The Florida Panthers haven't been shy with their money and their cap space in this off-season and on Friday they were active again. To finish the work week, the team signed restricted free agent defenseman Dimitri Kulikov to a new 3-year deal, worth $13 million. The new deal will see the 23-year old blueliner with a cap hit of $4.333 million over the next few years and much like the team thinks, he should be coming around into a top end player in that time.
The 2014 season was already was the Russian's 5th year in the NHL, drafted in the 1st round in 2009 and has been able to make the jump fairly quickly, despite a couple of speed bumps along the way. Last season, Kulikov played in 81 games for the Panthers, scoring 8 goals and 19 points, which was good enough for 91st among defensemen in pool scoring in the year.
Kulikov really showed some flashes in the 2012 season, where he finished the year in 47th among all defensemen with 28 points on the year and there could definitely be a return to those kind of scoring levels and there is still some potential to better that. If the Panthers can harness that kind of potential, their team will certainly be more well-rounded in 2015 and could be a wild card hunter by season's end.
The Panthers don't have many spots left on their projected roster, according to my list, as they have 20 players already expected to make the team in 2015 and they now sit 4th among all teams with their projected cap hit, rounding out at $65.7 million for those players. The Panthers still need a couple more defensemen, which is their biggest need at the moment and they only have $3.3 million left to do it with, which is still quite of bit of space.
Florida is spending money these days and it will be interesting to see if all these investments pay off.