There's no doubt that the Florida Panthers had a great season. At the beginning of the year I don't think too many fans thought the team would go to the playoffs in 2012 but with a little luck and a good chemistry among new players, the Panthers showed everyone a glimpse of the team they hope to be in the future.
The Panthers' front office has a little bit of work to do in the offseason. The Cats had one of the lowest total payrolls in the NHL in 2012 and were one of four playoff teams with a payroll under $53 million but there are a few players who are due for new contracts and based on their performance in 2012, some of them may demand a high price-tag.
One of the most notable players that are up for a new contract is Kris Versteeg, who was one of the Cats' leading goal scorers in the regular season. Versteeg proved that he was an important cog in the Panthers' scoring machine in 2012 and I wouldn't doubt if he asked for new contract with a slight pay raise. Versteeg's talents will probably demand a high price but based on his performance in 2012 and his track record in the past, I think he will be worth the price.
Jason Garrison came out of nowhere in 2012 and quickly moved to the Panthers' first line defense alongside Brian Campbell. Garrison led the team in goals by a defenseman and was a quarterback of the power play unit with his booming shot from the point. Garrison is due for a new contract as well. In 2012 he was one of the lowest paid players on the Panthers' team. I think the Cats should lock this kid down with a nice contract so he'll stick around for a few years.
It's difficult to tell what will happen to Scott Clemmensen. He proved that he is a solid goaltender in 2012 by posting a .913 save percentage and 14 wins. Clem is certainly a solid guy but the emergence of Jose Theodore in 2012 may make it difficult for the Cats to shell out too much money for a goaltender who only played 30 games in the regular season. I honestly hope they keep Clem around because good backup keepers are tough to come by.
Mikael Samuelsson brings the veteran presence to the Cats that every team needs. The question for the Florida Panthers is, how long of a contract are they willing to extend to a 35 year-old right winger? I remember watching Samuelsson play when I lived in Detroit. That was several years ago but it appears the guy has still got it. Just a couple of years ago Samuelsson was easily putting up 50 point seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.
I think the Panthers should be cautious as to how much money they spend over the long term. Let's not forget that they've done very well in the draft the last few years and they'll soon have kids like Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore, among others who could put a push on the Cats' salary cap in the coming years.
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Kristian Eberwein is a freelance journalist from Orlando, Florida. He was an English major at the University of Central Florida and has been a part of the Florida hockey community for the past twenty years. Follow him on Twitter @KrisEberwein