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Noon Saturday: Panthers add another solid player; Tyler Johnson takes 2 meetings; Deng, Joe Johnson leave; Teams reportedly making big offers for Wade; Riley's new expectations for Whiteside; Panthers owners address issues

Quick 12:30 update: Jason Demers, considered a quality top-four defenseman, said he's signing with the Panthers. Sirius Radio reported the terms at five years and $22.5 million.

He had seven goals and 16 assists and was a plus 16 in 62 games for Dallas last season. For his career, he has 28 goals and 115 assists in 428 games and is a plus 39.

This past week, SB Nation's KT Bauer did a thorough synopsis of Demers here.

Bauer writes: "Demers, 28, comes from one of the better puck moving systems in hockey. The Stars were able to consistently outskill their opponents with a precise breakout and fluidity through the neutral zone. Demers was key in this system, often being relied on to make the first pass. He's also been a contributor to the to the Stars power play, registering 3 goals and 2 assists.

"As cited by Derek Neumeier of Defending Big D, Demers began this past season playing pivotal minutes for the Stars and excelled through his steadiness, It's not just shorthanded where Demers is trusted defensively by his coaching staff, either. According to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Demers starts a higher percentage of his even strength shifts in his own zone than any other Stars defender, at 35.6%. ... Demers grew into his role as a top four defenseman playing big minutes in tough situations. One of Demers' most attractive attributes is his right-handed shot."

But Bauer adds: "Demers has a history of injuries in his relatively short career with concussion and wrist issues that have caused him to miss substantial time. Sometimes injuries follow a player due to his style, sometimes it's just bad luck. Considering Demers' injuries were caused by Lessio's hit from behind and a head shot by our old friend Corey Emmerton, I don't expect him to struggle to stay healthy. Still, head, wrist and shoulder injuries always lend lingering concern.... Another concern is Demers taking too many penalties. His total this spiked to a career high 72 minutes this past season despite only playing 62 games."

Please scroll down for my interviews with Panthers owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu.


Couple 8 a.m. Heat notes:

• Guard Tyler Johnson, a restricted free agent, met with the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets in Chicago on Friday, according to a source. He also has had conversations with several other teams, including Brooklyn.

As of this morning, he wasn't in a rush to resolve his situation and wasn't on the verge of agreeing to terms on an offer sheet.

Johnson can decide to accept terms of an offer sheet in the coming days, but he cannot sign an offer sheet until July 7. The Heat would then have three days to match.

His Heat cap hit would be $1.2 million next season regardless of the size of the contract, but a sizable offer elsewhere could result in big Heat cap hits in years three and four, if Miami matches.

If you missed it, here's more on the type of contracts that teams could present to Johnson, within NBA rules. (Scroll down for that.)

• Swingman Joe Johnson agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal with Utah. So much for any Heat hopes of Johnson accepting Miami's $2.9 million room exception.

• According to The Vertical, Luol Deng agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with the Lakers. The Heat wanted to keep him but was always pessimistic it could create the cap space, as we reported Thursday. As it turns out, the $18 million per year is nowhere near what Miami would have been realistically able to play.

So the Heat's starting forwards in the playoffs (Johnson and Deng) have agreed to $94 million deals in the past eight hours.

• Ethan reports that Minnesota and Denver are among teams that have expressed interest in Udonis Haslem. The Heat prefers he return at the minimum, but Haslem could get more elsewhere.


A few Heat free agent notes on a Friday:

• The pursuit of Dwyane Wade by other teams is getting serious, according to The Vertical, which reported tonight that Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Milwaukee "have started a courtship process that has included offers in length of two and three years and upward of $20 million a season – a salary the Heat so far have been reluctant to offer....The Nuggets and Bulls have been among the most aggressive pursuers of Wade."

Adrian Wojnarowski's report said "the Heat's initial offer of $10 million annually – which would've constituted a 50 percent pay cut from his $20 million 2015-16 salary – deeply angered Wade, league sources told The Vertical."

(We reported yesterday that Wade was unhappy with the Heat, according to a friend of his.)

Woj writes: "Even with the Heat planning to counter to a higher figure, league sources said, Wade has been insistent on starting to explore the market and meet with teams once he returns from an overseas vacation."

Here's the Woj report.

ESPN reported tonight that Wade is in contract talks with the Knicks and Bucks and could schedule meetings next week. But keep in mind that the Knicks and Bucks have less cap space than Miami's $20 million.

The Bucks have $15 million in space and can add a bit more if they rescind a qualifying offer to Miles Plumlee.

The Knicks could clear out $16 million or a bit more.

Still, the Heat remains at least cautiously optimistic about getting a deal done with Wade, who has consistently said in the past year that he wants to finish his career here. That likely would mean committing all or most of its $20 million in cap space to Wade.

The Heat would be surprised if Wade leaves.

Miami needs some clarity from Kevin Durant on Sunday before it knows exactly how much it has available of Wade.

But if Durant surprisingly signs with the Heat, Miami would try to take care of Wade by trading Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts. The plan is not to replace Wade with Durant but to have them play together. 

• Spoke to several agents today who thought they might hear from the Heat on their free agent clients but did not, with one saying it is clear Miami is focused on Durant and will move onto other things after getting resolution there.

• Tyler Johnson began discussions with teams today, and though the Heat has expressed interest in signing him to a multiyear deal, Johnson wants to let this process play out, which might include signing an offer sheet that the Heat would have the right to match.

Brooklyn and New Orleans are among those who have shown interest, according to a friend of Johnson. The Vertical also mentioned Chicago and Charlotte.

Jordan Clarkson's four-year, $50 million deal with the Lakers could portend a similar deal for Johnson. His Heat cap hit next season will be $1.2 million even if Miami matches a Clarkson-like offer for him.

• If Durant passes on the Heat, and Wade gets Miami's remaining cap space, that would leave the Heat with a $2.9 million room exception and minimum deals to fill out a roster including Chris Bosh, Wade, Goran Dragic, Whiteside, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber. Udonis Haslem could return at the minimum. That would be nine players.

A McRoberts trade would free up $5.8 million, but would leave Miami even more in need of another stretch four (someone like free agent Anthony Tolliver, who the Heat has shown fondness for in the past), in addition to the need for another reasonably-priced shooter. Here are some options.

• Now that Whiteside has agreed to terms, a reminder about what Riley said (in May) about what the expectations would be for him if he resigned.

"We want you now to be able to carry a team, and that's going to take a lot more focus and discipline and growth and understanding what winning is all about," Riley said. "I think he's ready for that....I don't think he's even reached his real ceiling in a couple areas of the game that I think that now he will be more comfortable with once his situation ends.

"When a player spends six years of his career having everybody tell him why he's not good enough to be in the NBA. What young players do first is try to show you I'm good enough to play in the NBA. That could be individually important; it might not be as good for the team. Once that's out of the way, the roof is the ceiling. He has shown all of us he can be 15 and 15 and 4 blocked shots and 70 percent field goal guy. There are other layers to his game I think he can even be better at."


The Panthers’ eight-year, $60 million extension with Aaron Ekblad today, and the seven-year, $44.5 million deal last week with defenseman Keith Yandle (five goals, 42 assists last season) were the latest examples of the willingness of Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu to spend money since purchasing the team less than three years ago.

Both owners weighed in on assorted issues in separate conversations recently:

• Cifu wants to make this clear: “We won’t have players picked off. We will make sure everybody we want to keep will be Florida Panthers. I am 100 percent confident of that. Everyone that’s a good player and with good character, we will make sure are still Panthers.”

Having already agreed on six-year deals for centers Nick Bjugstad (for $24 million) and Aleksander Barkov ($35.4 million) in the past year and an eight-year deal for Ekblad, Cifu has said the Panthers are working to re-sign center Vincent Trochek (Trochek assures it will get done).

And they want to keep Jonathan Huberdeau (arbitration eligible after next season) and Reilly Smith, a restricted free agent after next season.

“We have to pick the right six, seven, eight guys that that we make our corps for the long term,” Cifu said. “The cap doesn’t allow you to give $6 million to every player.”

Said Viola: “The bottom line is if we had a choice at this point, we would really like to commit to our core longterm and build from within. It doesn't mean we won't go out and get a veteran for a particular purpose or a particular skill set [as they did with Yandle].  We need to make a commitment to those players… longterm. We want them to feel this is their career home.”

• The Panthers used a sizable chunk of their cap space today, including three free agent signings. (See the last post for that.)

So are they willing to spend to the cap?

“Absolutely,” Viola said. “If we thought that was going to be the difference between a Stanley Cup or not, absolutely. We think if we could achieve excellence by playing at the mid of the mid --- $3 million or $4 million below the cap, we're comfortable there. It leaves you some space to maneuver around the trade deadline.”

The Panthers still have a $5.5 million cap charge for injured Dave Bolland on their cap next season, even though his future is murky at best, and confirm that he cannot be bought out because he’s injured.

• Cifu said the priority is “making our team a little faster and more physical and deeper. We had a lot of injuries.”

The Yandle trade helps the power play, which ranked 23rd.

“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,” Panthers hockey operations chief Dale Tallon said when I asked him about a player who had 22 of his 47 points on the power play last year.  

“He’s got a great shot. He’s a quarterback and is offensively gifted. That was a big need for our team.”

• Though the owners were pleased with this season (which included a division title but a first-round playoff ouster), they add caveats.

“I would say it was a very solid baby step forward,” Viola said. “You're never pleased because we're relentless and uncompromising around our simple objective. We want to win the Stanley Cup every year.”

Though Cifu is highly encouraged and said “we’ve had enormous strides,” he also said: “Our goal every year is to win the Stanley Cup. While strong positives came out, ultimately the season was not a success, if you will, because if you don't think you can be a champion, why do it? We're figuring out how to do it.”

But Cifu said he and Viola had a five- to seven-year plan “in our head and we are ahead of we're we thought we would be. The next two, three years will be really important. People want to see that consistency. We want to see the fan base respond every night. We’ve sold a boatload of new season tickets” and have a 90 percent renewal rate so far.

Cifu said Yandle signing with the Panthers shows “that top players want to win in Florida.”

• The Panthers lost $36 million in 2013 (according to Broward records), but the county’s decision last December to give the team $86 million in public funds “really, really helps us,” Viola said. “I think we can get [losses] down to low, low double digits. And I think that's somewhat sustainable.”

• Roberto Luongo, 37, still has six years left on his deal, with an annual cap charge of $4.5 million. The Panthers want to get him more rest next season and believe new backup James Reimer will help achieve that.

“I think [Loungo] is in great shape, incredibly nimble,” Cifu said. “Thought he played really well this season. Until somebody tells me otherwise, he is very much part of longterm future.”

Cifu concedes playing all six years as an above-average NHL starter “might be a bit of a stretch. But he has a number of very good years ahead of him.”

• On the dismissal of several employees (in scouting and on the assistant coaching staff), Viola – without discussing anyone in particular – said: “So many people are still here. We had three years to take a close look at everybody. We have a simple belief: If a person is in a position where they're not growing, they're not prospering, then the leader is doing a disservice allowing that person to be there.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz