The Florida Panthers got a head start on the upcoming free agency period early Thursday morning by signing defenseman Keith Yandle to a seven-year deal worth an average of $6.35 million per season.
Yandle, 29, was expected to be one of the hottest commodities of this upcoming free agent class, but he never reached it after Florida acquired his negotiating rights from the Rangers earlier this week.
Florida sent a sixth round draft pick to the New York Rangers to begin early negotiations with Yandle and, now that he’s signed, will give New York a fourth-round selection in the 2017 draft.
“We’re thrilled,” co-owner Doug Cifu said not long after the deal was completed.
“This shows that top players want to win in Florida. Keith wants to win the Stanley Cup in Florida. That’s why we were his top priority and vice versa.”
The Panthers continued reworking their future lineup Thursday afternoon as they solved their backup goalie position by acquiring Reto Berra in a trade with Colorado.
Berra, also 29, has one year left on the three-year contract he signed with the Avalanche and will be a free agent after this coming season.
Florida gave up center Rocco Grimaldi in the trade.
Grimaldi, 23, bounced back and fourth from the Panthers over the past two seasons, returning to Florida just before last season ended.
After being in the lineup for Florida’s Game 1 loss to the Islanders in the opening round of the playoffs, Grimaldi was sent back to the minors.
Despite the trade, getting Yandle was the big news around the Panthers on Thursday.
Yandle spent most of his career in Arizona after being a fourth round pick by the Coyotes in 2005.
A two-time All-Star, Yandle was traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal at the 2015 deadline.
Yandle played in all 82 games for the Rangers last season and scored five goals with 42 assists.
Florida’s power play, which was ranked 23rd last season, will likely get a boost from having Yandle running things.
Of Yandle’s 369 career points, 168 have come with the man advantage.
With Yandle signing, the Panthers have apparently moved on from pending free agent Brian Campbell.
Campbell, 37, didn’t miss a single game in five seasons with the Panthers including all 13 playoff contests after arriving in a deal with Chicago at the 2011 NHL Draft.
The acquisition of Berra also means Al Montoya’s time with the Panthers is over.
Montoya, also a free agent, went 18-14-4 — with 12 of those wins coming last year — in two seasons with Florida.