($5.75 million) and backup goalie Al Montoya ($950,000). But that's not to say Bergevin played it safe considering he acquired Shea Weber for P.K. Subban in a swap of All-Star defensemen earlier in the week.
After saying free agency can be a ''dangerous'' time, New York Islanders GM Garth Snow signed left wing Andrew Ladd to a $38.5 million, seven-year deal. The Sabres didn't throw as much caution to the wind with their $42 million, seven-year deal with Kyle Okposo, who's two years younger.
''We all worry about term in free agency, but he is a young free agent at 28,'' Buffalo GM Tim Murray said. ''We don't feel he's one of the guys that you're going to see a massive drop-off in his game.''
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.