With the Viola-Cifu tandem giving Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers the green light to spend this offseason, the Panthers kept quite busy during “Free Agent Frenzy” day, announcing six signings on day one.
It’s no secret that the Panthers had a lot of holes in their line up, and they addressed a few of those holes this afternoon with the additions of Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, Dave Bolland, Derek MacKenzie, Al Montoya and Shawn Thornton.
Jussi Jokinen was the first announced signing of the day, inking a 4-year deal worth $16 million. Though he is listed as a center, Jokinen spent his last 2-years playing wing alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. As cliché’ as it may sound, adding another Finnish player to the lineup bodes well for 18 year old center center Aleksander Barkov, who played with Jokinen during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
While Jokinen may not be the 50 point player we caught a glimpse of last season, he still has a knack for the net and will be as productive as the centerman guiding him. If slotted with Barkov next year, look for the 2014-2015 version of the “Killer B” line.
After a bidding war between the Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dave Bolland decided to take 5 years and $27.5M, and move to Sunrise, Florida. With strong connections to Dale Tallon during their Chicago years and a need for a 3rd line center, this deal for the Panthers seemed inevitable.
Though a nagging back injury and torn Achilles heel have kept Bolland from playing close to a full NHL season in over 3 years, when healthy, Bolland can provide the Panthers with stability up the middle, and can serve as a solid mentor for centers Barkov and Nick Bjugstad. Though Bolland hasn’t been able to provide a whole lot of production the last couple of years, lets hope for the Panthers sake Bolland can get back to the 30+ point player he once was in 2009, 2011, and 2012.
With the 3rd signing of the afternoon, the Panthers inked goaltender Al Montoya to a 2-year contract worth $1.05M AAV. This was one of the better signings for the Panthers, especially after former backup goaltender Dan Ellis struggled to find solidity between the pipes.
Montoya has spent his career as a backup with the New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets, sporting a career save percentage of .910 and 2.63 goals against average. Montoya saw his most productive season last year, appearing in 28 games with the Winnipeg Jets, recording a .920 save percentage and 2.30 GAA. As of right now, Tallon has Montoya penciled in as his No.2 goalie, with Ellis fighting for a spot.
With the loss of Krys Barch to free agency, the Panthers added former Boston Bruin heavyweight and media favorite, Shawn Thornton. Thornton, 36, is another guy who has history with Tallon during their Chicago days. The 6’2, 217 lbs forward is an imposing player who adds a lot of personality and toughness to the 4th line.
With Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore’s future with the Panthers still undefined, the Panthers added centerman Derek MacKenzie to their roster. MacKenzie, 33, signed a 3-year deal worth $1.3M AAV. MacKenzie brings physicality, character, and a solid 2-way game to the Panthers roster. Look for MacKenzie to play 4th line minutes between Thornton and Jimmy Hayes next season.
The Panthers went a solid hour without inking a free agent, and it had fans at the edge of their seats. With Matt Niskanen signing a mega deal with the Washington Capitals, that left only one remaining capable defenseman in free agency –Willie Mitchell. Luckily, the Panthers snagged the rugged defenseman, and signed him to a low-risk deal worth $8.5M over 2-years.
While the money may seem a bit steep, Mitchell brings a much-needed element to the Panthers blue-line, as well as 2 Stanley Cups under his belt. Mitchell has been a positive possession player for the past 2 seasons, and plays a monster defensive game. He led all Los Angeles Kings in blocked shots last season with 128, and logs north of 20 minutes playing time per night. With a blueline consisting of Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Dylan Olsen, and Dmitry Kulikov, the addition of Willie Mitchell fills a veteran need with the departures of Ed Jovanovski, Tom Gilbert, and Mike Weaver.
While the Panthers addressed most of their needs this afternoon in Free Agency, there are still a few holes that need to be addressed come the start of the 2014-2015 season.