The Florida Panthers added several great players to their team on the first day of costless-agency. After a disappointing year from both veteran and young players, the Panthers needed several big additions to bolster their offense, defense, and goaltending in order to compete in the Atlantic Division for a playoff position. New owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu promised the fans that the team would have the ability to spend to the salary cap, and they certainly kept their promise.
LW Jussi Jokinen: A-
The Panthers first signing of the day ended up becoming their best signing of the day when they signed Jussi Jokinen to a four year deal worth $16 million dollars. Jokinen proved his worth last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. As a result, Jokinen scored 21 goals and 57 points, which is the second highest point total of his career. His career high was 30 goals and 65 points when he was with Carolina during the 2009-10 season. One of the biggest reasons that Jokinen decided to take his talents to South Florida was to have the opportunity to play on a line with fellow countryman, and a star in the making, Aleksander Barkov. “He has a lot of class, a real pro,’’ said Panthers GM Dale Tallon. “He has great skills and can score. He’ll also help Barkov off the ice. He wanted to come here because of Barkov and the other young players in the system. He did his homework. He knew this team inside and out.’’ [Source: Miami Herald]
C Dave Bolland: B
The Panthers made a splash with their second signing of the day, signing Dave Bolland to a long-term contract. Bolland brings a wealth of experience and skill to the Panther’s third line. Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks when Tallon was GM, Bolland centered their third line, and their second line at times, for the Blackhawks and centered the Maple Leafs’ third line last season. He scored a career-high 19 goals and 47 points during the 2008-2009 season and since has been a very consistant 35-40 point player, while doing a great job in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill. He made a name for himself when he scored the game-winning goal in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals to give the Blackhawks their second championship in three years. Bolland has been very vocal since signing the contract, citing the Panthers' strong pool of prospects as the main reason for coming down south. “I’m coming to a team that’s really growing and is going to be a contender,’’ said Bolland. [Source: Miami Herald] Many insiders and fans around the league have noted the albatross contract that Bolland was given by Dale Tallon: a five year contract worth $27.5 million dollars. For a third line center, this contract certainly is not the best, as Bolland is getting paid the same amount of money as New York Islanders star John Tavares. However, for a team such as the Panthers, players will need to be overpaid, in addition to having a solid future, in order to bring those players to Florida.
C Derek MacKenzie: B
Probably the Panthers' most underrated acquisition, veteran center Derek MacKenzie was brought to the Panthers to center the fourth line and to improve the team’s penalty killing unit. He will team up with Shawn Thornton (below) and possibly either Jimmy Hayes or Tomas Kopecky to form a fourth line that will throw the body and be aggressive on the forecheck. Signed to a three year deal, MacKenzie will be the team’s fourth line center for the foreseeable future and, at only $3.9 million dollars, is a great value for one of the more underrated 4th line centers in the league.
LW Shawn Thornton: B-
After the Panthers decided that they did not want to bring back Krystofer Barch, the Cats went out and brought in Shawn Thornton from the Boston Bruins for two years for $2.4 million dollars. With Thornton, the Panthers have acquired a player that is not afraid to step up and defend a teammate. And while he is an agitator, he does have some skill to use against the opposition:
Some fans have reacted in a negative way to the signing, most likely due to the amount of criticism he has taken with the way he plays the game of hockey. Earlier last season, he was suspended for fifteen games after assaulting then-Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. That was one of a few questionable actions that Thornton has committed on the ice. If Thornton does not step into the spotlight for his actions while he is a member of the Panthers, this is a solid signing that gives the Panthers plenty of leadership, some skill, and adds lots of grit to the fourth line that has been missing from the Panthers for years.
G Al Montoya: A
During the trade deadline, the Panthers re-acquired all-star goalie Roberto Luongo and, due to the two having a competitive history, traded goalie Tim Thomas to the Dallas for back-up goalie Dan Ellis. When Luongo had some injury trouble late in the season, Ellis stepped into his place and did not live up to expectations, obtaining a record of 0-5, a .836 SV%, and a 4.81 GAA. In fact, some would probably prefer a shooter-tutor in net over Ellis. Enter Al Montoya. Dale Tallon, concerned about the back-up position for next season, signed Montoya for two seasons at $2.1 million dollars. After a great season last year in Winnipeg, Montoya will compete with Ellis in training camp for the backup position and Tallon stated that Montoya currently has an edge in the competition. Montoya has the ability to step into a game and make the saves that are needed to win the game. With the Montoya signing, Tallon has a nice one-two punch in Luongo and Montoya and arguably one of the best in the league.
D Willie Mitchell: A-
Before costless-agency started, Dale Tallon stated that he wished to add one or two veteran defensemen to compliment Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Dylan Olsen, and 2014 first overall pick Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers final signing of the day added veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell to the blueline on a two-year deal worth $8.5 million dollars. A defensive defensemen, Mitchell will bring tons of experience and grit to the Panthers after winning two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in the past three years. The thirty-seven year old defensemen will help teach the Panthers young players how to be the best players that they can be on defense, and will teach them how to win in the biggest hockey league in the world. Convincing Mitchell to come down south was a great move for the Panthers that will certainly benefit them in the long-run.
Overall Team Grade: B+
The Panthers made some great signings that, in the long-run, will benefit the team and will help teach the Panthers' young players how to play and win in the National Hockey League. While the team could have used a star winger like Tomas Vanek or Mike Cammalleri to score goals, the team added good players in Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland that will contribute to the score sheet, as well as added a great defensemen in Willie Mitchell. They also added two solid players to the fourth line and signed a great back-up goalie in Al Montoya to compete with Dan Ellis for the back-up position behind Roberto Luongo. These additions paired with the Panthers great young players, in addition to bounce back years from players such as Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky, will hopefully push the Panthers into playoff contention this season.