NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers are coming off the most successful regular season in their history, but that wasn't good enough for them.
After losing in the Eastern Conference First Round in six games to the New York Islanders, the Panthers decided to revamp their defense with an overhaul rarely seen by a team that had 103 points.
Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk arrived in the offseason in trades and free agency. Four of the six defensemen who played in the Panthers' 2015-16 season opener -- Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell -- are gone.
"I think we increased our talent level, our speed, puck movement from the back end," said Gerard Gallant, who will return for his third season as Panthers coach. "I thought our defense did a real good job last year, but for us to get better, we had to get a little bit more talent, a little bit more speed. That's what (we) were trying to accomplish."
Returning, of course, is defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who signed an eight-year contract extension on July 1. The No. 1 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft has led Florida defensemen in scoring each of the past two seasons.
The Panthers followed that up by signing restricted free agent center Vincent Trocheck to a six-year contract and forward Reilly Smith to a five-year extension. Trocheck and Smith are among nine Panthers signed for at least the next five seasons, along with Yandle, Demers, Ekblad, centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, and goalies Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.
"[Owners Vinnie Viola] and Doug Cifu talked about doing that last winter," Gallant said. "Our core players are all signed to long-term contracts. As a head coach, that's what you like to see. They've got a great future. We've got a great team there and to get those players all signed to long-term contracts, that's huge for our fan base and that's huge for our hockey team because they're all good hockey players."
Reimer, who was with the San Jose Sharks after being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 27, signed a five-year contract as an unrestricted free agent with the idea he would help lighten the load for Luongo, whose status for the start of the regular season is unclear after offseason hip surgery.
"He was a very good goaltender," Gallant said. "I don't think he played a whole lot during last season with San Jose when he got there, but I saw him play in Toronto a lot. I know [goaltending coach] Robbie Tallas and their staff are very excited with him. He's a very class guy. Everybody I talk to about him says he's a great person, a great guy and a good team guy. He's a real good signing for us. It just gives us more stability for our club for sure."
The Panthers also added depth at forward, signing free agents Colton Sceviour (Dallas Stars) and Jonathan Marchessault (Tampa Bay Lightning), and acquiring Jared McCann, the No. 24 pick in the 2014 draft, from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade for Gudbranson.
Another player who could compete for a role on one of the bottom two lines is Lawson Crouse. The No. 11 pick of the 2015 draft, he had 62 points in 49 games with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League last season.
"It definitely gave us some quicker guys on that third-line position and it just gives Gerard some options, more options than we had last year," general manager Tom Rowe said.
Rowe took over as GM on May 16 when Dale Tallon was promoted to president of hockey operations. Rowe, who had been named associate GM in January, said the Panthers haven't changed the way they operate following the front-office restructuring, and that Tallon remains the final decision-maker on personnel moves.
The Panthers also unveiled a new logo and uniforms on June 2, the first significant changes since the franchise began play in 1993-94. It marks the start of a new chapter for Florida, which has Stanley Cup aspirations because of what they accomplished last season with a young nucleus mixed with key veterans like Luongo and seemingly ageless forward Jaromir Jagr.
"I thought last year we made a really good step and for us to get to be a better team and keep developing, our young players are coming and getting you better, we've just got to take another step and it's in all areas," Gallant said. "Our power play, our penalty kill, our team play. Both years that we were here, the team took big steps and big strides, and that's from our young payers getting another year of experience. I just think it's growing with the players. We're a better team and we know we're a good hockey team. We're a confident team. There's no team that we're going to play that we're going to be scared to play this year, for sure."