In the midst of a promising season, the Florida Panthers have agreed to terms to keep two key contributors in this year's turnaround in Sunrise.
29-year-old Ryan Johansen is one player out of a few that has spent the BEARD Panthers' entire time as a franchise in Panthers colours.
Their ninth-round pick in the BEARD Dispersal Draft, Johansen put up 77 points in 82 games last season and survived the mass exodus around trade deadline time, with the Panthers believing his strong campaign made him good value for the upcoming season. He has been a tremendous fit alongside Tyler Johnson ever since the latter arrived in Florida in the middle of the 2020-21 season, and has put up 61 points in 60 games so far this year.
With 148 points in 152 games as a Panther, Johansen has more than doubled anyone else's offensive output with the franchise.
The strong 2021-22 campaign so far has convinced Johansen to stick around.
"We've got a good thing going here, I think we're set up to really contend over the next few years, so of course, I wanted to be a part of that," Johansen says. He signed a two-year, $13.5 million contract extension ($6.75 million per season with no signing bonus). He's part of a great 1-2 punch with Evgeny Kuznetsov as the pair almost evenly split ice time as part of the Panthers' top two offensive units.
The Panthers shipped the 22nd overall pick in the 2021 draft to Calgary, which turned out to be Carson Lambos, in order to bring in Oliver Bjorkstrand last off-season. Bjorkstrand was coming off a somewhat disappointing 41-point campaign, but he did show signs of life after a late trade to Calgary (18 points in his last 28 games).
The Flames made him available due to his pending UFA status, and for the Panthers, it was a bit of a risk, but they were willing to take it with the hope that a season of playing in Florida would help convince him to stick around. That gamble does appear to have paid off.
"I mean, Florida is a place guys love to play," said Bjorkstrand after signing his new deal. "Chemistry's great, the team is playing well, the weather is beautiful. Just seemed like a good place to settle down and stick around."
Bjorkstrand has 22 goals and 59 points in 60 games with the Panthers this season, second to just Johansen in team scoring. His new deal is a 4-year contract worth $21.505 million ($4.675 million per season), with a $2.805 million signing bonus.
After signing Bjorkstrand and Johansen to extensions, the Panthers have a deep, talented entire top-nine under control for at least two more seasons after this one, and all are making pretty reasonable dollar amounts. Jakub Vrana adds to that mix in place of Dominik Kubalik after this week's trade with Washington.
Their defense is in a pretty similar situation, and netminder Philipp Grubauer is also signed long-term.
"I think we've set ourselves up pretty nicely for the next few years, for sure. Especially with how well this season has gone, we think we're in good shape," said GM Trevor Cook.
The Panthers do have $76.3 million in salary commitments for next season even before new contracts for Vrana and Rasmus Andersson, although they will have some flexibility with the roles of Jonathan Merrill, Luca Sbisa, and Riley Sheahan if they can stomach hiding their cap hits in the minors, which they have also done for most of this season in the cases of Merrill and Sbisa.
For GM Cook, it's a good problem to have.
"We've got a lot of good players and this off-season, yeah, we'll probably have to make a tough decision or two but I think it's better to be sitting here with a lot of competition for roster spots, having too many guys rather than not enough guys."
All things considered, it does appear the Panthers have done a good job getting guys to buy in and setting themselves up with a window to contend for the Cup that definitely has several seasons left.