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Panthers Acquiring Assets, Cap Space for Big Summer

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

The Florida Panthers are gearing up for a big summer.

In a series of moves that started back in late December and culminated with Monday's trade deadline, president of hockey operations and general manager Dale Tallon has been working vigorously to put the Panthers in the best position possible to improve this offseason by acquiring assets and clearing cap space.

"We've had a good month," Tallon said. "We've accumulated some picks and some assets, freed up some money as far as free agency for this this summer, and didn't really disrupt the core of our team. All in all, a very positive month for us.

"I think our whole organization worked really well together. Subtly, we did some really good things here in the last month. We helped improve our minor-league team a little bit today, too, with a couple of deals that we made. Overall, a real solid month for our organization."

Prior to the 3 p.m. deadline on Monday, the Panthers made four moves, with the most notable one sending veteran center Derick Brassard, who was previously acquired from Pittsburgh on Feb. 1, and a 2020 conditional sixth-round pick to Colorado for a 2020 third-round pick.

Florida will retain the 2020 sixth-round pick if the Avalanche re-sign Brassard this summer.

In addition to that move, the Panthers also made three other deals which brought in right-wing prospect Cliff Pu, center Jean-Sebastien Dea and a 2021 seventh-round pick in exchange for minor-league forward Tomas Jurco and defensemen Bogdan Kiselevich and Chris Wideman.

The 69th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Pu appeared in 44 games with Carolina's AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, this season, producing one goal and five assists. Over 232 career OHL games, the 20-year-old registered a hefty 210 points (80 goals, 130 assists).

As for Dea, the 25-year-old already has some NHL experience under his belt, recording four goals and two assists over 24 games split between New Jersey and Pittsburgh this season. At the AHL level, he's been stellar, posting 163 points (72 goals, 91 assists) in 288 career games.

Both are expected to immediately bolster Florida's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds.

"We're excited to be adding Jean-Sebastien and Cliff to our roster down in Springfield," said Panthers assistant general manager and Thunderbirds general manager Eric Joyce. "Jean-Sebastien is a character player who adds depth to our organization and is a proven scorer at the [AHL] level; while Cliff has high-end speed, skill and upside. Both of these players will help in Springfield and have a chance to develop into contributors with the Panthers down the road."

But today's moves are only a small piece of a far bigger picture.

Starting with the trade that sent third-string goaltender Michael Hutchinson to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2020 fifth-round pick on Dec. 29, Florida has acquired a total of seven draft picks, three prospects and veteran center Riley Sheahan, who is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Sheahan, who has been a penalty-kill specialist and accumulated one goal and three assists in 11 games since joining the Panthers, could also be sticking around with the Panthers next season.

"I'm real happy with Riley," Tallon said. "He's played very well for us. That's a piece that we would like to keep. I like what he brings to the table. He plays hard. He can play up and down the lineup. His physicality, his size, his speed, his skill, all those things and his aggressive play are probably things we missed in the first part of the year."

Looking ahead to the draft, Florida now owns a total of nine picks in 2019 and eight in 2020, including two picks in the first round, two in the second, three in the third and four in the fourth.

"The next focus for me and our staff is getting ready for the draft," Tallon said. "We've accumulated a lot of picks for that. Now it's to make sure that list is tight, and we get all the top players we can possibly we can get with the number of picks that we have."

Then, there's the cap space -- that glorious, beautiful cap space.

There are few things more valuable in the NHL than some financial breathing room, which is exactly what the Panthers have been able to create. According to CapFriendly.com, simply trading Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the Penguins (the deal that brought Brassard, Sheahan and draft picks to South Florida), freed up $5.35 million in cap space next season.

Additionally, nearly $8 million more will come off the books due to expiring contracts.

"We'll be very aggressive after the season," Tallon said. "We have lots of room now. We have lots of pick. We'll turn this into a positive thing. We had some bunt singles, to scratch and claw to improve our organization on a daily basis and then we'll eventually hit the home run."

The Panthers also already used part of that freed up money to reward Frank Vatrano, who inked a three-year extension with the club shortly after today's deadline. Picked up in a trade with Boston for a third-round pick (see, those things are pretty valuable) at last year's deadline, the 24-year-old forward has reached new career-highs in goals (20) and points (33) this season.

"Ever since the day I came here I felt comfortable right away," Vatrano said. "I've been playing with some good guys no matter what line I was on. I love it here, and I wanted to call it home for the next three years. I'm obviously excited, and hopefully there's more years to come after that."

Despite looking ahead to an exciting summer, Florida also isn't throwing in the towel this season.

Sitting 10 points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand, Brassard, who notched one goal and three assists in 10 games with the Panthers, was the only regular moved at the deadline. Other than that, the rest of the team remains very much intact.

"We have a bright young core and we have a good future," Vatrano said. "There's spurts of us showing what we're capable of this year. I think over the past month we've shown the league what we can do on a nightly basis. I think if we can keep doing that, we'll be fine. We'll be a dangerous team for years and years to come."

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