The Panthers began their summer on Tuesday by officially offering contracts to restricted free agents Jacob Markstrom, Shawn Matthias and four others.
Florida did not tender offers to center Peter Mueller nor fourth-line winger Jack Skille. Although general manager Dale Tallon said the team would like to retain Mueller at the right price, Skille will not return.
The Panthers also tendered deals to Scott Timmins, Mike Caruso, Colby Robak and Jon Rheault.
“He has arbitration rights,” Tallon said of Mueller, who made $1.725 million last year and scored eight goals and17 points in 43 games.
“We’re still negotiating with him and would like to keep him. It’s just what the right price is as far as our budget is concerned. We’re fearful if he went to arbitration, we might not be able to afford it.”
Tallon made Skille the seventh overall pick of the 2005 draft while with Chicago before bringing him to Florida in exchange for Michael Frolik in 2011. Frolik was traded from Chicago to Winnipeg on Sunday.
“I think for Jack, it’s time to change things around,” Tallon said of Skille, who had three goals and12 points in 40 games last year. “We can’t sit still as a team that was last overall. We need to make some changes, have to shake things up.”
Although Markstrom and Matthias remain property of the Panthers, they have not signed with the team.
Last year, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov — also a restricted free agent at the time — held out until just before the abbreviated 2013 season started. Kulikov eventually signed a two-year deal with Florida.
Both Markstrom and Matthias took big steps forward last season. Markstrom took over Florida’s starting job in net, and Matthias moved up to be Florida’s top center once Stephen Weiss was sidelined with a wrist injury.
Matthias, 25, set career-highs with 14 goals despite the 48-game slate. Matthias was one of four Florida players to play in all 48 games. Matthias will be getting a nice raise from the $900,000 he made last year.
“I’m excited to come back to the Panthers. I’ve said it before, I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Matthias said Tuesday. “I’m excited to show everyone last year wasn’t a fluke, and I can play at a high level. I can do a lot better. I don’t think that’s it. I have a lot more in the tank.
“With the work I’ve put in, there’s no reason I can’t keep the No. 1 center job. I’m going into camp focused to take it. I want it, and that’s what I’m working for.”
Tallon added Florida “holds out hope” to get a new deal done with Weiss, although it appears he will be able to talk to other teams starting Wednesday at midnight.
Weiss, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, Jose Theodore and Tyson Strachan are expected to be free agents on Friday.
“The consensus is they would like me back, and I would like to be back,” Weiss said after the season ended. “It’s just a numbers game. Hopefully, that works out over the summer, but it’s a business. Sometimes those things don’t fit, and they don’t make sense. I understand that. It’s not a lost cause by any means.”
Assistant general manager Mike Santos said when Peter Horachek called and said he had been let go after almost a decade as an assistant in Nashville that he all but offered him a job with the Panthers.
It took a little bit of restructuring, but Horachek is now with Florida as head coach of the team’s American Hockey League team in San Antonio.
Horachek, former head coach of the Orlando Solar Bears of the defunct IHL as well as the Trenton, N.J., Titans of the ECHL and AHL Milwaukee, replaces Chuck Weber behind the Rampage bench.
Well, sort of.
Weber, who worked with Horachek in Orlando, Trenton and Milwaukee, remains with the organization as an associate head coach of the Rampage. Weber also becomes director of hockey operations.
Horachek, 53, definitely has ambitions to be a head coach in the NHL and thought being an NHL assistant would help him achieve that. Horachek has been interviewed for NHL jobs recently — including by the Panthers in 2011. Florida went with current coach Kevin Dineen, who is in the final year of his contract.
“I think, after 10 years of being an assistant in Nashville, it’s time for me to be a head coach again,” said Horachek, who led Orlando to the IHL Turner Cup in 2001.
“I think that’s something I do well, working with young players and helping them prepare to be a good pro and prepare for the NHL. I’m familiar with Mike, with Chuck, and I think it’s a great setup in San Antonio. There’s a lot of good things going on.”
Both Horachek and Weber are expected to be part of the Panthers’ development camp in Coral Springs starting Monday. Although still recovering from shoulder surgery, second-overall pick Sasha Barkov will skate at the camp.
“He won’t partake in the drills,” Tallon said, “but we’d like to get him down here to indoctrinated to our staff and the place. These are players he will play with eventually.”