Even with all of the recent losing and non-playoff seasons there is still plenty of reason for Florida Panthers to be optimistic about the short-and long-term outlook of their team.
One of the biggest is the presence of star center Aleksander Barkov.
The 23-year-old center has blossomed into one of the league’s best all-around players over the past few years due to his blend of elite offense and superb defensive play. Since the start of the 2015-16 season he is 10th among all players in points-per-game (0.99) and has received significant Selke Trophy votes each year, finishing in the top-six in three of those years.
Finally healthy enough to play a full season a year ago, he took a huge step forward and showed just how dominant he can be.
What makes him even more valuable to the Panthers right now is that he has one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NHL, counting just $5.9 million against the salary cap over the next three seasons, which should cover all of his prime years in the league. It helps make him one of the most valuable assets in NHL right alongside Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. Having a player this good, this young, and still this cheap for their best years in the league is a huge competitive advantage over other teams in the league. You need superstar players to win, and they tend to cost a significant amount of money. In today’s dollars, usually close to double what Barkov current counts against the cap.
Because Barkov signed such a long-term contract at such a young age there was always a chance he would outperform it if he reached all of his potential, and he has. Under the rules of the current CBA there is nothing he or the team can do about his salary for at least two more years.
What the Panthers CAN do, though, is take advantage of the good fortune they hit on with Barkov’s contract (and Jonathan Huberdeau‘s as well) and use that savings to try and build something around him.
It’s not often an NHL team gets a situation like this (great in their prime player for so cheap) and when they do they can’t let the opportunity to build around them to slip away.