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Panthers sending strong message to core

Commitment to young players has Florida primed for success

by Alain Poupart / NHL.com Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- There was a time not so long ago when general manager Dale Tallon was more or less forced to give up proven players because of the Florida Panthers' financial limitations.

It's the opposite these days as Tallon, now in the role of president of hockey operations, watches the Panthers give long-term contracts to players who have formed the talented young nucleus he helped build.

The latest example was forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who signed a six-year contract extension with an average annual value of $5.9 million on Wednesday.  

"It's amazing, it really is," Tallon said. "I'm very fortunate and we're very fortunate that we have that commitment from [ownership]. It's fantastic. This is the kind of ownership you want … you want commitment, and they're showing it, they're putting their money where their mouth is."

Huberdeau became the 10th Panthers player signed at least through the 2020-21 season with forwards Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith, defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, and goaltenders Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.

In 2016 alone, the Panthers have given a long-term contract to Barkov, Trocheck, Smith, Ekblad, Yandle, Demers and Reimer, a clear indication owners Vincent Viola and Doug Cifu are looking to win big - and win now.

Video: Jonathan Huberdeau signs long-term contract

"It's exciting," Huberdeau said. "We all know what we can do as a team. We have new owners and they take care of us really well. They changed the team around. They went and added some players this summer. They know what they're doing and it's fun to see that. Last year, we had a really good year. Nobody expected that, but we did. That's the most important thing. And now we're going next year and I think we're confident in what we can accomplish.

"I'm glad the owners showed confidence in their core guys by signing all those young guys, the core guys. We know we have the right players and that's why you want to stay here. We believe in each other."

Tallon said the Panthers' willingness to give out long-term contracts sends a strong message to the organization's prospects that they will get rewarded for performance, on and off the ice.

Despite all the spending, the Panthers still have some wiggle room under the salary cap - they have $9.2 million in cap space, the third highest in the NHL, according to General Fanager - to make more moves to bolster what already looks like an impressive lineup.

And the Panthers have more talented young players on the way, starting with defenseman Michael Matheson, who impressed in the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before winning top defenseman honors at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in May.

"We've got some young guys knocking at the door," Tallon said. "We've got depth in the organization and we've got room, cap space as well. We're very flexible. We can be aggressive in the trade market as well. The team is in a great position for not only the present but the future. I'm very excited about the Florida Panthers and the direction we're headed in."

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