First it was the Arizona Coyotes locking up unrestricted free agent Alex Goligoski after trading for the blueliners rights, and now it’s the Florida Panthers who have become successful in landing one of the best available rearguards before the free agent market even opens.
After trading a sixth-round pick and conditional fourth-round selection to the New York Rangers for Keith Yandle’s rights, the Panthers have locked the defenseman up to a seven-year, $44.45-million contract that will pay the 29-year-old $6.35 million per season, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun. It’s a massive payday for Yandle, who was reportedly looking for the max seven-year term on the open market and got that plus a sizeable raise of $1.1 million per season.
According to ESPN’s Craig Custance, Yandle’s new contract also includes a no-movement clause in each of the first six seasons and he’ll have a limited no-trade clause in the final year of the contract.
The deal for Yandle is a massive one, and the raise the Panthers have handed him is likely as much, if not more, than he would have gotten had he gone to the open market. And while some may feel its an overpayment, the idea appears to be that Yandle is a younger and cheaper replacement for Brian Campbell, who is expected to hit the open market.
This past season, the 37-year-old Campbell earned $7.14 million against the cap and produced six goals and 31 points. Granted Campbell has averaged anywhere from 26:53 to 22:16 in ice time per game over the past five seasons in Florida, but it was still an excessive cap hit for a player likely in the final few seasons of his career. In Yandle, the Panthers get a younger replacement who produced five goals and 47 points for the Rangers in 2015-16, with the only question being where he slots into the lineup.
Chances are that in 2016-17, Yandle will fill Campbell’s shoes almost exactly. Previously, that may have meant that Yandle skates primarily with Aaron Ekblad, but the sophomore defenseman split his time playing with Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov last season. It’s possible then that Yandle finds himself alongside Mike Matheson or possibly Alex Petrovic.
Regardless of his fit, though, Yandle’s signing marks a big victory for both player and team. For Yandle, he found the contract he wanted. And Florida sought out Yandle, acquired his rights and convinced a blueliner who would have been a major commodity on the free agent market that the Panthers were a fit for him and a team on the rise.