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huberdeau.jpgJonathan Huberdeau (center) joins a long list of Panthers teammates who signed long-term deals this summer. USATSI

The Florida Panthers have been as active as any team this offseason when it comes to acquiring new talent and making sure they keep the players they’ve groomed in house long-term. That continued Tuesday as Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported that the team had agreed to terms with Jonathan Huberdeau on a new six-year extension worth $35.4 million.

Huberdeau, who will be playing on the last year of his bridge deal in 2016-17, is getting a $2.65 million annual raise on the new contract, good for a cap hit of $5.9 million. The former No. 3 overall draft pick will have the same annual cap hit as linemate Aleksander Barkov when his deal kicks in for the 2017-18 season.

Over the last two years, while playing under head coach Gerard Gallant for whom Huberdeau played in junior hockey, his game has really taken off. Huberdeau had 54 points in 2014-15 before besting that mark this season while playing alongside Barkov and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr. He had a career-best 20 goals, matched his career high with 39 assists and established a new high-water mark with 59 points.

The former Calder Trophy winner had to overcome the dreaded sophomore slump, but he has made that a distant memory these last two seasons. Meanwhile, he made the most of his bridge deal and is now being rewarded handsomely.

Huberdeau is the fifth player aged 25 or younger to sign a long-term extension with Florida in 2016. Barkov signed a six-year, $35.4 million deal back in January; Aaron Ekblad signed a stunning max extension for eight years, $60 million on July 1; Vincent Trocheck inked a six-year, $28.5 million pact in July; Reilly Smith signed a five-year, $25 million deal the next day.

Of those players, only Smith is not an original draft pick. That’s a credit to Dale Tallon, who was bumped up to the president of hockey operations to make way for some other front-office changes, and his previous scouting staff. They’re building the foundation for this team in much the same way Tallon helped build the Chicago Blackhawks into a championship contender – through the draft, turning the team’s previous failures into the talent that helps dig them out.

The team is also being more aggressive through other means, like spending on free agents.

Unrestricted free agents like Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and James Reimer all signed long-term deals this summer. Then there are others within the organization already on longer-term deals like Nick Bjugstad and Roberto Luongo and the Panthers are pretty well set for years to come, even after Jaromir Jagr calls it a career – whenever that may be.

The team’s long-term core, however, centers around the youthful trio of Ekblad, Barkov and Huberdeau. They’re the foundational pieces, each drafted in the top three and each making a substantial impact at an incredibly young age.

The Panthers’ newly structured front office has done a lot of work to not only build a contender around them, but a sustainable one. They’re not going to be the best team in the league, but there’s going to be continuity, which can be really important in these coming years.

Again, you look back at Tallon’s former team in Chicago, which built a solid core that was together for years and ended up winning three Stanley Cups together. Florida seems to be following in similar footsteps, but even expanding that to a larger group of players to keep together. The crazy thing about all of their spending recently, there’s still plenty of cap space to work with to give the Panthers flexibility if and when they need to add more from the outside.

There has rarely been an ownership group in Florida that is willing to spend like the current one has so far, which is another key difference in this organization’s identity. They have given the front office the funds to be successful and that group of decision makers is being really efficient with their dollars.

It will take time to see if it all pays off, but there’s no question that the modern day Panthers are nothing like those that came before them. There is vision, there is a willingness to spend and they’ve created an organization that players want to be a part of for a long time.

The Eastern Conference better be keeping close tabs on this team. If this model works, there will be plenty of copycats.


Source: CBS Sports / Report: Panthers sign Jonathan Huberdeau to 6-year, .4 million extension