Panthers notebook

Florida Panthers face decisions on Stephen Weiss, Jose Theodore

 

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Now that the draft is over and it is officially July, the Panthers have some work to do.

The free agency period doesn’t start until Friday, although free agents — which now includes center Stephen Weiss — are allowed to begin speaking with other teams Tuesday.

Florida had hoped to sign Weiss, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, before it came to this, although him testing the market is of little surprise.

The Panthers also let goaltender Jose Theodore free despite him making it clear that he would have liked to stay in Florida.

And that still could happen, depending on whether the team feels secure going into the season with Scott Clemmensen backing up 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom.

Florida will make qualifying offers to a number of its restricted free agents, including Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. It’s not known whether the Panthers will offer contracts to Jack Skille and Peter Mueller. If not, they could return, although they will probably find offers elsewhere and move on.

The Panthers also could buy out a contract or two, but assistant general manager Mike Santos said Sunday that was unlikely. The Panthers, who bought out Matt Bradley’s small contract last summer, don’t like writing big checks to players not to play for them.

And since the Panthers are nowhere near the salary cap ceiling, they don’t need to buy out players to add contracts when free agency hits.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Like last year’s top selection, a good number of Florida’s draft picks from Sunday are headed to college instead of playing in the Canadian junior leagues.

Santos said Sunday that the Panthers like letting their prospects mature in the collegiate ranks, and because the signing rules are different for college players, Florida has additional time to sign such players.

“We always want to take the best player, but the advantage to the college player is we have more time with them,” Santos said. “You don’t have to rush them. You get a kid who goes to college and they have four years. If they are good enough, they can come out earlier. There’s a big advantage to the right kid going to college.”

College players are allowed to complete their four years before they need to be signed by an NHL team. Four of Florida’s top picks are headed to Boston College, Michigan, Denver and Cornell.

“Michael is the type of player who will really benefit from the college environment, spending time in the gym and getting one-on-one access to top strength coaches,” Michigan associate coach Billy Powers said of fourth-round pick Michael Downing.

“He’s got a great frame, but he’s a bit skin and bones. Once he adds strength, he could be really good. As it is he has some nice snarl to his game to go with that size and a very good stick.”

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