SUNRISE, Fla. — A year after financial instability limited them to a free agent class highlighted by aging veterans such as Scott Gomez and Ryan Whitney, the Florida Panthers made a big splash on the opening day of the NHL’s free agency period.
Within the first few hours, the team quickly distanced themselves from their frugal past by spending an eye-popping $43.5 million on forwards Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland alone.
Entering the day with $32,259,625 million to spend, the Panthers saw their cap space for the 2014-15 season shrink to $15,859,625 after signing six players. That number will continue to get smaller as the team still needs to sign several restricted free agents including Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. As for the team’s commitment to being a "cap team", it looks like they’ll come close.
"It was a great day for our franchise," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said after a long day of working the phones from the BB&T Center. "We exceeded expectations. We identified a number of players, and we got them all. I’ve never seen that happen before … we had needs in our club that we thought we had to address and through this whole day and this process we were able to do what we aspired to do prior to free agency."
Already loaded with young talent and a budding prospect pool, the Panthers added veteran depth at multiple positions to not only help them in the present, but also mentor their future stars.
Still in need of a left-shooting defenseman to round out their blueline, Tallon said that the Panthers plan to "sit tight" for a while and see what happens. As of right now, though, here are the six newest Panthers, as well as two players who will not be returning to Florida.
F Jussi Jokinen
4 years, $16 million
F Dave Bolland
5 years, $27.5 million
G Al Montoya
2 years, $2.1 million
F Shawn Thornton
2 years, $2.4 million
F Derek MacKenzie
3 years, $3.9 million
D Willie Mitchell
2 years, $8.5 million
F Jussi Jokinen: The Panthers signed former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen to a four-year, $16 million deal. Jokinen, 31, had 21 goals and 36 assists in 81 games with the Penguins last season.
A former 30-goal scorer in 2009-10 with Carolina, Jokinen should bring an offensive spark to a Panthers team that scored a meager 2.29 goals per-game last season. An NHL journeyman, Jokinen has scored 149 goals and 414 points in 660 games split between the Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Pittsburgh.
A native of Kalajoki, Finland, Jokinen will have the opportunity to play alongside and mentor the Panthers’ most valuable asset and fellow Fin, former No. 2 overall draft pick Aleksander Barkov.
"He really will help Barkov on and off the ice," Tallon said of Jokinen. "He wanted to play here because of Barkov and all the young, good players that we have in our system … he did his homework."
F Dave Bolland: The Panthers signed former Toronto Maple Leafs center Dave Bolland to a five-year, $27.5 million deal. Bolland, 28, had eight goals and four assists in 23 games with Toronto last season.
A second-round pick of Chicago in 2004, Bolland has tallied 78 goals and 102 assists in 355 games split between Chicago and Toronto. A native of Mamico, Ontario, Bolland became a household name when he scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final to give Chicago their second Stanley Cup in four years.
"The statistics don’t tell the story with him," Tallon said of Bolland, who has scored more than 40 points just once in his career. "He gets the job done. He plays against other team’s top players. He’s skilled, but gritty. He’s smart defensively — the team is No. 1 with him."
Plagued by injuries in recent years, Bolland has been limited to 58 games over the past two seasons and has competed in more than 70 games in just two of the past seven seasons.
Nicknamed "The Rat" for his ability to get underneath the skin of opposing players, Bolland should feel right at home with a Panthers organization that already has a strong affinity for rodents.
G Al Montoya: The Panthers signed former Winnipeg Jets goaltender Al Montoya to a two-year, $2.1 million contract. Montoya, 29, earned a 13-8-3 record with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage as a backup in last season. The No. 6 overall selection in the 2004 draft, Montoya has a career record of 37-26-13 in 91 games split between Winnipeg, Arizona and the New York Islanders.
With Roberto Luongo locked in as the Panthers’ starting goaltender, Montoya is likely to battle incumbent Dan Ellis for the team’s backup job during training camp. In six games last season, Ellis did little to secure his position as the team’s backup, posting a 4.81 goals-against average with a .836 save percentage.
"He’s always wanted to come to Florida," Tallon said of Montoya. "It takes special kind of goaltender to be a backup and to accept that role and to be really positive towards the No. 1 goalie."
F Shawn Thornton: The Panthers signed former Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton to a two-year, $2.4 million contract. Thornton, 36, earned five goals, three assists and 74 PIM in 64 games with Boston last season. In 559 NHL games, he’s compiled 38 goals, 55 assists and a whopping 906 PIM.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Thornton’s gritty play during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final was a contributing factor to Bruins coming back from a 2-1 series deficit to beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.
"He knows his role," Tallon said of Thornton. "He’ll really be a great leader in our locker room for our young guys. He’ll show them the way."
One of the league’s most polarizing figures, Thornton made headlines last season when he was given a 15-game suspension by the NHL for attacking Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik during a Dec. 7 game in Boston.
Often earning more bruises than points, Thornton has been involved in 38 fights over the past three seasons and is likely to replace free agent forward Krys Barch as the Panthers’ fourth-line enforcer.
F Derek MacKenzie: The Florida Panthers signed former Columbus Blue Jackets center Derek MacKenzie to a three-year, $3.9 million contract Tuesday. MacKenzie, 33, tallied nine goals and nine assists in 71 games for Columbus last season. A prototypical bottom-six center, MacKenzie has earned 31 goals, 71 assists and 175 PIM in 307 NHL games.
With the addition of MacKenzie, the Panthers have added veteran depth to their already blossoming group of young centers. Heading into training camp, MacKenzie will be in competition with Drew Shore and rookie Vincent Trocheck for the Panthers’ fourth-line center spot.
D Willie Mitchell: The Florida Panthers signed former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell to a two-year, $8.5 million contract Tuesday. Mitchell, 37, had one goal and 11 assists in 76 games for the Kings last season. His 128 blocked shots led all Kings skaters.
An eighth-round steal in the 1996 draft, Mitchell has amassed 30 goals, 135 assists and 744 PIM in 795 games split between New Jersey, Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and Los Angeles.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings, Mitchell’s possession numbers bode well for the Panthers. In each of his last two seasons with the Kings, Mitchell’s Corsi percentage was over 54 percent — above 50 percent is considered to be excellent.
"He will fill a role here for our young defenseman." Tallon said of Mitchell who mentored young blueliners like Slava Voynov in Los Angeles. "He’s a tremendous defensive player and contributes offensively; He’s got a big shot from the point."
F Jesse Winchester: Former Panther forward Jesse Winchester signed a two-year, $1.8 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche. Winchester, 30, had nine goals and nine assists in 52 games last season with Florida.
D Tom Gilbert: Former Panther defenseman Tom Gilbert signed a one-year, $2.8 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens. Gilbert, 31, had three goals and 25 assists in 73 games while playing on Florida’s top defensive pairing last season.