According to Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, the Florida Panthers are confident they’ll get a contract signed with soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Aleksander Barkov. Now 25 years old, the No. 1 center is going into the final season of a deal that pays him $5.9 million annually. In 50 games this past season, he posted a team-high 26 goals along with 32 assists for 58 points and there’s no doubt if he hits the market, he’ll hit an absolute home run financially with multiple suitors bidding for his services.
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The questions are many. Will Barkov be a $10 million per season player? Can the Florida Panthers get him signed for less than that while locking him up for the long haul? And if not, will the team need to trade such a valuable piece to ensure they get a return? Finally, if things aren’t clear heading into the NHL season, what is the organizational deadline to make such an important decision?
ESPN asked GM Bill Zito if there was a date when he’d have to consider trading the star center. He said there isn’t one, because “I’m confident we’ll be able to work something out.” Zito said an extension will “probably” come before the 2021-22 NHL season begins in October. Barkov’s agent Mark Gandler wouldn’t comment on the negotiations.
It wasn’t long ago reports surfaced –while not confirmed by the player or the team — that Barkov’s agent made it pretty clear the Panthers needed to show they were a competitive team if Barkov wasn’t to see what was out there. The 2020-21 campaign seemed to suggest they were an improve club, but an early-round knock out by the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning may have left some questions as to how good the Panthers might actually be.
They’ve got some good young pieces (Barkov among them) and they’ve added some talent over the past few months. Is it enough to show Barkov that the future is bright as a member of the Panthers over a period of eight more seasons? If Zito is correct and he can lock up his star center before the season even begins, that’s a massive win for the organization, regardless of the cost. If the season starts and Barkov is not signed, an strong start might be critical for the Panthers.
Barkov’s contract is not one that the Panthers want to procrastinate on getting done. The longer they wait, the more expensive he likely gets. The more they kick the contract extension can down the road, the more likely it is that he explores his options.
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