The 2022 Free Agent Frenzy will be one that hockey fans will remember forever thanks to the shocking swerve by Johnny Gaudreau choosing to sign with the Columbus Bluejackets, passing on other teams with bigger offers.
The frenzy was much quieter for Florida Panthers fans due to the extreme cap squeeze the team is currently in.
Because of this, Zito scooped up a number of veteran / “low key” guys on short, cheap deals to add depth to the roster.
The signings are below with all player descriptions coming from Litter Box Cats
Gerry Mayhew (F)
“Mayhew, 29, appeared in 40 NHL games in 2021-22 split between the Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers, producing 11 goals and 12 points. He also skated in 24 games with Philadelphia’s AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, recording 9 goals and 16 points
The undrafted 5-foot-9, 161-pound native of Wyandotte, MI, has played in 57 career NHL games with Anaheim (2021-22), Philadelphia (2021-22) and the Minnesota Wild (2019-20 to 2020-21), posting a toal of 15 points (13G/2A).
Following the 2019-20 season, Mayhew was named the recipient of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s Most Valuable Player, and the Willie Marshall Award as the league’s top goal scorer. He tallied a league-leading 39 goals and totaled 61 points over 49 AHL games during that campaign.”
Rudolfs Balcers (F)
“Balcers, 25, skated in 61 games with the Sharks in 2021-22, producing a career-high 11 goals, 12 assists and 23 points. He has played in a total of 153 career NHL games with San Jose and the Ottawa Senators, totaling 25 goals and 57 points.
The 5-foot-11, 182-pound native of Liepaja, Latvia has appeared in 143 career American Hockey League games with the Belleville Senators and San Jose Barracuda, producing 56 goals and 115 points.
Prior to his professional career, Balcers played one season of major junior with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, leading the Blazers with 40 goals and ranking second on the club with 77 points.
On the international stage, Balcers led Latvia with nine points (1G/8A) over seven games at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, and he represented his home country at both the U20 (2017) and U18 (2015) World Junior Championships.
Balcers was originally selected by San Jose in the fifth round (142nd overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft.“
Colin White (F)
“White signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million. He is a former first round pick of the Ottawa Senators, selected with the 21st pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The 25-year-old appeared in 24 games with the Senators last season and produced three goals and 10 points. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound native of Boston, MA has amassed 98 points (36G/62A) over 224 career NHL games with Ottawa from 2016-17 to 2021-22. He put up a career-high 14 goals and 27 assist in 71 games during the 2018-19 campaign.”
Nick Cousins (C)
“Cousins agreed to terms on a two-year contract with an AAV of $1.1 million. The 28-year-old skated in 68 games with the Nashville Predators in 2021-22, totaling nine goals and 22 points. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound native of Belleville, Ontario has played in 444 career NHL games with Nashville (2020-21 to 2021-22), the Vegas Golden Knights (2019-20), the Montreal Canadiens (2019-20), the Arizona Coyotes (2017-18 to 2018-19) and Philadelphia Flyers (2014-15 to 2016-17), amassing 138 points (55/G83A).”
Marc Staal (D)
“Marc Staal signed a one-year deal worth $750K. Staal, 35, suited up in 71 games with the Detroit Red Wings in 2021-22, logging three goals and 16 points (3-13-16). He ranked second among Red Wings blueliners with 94 hits. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound native of Thunder Bay, Ontario is a veteran of 1,019 NHL games with Detroit (2020-21 to 2021-22) and the New York Rangers (2007-08 to 2019-20). He is one of only 10 defensemen who have skated in over 1,000 NHL games since 2007-08 and 107 Stanley Cup Playoff games on his resume.“
Anthony Bitetto (D)
“Bitetto signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $750K at the NHL level and $275K at the minor-league level. The 31-year-old split 2021-22 between the Hartford Wolf Pack and San Jose Barracuda in the American League, producing a combined 17 points in 53 contests. Bitetto is a depth addition for the Cats and will add veteran leadership to the Charlotte Checkers blue line.“
Alex Lyon (G)
“Signing a one-year, two-way deal to take over as the number three goalie on the depth chart, Lyon, 29, appeared in two games with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021-22, producing a 1-0-1 record and 2.93 goals against average. Over 24 career NHL games with Carolina (2021-22) and Philadelphia (2017-18 to 2020-21), Lyon has posted a 7-7-3 record He appeared in 30 AHL games the Chicago Wolves, in 2021-22 posting a 18-7-3 record, 2.16 GAA nd a .912 save percentage as the club secured both the regular season championship and Calder Cup. In the postseason, Lyon was 9-3 and registered a .923 save percentage over 12 postseason appearances. Following the regular season, he was named the recipient of the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award, which is presented annually to the goaltender(s) on the team which allows the fewest goals per game.”
Eric Staal (F)
“Eric Staal has joined the Cats on a professional try-out and will try to a permanent spot during training camp. The eldest of the three Staal brothers last played NHL hockey with the Montreal in 2020-21. Staal was the captain of the Canadian men’s national team during the 2022 Beijing Olympics. A member of the Triple Gold club with a Stanley Cup (2006), World Championship gold (2007) and Olympic gold (2010), he has 441 goals and 1,034 points in 1,293 career NHL games split between the Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Buffalo Sabres, and Canadiens.“
These signings seemed to have split the fanbase. One side feels somewhat indifferent with them, while the other is very frustrated.
I give Zito a C+ on this year’s frenzy. As we know, swinging for the fences last year cost picks and prospects, so the Cats didn’t have that ammo to work with during free agency, but I was hoping for some kind of savvy trade (or two) that could free up some money but nothing materialized. I know the rumors of Weegar and Bob being dangled were out there…
Without any trade partners, Zito resorted to his bread and butter - targeting overlooked guys that might hit.
Personally, I think there’s some nice pickups here. I can see White, Cousins and Marc Staal all contributing regularly on this roster. Hoping Staal helps bring some veteran leadership on the backend because I don’t think any of the current crop of blue liners fills that role.
The cap constraints force the Panthers to play the kids as well. I’m looking forward to guys like Denisenko, Heponiemi, etc., getting experience/expanded roles. I imagine the above signings will be rotated in and out with the young guys.
Some fans are theorizing the 2022-23 Cats will “take a step back.” My guess is that’s probably true, but not so much because they lost guys like Acciari, Marchment, Chiarot and Giroux (the latter two who were not even with the team the whole year), but more so due to the fact that most teams would have difficultly repeating the best regular season in their franchise history.
Sure, there’s going to be a learning curve/development time with the rookies, but they’re going to be sprinkled in amongst talented veterans. It’s not like Florida is tearing it down like Chicago or something. This is still a dangerous team that has a new head coach who will hopefully keep them on the right path, with a GM that will be working on correcting the cap pinch.