Sergei Bobrovsky ready to fill Roberto Luongo’s skates in Florida

The Florida Panthers missed the playoffs by a dozen points last season even though they scored the fifth most goals in the Eastern Conference with 267. The main problem was their goals against as they allowed the third-most at 280. It was obvious the team needed better goaltending from veterans Roberto Luongo and James Reimer but the 40-year-old Luongo was once again battling injuries. However, the Montreal native officially hung up his skates recently after 19 seasons in the NHL and Reimer was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.

With no established goaltenders on the roster, Florida general manager Dale Tallon made a major free-agent move by signing Sergei Bobrovsky from the Columbus Blue Jackets for seven years at $70 million. Tallon had created some additional salary cap space by trading Reimer and his annual $3.4 million contract and Luongo’s retirement freed up some money even though it will cost Florida $1,094,128 against the salary cap in each of the next three seasons. In addition, because of the goalie’s complicated 12-year, $64 million contract signed with the Vancouver Canucks in 2009, Vancouver will have to pay just over $3 million for the next three seasons.

Luongo leaves some pretty big skates for Bobrovsky to fill since he’ll undoubtedly end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame some day. He ranks third in NHL history with 489 wins and second behind Martin Brodeur in games played and saves made by a goaltender. He also ranks 10th all time in save percentage at 91.9. Luongo appeared in 1,044 regular-season contests with a 2.52 goals-against average and 77 shutouts. He posted a 489-392-124 record and went 34-35 in 70 playoff outings with a save percentage of 91.8 and a GAA of 2.49. Luongo was named to the NHL’s Second All Star Team twice and led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup final in 2010/11 where they fell to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

Internationally, Luongo won gold medals with Canada at the Olympic Games in both 2010 and 2014 as well as at the 2003 and 2004 IIHF World Championships. He also played on the winning team at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. As far as individual silverware goes, he shared the William Jennings Trophy in 2010/11 with Cory Schneider of the Canucks as the duo combined to allow the fewest goals against in the league. Luongo was originally drafted into the NHL with the fourth overall pick in 1997 by the New York Islanders. He made his big league debut two years later and was then traded to the Panthers after his rookie year. He spent five years in the crease in Florida and was traded to the Canucks in 2006. Luongo was then traded back to the Panthers in 2014.

While the Luongo era has just ended in Florida the Bobrovsky era is just beginning. The 30-year-old will likely join Luongo in the Hall of Fame one day as he has already won the Vezina Trophy twice as the NHL’s best goaltender. The native of Russia captured the honours for his work in 2012/13 and again in 2016/17 while playing with Columbus. Bobrovsky’s pro career kicked off in his homeland with Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the KHL and was then signed by the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent in 2010. The Flyers made a huge mistake by trading him to Columbus in June of 2012 for draft picks. Once in Columbus, he took over as the team’s number one goalie.

Bobrovsky was named to the league’s First All-Star Team in 2012/13 and 2016/17 and as mentioned won a pair of Vezina Trophies with the club the same seasons. He set several franchise records with the Blue Jackets and his current NHL regular-season record reads 255-153-37 in 455 games played with 33 shutouts, a GAA of 2.46 and a 91.9 save percentage. He’s 11-18 in 34 playoff outings with a 3.14 GAA and 90.2 save percentage. He’s also won a gold, silver and two bronze medals with Russia at the World Championships. With Bobrovsky between the posts for Florida in 2019/20 there’s an excellent chance the team will make the playoffs for just the sixth time since joining the league in 1993/94.

NHL free agency far from over

As usual, the majority of NHL unrestricted free agents were signed within the first 24 hours they became eligible on July 1st. Several clubs appeared to strengthen their squads considerably while others took it on the chin and lost one or more key players. Perhaps the biggest surprise was an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes star forward and restricted free agent Sebastian Aho by the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal general manager offered the 21-year-old a five-year deal worth $42.27 million and was willing to give up a first, second and third-round draft pick to sign him.

However, Carolina GM Don Waddell basically had his work done for him by Bergevin as he announced¬† on July 7th that the Hurricanes had officially matched the offer, which was their right to. This meant Waddell didn’t have to endure an agonizing contract-negotiation process with his team’s top scorer as he simply had to match the offer. It’s arguable if the player or club got the better of the deal as there are some experts who feel Aho may be worth more than the annual average of $8.454 million of the contract.

Montreal believed there was a chance Carolina may not match the offer since Aho is due half of the contract total in the first year. With an $11.3 million signing bonus he’ll be paid $21 million in year one of the five-year deal. Aho of Rauma, Finland, led his team in scoring this season with 30 goals and 53 assists in 82 games. He then added five goals and seven assists in the Hurricanes’ impressive playoff run. Aho has racked up 83 goals and 114 assists for 197 points in 242 career regular-season contests with Carolina with 12 points in 25 postseason outings.

There could be more offer sheets coming during the offseason as there are several other big-name restricted free agents who have yet to be re-signed by their clubs. These include forwards Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brayden Point of the Tampa bay Lightning, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, Kevin Labanc of the San Jose sharks and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche. There are also some fine defenceman yet to sign including Jacob Trouba of the New York Rangers, Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis blues hasn’t re-signed either and has taken the Blues to salary arbitration. As far as the unrestricted free agents go, most of the big names have been signed but some are still shopping their services such as Toronto blue liner Jake Gardiner, San Jose forward Joe Thornton, St. Louis forward Patrick Maroon, Columbus forward Ryan Dzingel and Carolina forwards Justin Williams and Michael Ferland.

Since we’re in the middle of summer many fans may have missed the original flurry of unrestricted free-agent signings so we’ll recap the biggest moves so far.

The Buffalo Sabres signed forward Marcus Johansson of Boston to a two-year deal worth $9million. The Chicago Blackhawks lured goaltender Robin Lehner away from the New York Islanders and signed him to a $5 million one-year contract. The Columbus Blue Jackets inked veteran forward

Gustav Nyquist from the San Jose Sharks to $22 million over four years. The Dallas Stars gave forward Joe Pavelski $21 million over three years to give up his captaincy in San Jose and head to Texas. They also gave former Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry a year-long deal for $1.5 million.

The Detroit Red Wings inked forward Valtteri Filppula from the New York Islanders for $6 million over two years and gave Dallas blue liner Patrik Nemeth the same deal. The Edmonton Oilers signed netminder Mike Smith out of Calgary $2 million over one year. The Florida Panthers signed  goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, from the Blue Jackets Columbus for $70 million over seven seasons and added forward Brett Connolly from Washington for $13 million over four years.

The Panthers didn’t stop there as forward Noel Acciari was signed for three years for $5 million from Boston and veteran rearguard Anton Stralman came over from Tampa $16.5 million over three years. The Minnesota Wild gave former Dallas forward Mats Zuccarello $30 million for five seasons while the Nashville Predators inked forward Matt Duchene from the Blue Jackets for seven years at $56 million. The New Jersey Devils gave former Nashville forward Wayne Simmonds a one-year deal for $5 million while the New York Islanders signed goalie Semyon Varlamov from Colorado for four seasons.

The New York Rangers made a big splash by landing forward Artemi Panarin of the Blue Jackets for $81.5 million over seven years. The Ottawa Senators signed a couple of players from Toronto as blue liner Ron Hainsey agreed to a one-year deal for $3.5 million while forward Tyler Ennis signed for a year at $800,000. The Pittsburgh Penguins signed blue liner Brandon Tanev out of Winnipeg for $21 million over six years. Tampa Bay inked goalie Curtis McElhinney from the Hurricanes for two years at $2.6 million and Vancouver inked former Winnipeg defenceman Tyler Myers for $30 million over five seasons.

Several trades precede NHL free agency season

The NHL’s free agency season kicked in July 1st and we’ll recap all the big signings next week. However, there were plenty of trades before free agency kicked in as teams were anxious to create salary cap room and open up some roster spots.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenceman Nikita Zaitsev requested a trade several weeks ago and the team accommodated him by sending the 27-year-old to the Ottawa Senators along with forwards Connor Brown and Michael Carcone in return for defencemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur as well as a third-round draft pick in 2020 and Aaron Luchuk.

Zaitsev spent three seasons in Toronto and posted 63 points but managed just 11 points this season. He was signed to a seven-year contract at $4.5 million a season following his rookie campaign. The 25-year-old Brown scored eight goals and 21 assists this season while scoring 14 goals last year and 20 the season before and has 99 points in 253 career games. Carcone, a 23-year-old, notched 27 points last year while playing for the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Ceci spent six seasons with Ottawa and the 25-year-old racked up 118 points including seven goals and 19 assists this year. The 24-year-old Harpur, 24 scored just five five points in 51 contests this season while Luchuk, a 22-year old, posted 22 points in the ECHL this year in 32 games. Both Carcone and Ceci are unsigned restricted free agents. Harpur’s salary-cap hit is $725,000, Luchuk’s is $759,166 and Brown’s is $2.1-million.

Florida Panthers’ netminder Roberto Luongo retired last week with the third-most wins in history after 19 years in the NHL. They also lost James Reimer as the 31-year-old was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for fellow goalie Scott Darling and as a sixth-round draft pick in 2020. Reimer spent three seasons with the Panthers and has two years remaining on his contract at $3.4 million a season.

Reimer also played with the San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs and has appeared in 338 NHL games with a record of 144-120-39, 21 shutouts, a save percentage of 91.3 and a 2.81 goals-against average. As for Darling, the 31-year-old was placed on waivers by Florida and will have his $4.15 million annual contract contract bought out, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Darling played just eight NHL games this season while spending most of the year in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers. He formerly played with the Chicago Blackhawks where he won a Stanley Cup in 2014/15. He has played 126 career NHL games with a mark of 54-42-18, four shutouts, a GAA of 2.72 and a 90.8 save percentage. Florida is expected to fill their goaltending vacancies by signing unrestricted free agent Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Montreal Canadiens traded 27-year-old Andrew Shaw and a seventh-rounder in 2021 to Chicago for a second and a seventh-rounder next year and a third-round draft choice in 2021. Shaw previously played five years for the Blackhawks and won Stanley Cups with the squad in 2013 and 2015. he was traded to Montreal three years ago and signed a six-year deal worth $3.9 million a season. Shaw played 63 contests this season and posted 19 goals and 47 points. He has 111 goals and 233 points in 504 career games with 35 points in his 72 playoff games.

Thirty-one-year-old forward Phil Kessel was traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alexander Galchenyuk and defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Arizona also received rearguard Dane Birks in the deal as well as a 2021 fourth-round draft choice. Kessel won back-to-back Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017. His salary-cap hit is $8 million a year with the Toronto Maple Leafs paying $1.2 million of it each year. Galchenyuk’s cap hit is $4.9 million and he will become an unrestricted free agent next year.

Kessel posted 27 goals and 82 points this year and has played 996 career contests with Pittsburgh, Toronto and the Boston Bruins with 357 goals and 823 points. He’s also tallied 33 goals and 77 points in his 87 playoff appearances. The 25-year-old Galchenyuk registered 19 goals and 41 points this year and has 127 goals and 296 points in 490¬† career outings with Arizona and the Montreal Canadiens along with 13 points in his 28 postseason matches.

The New York Rangers cleared up $2.275 million in salary-cap space by trading forward Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round draft pick in 2021. The 26-year-old spent three years in the Big Apple and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. He played 81 games this season and tallied 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points. He has 50 goals and 90 points in 240 career contests.