Sasha Barkov broke the news of his six-year contract extension on Twitter Monday night and thanked actor Kevin Spacey “for the good luck,” referring to the blue sweatshirt he was awarded after a big game last month.
The Panthers expect many more big games from the 20-year-old center as he will a cornerstone piece for the franchise for some time.
Barkov, the second overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft, signed what appears to be a team-friendly deal which the Miami Herald has learned will pay him an average of $5.9 million per season.
Barkov will get $4.25 million when the contract kicks in next season and will peak at $7.75 million during the final year of it in 2021-22.
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The contract is expected to officially be announced Tuesday at a press conference before the Panthers play host to Toronto at BB&T Center.
Centering Florida’s top line alongside Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov has 12 goals with 18 assists despite missing 10 games with a broken bone in his hand. Florida suffered through its season-long five-game losing streak without Barkov in the lineup.
“Not many guys play like he does,” Jagr said not long after Barkov returned on Nov. 16 in a victory over Tampa Bay. “He has no limits.”
Florida has also locked up center Nick Bjugstad to a six-year contract which began this season and will now look to sign defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a long-term pact as well.
Ekblad, 19, is in his second season with the Panthers and isn’t eligible for an extension until this season concludes.
Florida reportedly had tried to get Barkov to sign for the NHL maximum of eight years but was rebuffed, as expected, by his agent.
For the Panthers, six years of not having to deal with Barkov’s contract is a win in itself. Barkov would have been a restricted free agent this summer and the six-year deal buys Barkov’s first two years of being eligible for unrestricted free agency.
“He's a horse and just gets better every game,” coach Gerard Gallant said after Barkov returned from his injury.
“He brings a lot of offense, brings great defense and is the exact kind of player a coach wants. You can trust him in all situations.'”
Last spring, the Panthers were trying to make a push for a playoff spot when the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs came to town.
Florida ended up getting both of its goalies hurt in a crazy game in which goalie coach Robb Tallas as well as center Derek MacKenzie were both ready to jump in and play the position.
A win on March 3 would have pulled Florida into a tie with Boston for the final playoff spot. Instead, the Panthers lost 3-2 and never seemed to recover, missing the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.
Florida never got that close to the Bruins again.
“We had the goalie incident the last time we played them and that was a tough deal,” Nick Bjugstad said. “That was a game we thought we had, should have had, and it was weird. Toronto is better this year. Every team in this league is good.”
Tuesday, the Leafs return to the scene of the crime in not much of a different spot than they were last year.
Toronto remains way out of the playoff race, but under new coach Mike Babcock — who left Detroit for an eight-year, $50 million deal in May — the Leafs have played better despite losing seven of their past eight.
Although the Panthers are clear favorites to win Tuesday night and head into the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak, the Panthers insist they aren’t taking the Maple Leafs lightly. Florida beat Chicago and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights.
“We had a great weekend, but hey, that’s over with,” Gallant said. “It’s going to be a battle and we have to be ready to take that game. Don’t pack your bags for vacation just yet.”
▪ Defenseman Willie Mitchell didn’t practice Monday and will miss his third consecutive game Tuesday. Mitchell, 38, has been dealing with lingering injuries and the Panthers hope the extended rest and time off will benefit their captain.
▪ Roberto Luongo, who started last year’s game before being injured and then had to come back and replace Al Montoya, gets another shot at the Leafs on Tuesday. Luongo’s seven consecutive home wins is a franchise record as he hasn’t lost at BB&T Center since Dec. 8.
▪ Ekblad was injured during Florida’s four-game losing streak and has a personal 14-game winning streak going. Ekblad hasn’t been on the ice for a Florida loss since Dec. 12 in Boston. “In the end, I’m part of this team and when we lose, even if I’m not out there, it stings just as much,” he said.
Tuesday: Maple Leafs at Panthers
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV/radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WNMA 1210.
Series: Toronto leads 34-30-7.
Scouting report: Florida has won six of the past eight meetings with Toronto and have posted a winning record against the Leafs in six of the previous nine seasons.