NHL free agency doesn’t start until July 1, but the best available defenseman is already off the board. Keith Yandle, whose negotiating rights were acquired by the Panthers from the Rangers earlier this week, has signed a seven-year, $44.5 million contract to stay in Florida.
For the Rangers, Yandle was a gamble that didn’t quite pay off. He was very good in his season-plus in New York after being acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, including five goals and 42 assists in his only full season, but the Rangers turned out to be more than one scoring defenseman away from a Cup and gave up a decent haul, including Anthony Duclair, a first-rounder, and a second-rounder. In exchange for the rights to lock down Yandle before free agency opens up next week, Florida had shipped a fourth-rounder and sixth-rounder to New York.
But now Yandle, 29, is in for the long haul, and it’s a pretty sizable deal. The Panthers gave him a contract with a $6.35 million AAV, with a six-year no-movement clause and a limited no-trade clause in the final season. He’s the highest-paid Panther now, and while defensemen age better than forwards, seven years is an awful long time for something to go bad.
But Yandle is a real offensive weapon, and will definitely be an upgrade running the 23rd-ranked power play from the likely-departing Brian Campbell.
“We wanted to get a leg up on it,” Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon said Tuesday. “It was a good opportunity so why not go for it? We looked at what our No. 1 deficiency was last year which was the power play. Yandle gives you 50 points a year and he’s very good on the power play. He’s got a great shot. He’s a quarterback and is offensively gifted. That was a big need for our team and that’s why we decided to try and go for it.”
In a relatively shallow free agency pool for blueliners, this was the going rate, and someone was going to pay it. After the Coyotes took Alex Goligoski off the market for five years and $27.375M, Yandle was the last marquee defenseman available. The likes of Dan Hamhuis and Jason Demers are probably the best ones left, so if your team is desperate to shore up its back end, it’s going to need to do so with depth rather than with top-pairing guys. It’s tough to improve in the NHL without paying a premium, and the Panthers, who are only now over the salary floor, were willing to do it.