The Florida Panthers sent a message to the NHL on Tuesday: We’re serious. Really serious.
Six months after coming under new management with the goal of winning a Stanley Cup and weeks after announcing its intent to become a cap team, Florida took the first step in putting that plan into motion.
The Panthers pulled off the most unexpected deal before Wednesday’s trade deadline, re-acquiring all-star netminder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Roberto Luongo and Steve Anthony for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.
This mark on the NHL calendar wasn’t about making a move to contend for a playoff spot — the Panthers are too far out for that — or stocking up with draft picks for a rebuilding effort.
It was about making sure every key transactional date leading up to the 2014 season opener is circled.
"Talk is cheap," Florida GM Dale Tallon reiterated a day after acquiring Luongo. "Actions speak louder than words. This is the beginning of something special for this Florida Panthers organization."
Tallon’s action may hold more sway than when he traded for All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell on June 25, 2011 — days before the free agency period began. That year, the Panthers went on a spree, signing or trading for seven players on July 1.
Until the Panthers get back on the ice Friday, someone has to talk, though. For Luongo, who calls South Florida home, there could be no better spokesperson.
"I think it’s a good thing it happened now at the trade deadline so it was a move that future players will see — players that will become available this summer — that it has been made already," Luongo said. "Not something that happens at the last second and maybe guys have other plans.
"I am hoping it does show other free agents it is a serious organization and ownership is committed to winning and when you know the ownership is committed to winning, it really does tend to attract players that want to come play."
Come July, there probably won’t be any room for veteran goaltenders, though. The Panthers have shored up their crease for the foreseeable future.
In addition to Luongo, the Panthers acquired 33-year-old Dan Ellis from Dallas for veteran Tim Thomas. Ellis, a player Tallon said Florida pursued a couple years ago, is now the team’s backup.
And centers might have a difficult time finding work in Florida after Tallon strengthened the team at that position with reigning AHL-scoring champion Brandon Pirri. Florida acquired the pivot for draft choices.
The Panthers now have two first-round picks — Barkov and Bjugstad — and two second-round picks — Pirri and Drew Shore — to anchor the middle for years to come. All four are under the age of 24.
Florida also locked up goal scorer and shootout specialist Brad Boyes with a two-year extension.
Sending veterans Marcel Goc and Mike Weaver to Pittsburgh and Montreal, respectively, for draft picks opens roster spots for more top prospects.
First up is Vincent Trochek, a 50-goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League, who was recalled Wednesday. He’ll make his NHL debut Friday. Believed to be not far behind are defensemen Colby Robak, Alex Petrovic and Jonathan Racine.
Luongo is realistic in that there are only 20 games left and Florida is unlikely to make the postseason this year.
This last quarter of the season, though, is a chance for Luongo and Florida’s young core of blue-chippers Barkov, Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson to show the missing pieces why Florida is the place to be.
"This is a great place to live," Luongo said. "That, with the fact the ownership is committed to win, is a great combo."