September 22, 2014

READY TO BOUNCE BACK: Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann want to put last year behind them for Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had a season most would like to forget last year.

Tomas Fleischmann doesn't even want to talk about it.

"I've already forgotten about last year,'' Fleischmann said after Sunday's third day of training camp in Coral Springs.

Not only did the Panthers finish 29th out of 30 teams last year, but players such as Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky struggled to score.

Fleischmann went from leading the Panthers in scoring during his first two seasons in Florida to potting just eight goals -- his lowest total since he became a full-time NHL player in 2007 with the Capitals.

"Every year is a rough one when you don't play good,'' said Fleischmann, who at one point went 22 games (Dec. 19-Feb. 27) between goals. Fleischmann also went through droughts of 14 and 10 games last season.

"As I've said, I've forgotten about last year. There's nothing I can change about it so I'm not going to think about it anymore. When I started working out for the next year, I never thought about it.''

Kopecky had a strong year in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, tying his career-high with 15 goals. Last season, however, was an absolute nightmare.

Not only did Kopecky struggle to score, but his season was cut short after he suffered a concussion thanks to a brutal hit during the Olympics.

For two months, Kopecky wasn't allowed any physical activity.

When he was medically cleared, Kopecky said he went all out in the gym in preparation for this season.

"I started preparing for this season basically in April,'' said Kopecky, who scored four goals in 49 games with Florida last season.

"Everyone knows what happened last year was unacceptable. For me, personally, I took it to heart. I tried to come to camp in the best shape and I'm healthy. This is going to be a big year for us. I'm super-excited.''

General manager Dale Tallon says the Panthers are counting on big bounce-back seasons from the likes of Fleischmann and Kopecky.

Of the large group of players Tallon brought in during his roster remake in 2011, only a handful remain.

Kopecky, Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall -- who had his rebound year last season -- are all in the final year of their contract making their production this season even more important.

"It's a new chance for those guys what with a new coaching staff and all,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"I think there was a lot of disappointment for individuals as well as a group and a team. They finished 29th [in the NHL] and no one was happy about it. They all want to bounce back. I don't look at the numbers .-.-. I know the players we have.''

Fleischmann says he's not worried about next year or a new contract.

"That's something my agent should think about, not me,'' he said.

Fleischmann adds just wants to get back to playing at the level he was and help the Panthers return to the postseason.

Like training camp in 2011, the Panthers are flush in new faces. Like that year, optimism for the new season runs high.

"This definitely feels similar to 2011,'' Fleischmann said. "There's excitement in the air, I mean we could be a playoff-team good. We can't wait to get the season started.''

Said Kopecky: "Last year is behind me. I had a good a summer, I have no symptoms [from the concussion]. I'm ready to go.''

-- Center Dave Bolland briefly left Sunday's scrimmage with a cut on his face but returned after a visit to the training room.


Tuesday: Dual practice sessions (split squad) at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.

Wednesday: Preseason opener v. Dallas Stars at BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday: Off day

Friday: Dual practice sessions (split squad) at Coral Springs IceDen, 10 a.m.

Saturday: Preseason doubleheader at Nashville Predators, 4/8 p.m.

September 17, 2014

CAMP OPENS: Florida Panthers invite 51 to start of training camp

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers report to the BB&T Center on Thursday morning for medicals and physical fitness tests.

The first official practice of the 2014-15 season under new coach Gerard Gallant comes Friday morning at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

The team will practice through the weekend with a FanFest at the training facility on Saturday and Sunday.

"I'm excited about getting back to work'' general manager Dale Tallon said last week. "This is a great time of year if you're in the hockey business.''


All practices at the Coral Springs IceDen unless noted

Friday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday: 10-11:15 a.m.; scrimmage 11-12:15 p.m.

Monday: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Tuesday: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Practice at BB&T Center, closed; exhibition game vs. Dallas Stars, 7:30

Thursday: Day off

Friday: 10-11:30 a.m.

Saturday: At Nashville


LETTER TO FANS: Viola, Cifu say Florida Panthers aren't moving, committed to South Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

On the eve of the opening of training camp, Florida Panthers owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu said the franchise will remain in South Florida.

In a letter written to stem rumors of relocation, Viola and Cifu wrote that "as we close in on the one-year anniversary of our ownership of the Florida Panthers, we want to reiterate our commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners.

"As we said at the press conference when we bought the team, we view ourselves as stewards of the team for the community and our plan is to build an organization that makes South Florida proud and to win the Stanley Cup in South Florida.

"Despite media speculation to the contrary, we have no plans or intentions to move this franchise.''

With the team trying to change its lease with Broward County and erase an annual $4.6 million bond payment -- Cifu told the county commission the team is "losing $100,000 per day" in a February meeting -- there has been speculation the team could be on the move especially with new arenas being built in Las Vegas and Quebec City.

The Panthers are locked into a lease with the Broward County-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise through 2028.

The team is asking Broward County to resolve it of its annual bond debt payment by having the two-cent tourism tax cover it in exchange for a higher profit sharing rate between the team and the county.

In the course of the lease, the team has only paid Broward County once when it made the playoffs in 2012.

The Panthers also want the county to take over insurance on the building.

Rumors about relocation took off when Cifu told in August that "the current business model is not sustainable.''

Viola, the majority owner of the Panthers, bought the team for a reported $250 million last September. The team added plenty of payroll since re-acquiring goalie Roberto Luongo in a trade last March. Florida's payroll is currently estimated at $66 million which ranks 17th in the league according to

"It is no secret that the Panthers and BB&T Center have lost tremendous amounts of money over the last dozen years,'' the owners wrote on Wednesday.

"We are working hard to address this situation.''

County auditor Evan Lukic has disputed figures provided by the team writing in a report before Viola and Cifu took over that the Panthers' organization made over $120 million in profits since moving to the arena in 1998.

Since the team moved north from Miami, however, it has changed hands a number of times. Viola and Cifu bought the team from Cliff Viner, who had been a minority owner but took over the franchise from Alan Cohen in 2009.

Here is the letter:

"As we close in on the one-year anniversary of our ownership of the Florida Panthers, we want to reiterate our commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners. As we said at the press conference when we bought the team, we view ourselves as stewards of the team for the community and our plan is to build an organization that makes South Florida proud and to win the Stanley Cup in South Florida. Despite media speculation to the contrary, we have no plans or intentions to move this franchise.

We made a commitment to the Panthers and to South Florida when we bought the team to build a successful organization on and off the ice. We have been working hard to live up to that commitment. Starting with the trade to bring Roberto Luongo, one of the world’s top goaltenders, back home to South Florida, and continuing with our committing over $80 million to new players, including bringing six talented veteran free agents to South Florida and resigning all of our restricted free agents, we have dedicated ourselves to improving the team. Off the ice, we continue to expand our community outreach initiatives and look forward to continue to contribute to the quality of life for residents.

It is no secret that the Panthers and BB&T Center have lost tremendous amounts of money over the last dozen years. We are working hard to address this situation, which we believe we can do with the support from our loyal fans, our business partners, the business community and our community-at-large.

We look forward to a winning season and bringing a Stanley Cup to South Florida.

With Warm Regards,

Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, Co-Owners"

Photo (Cifu on left, Viola on right) by WALT MICHOT/Miami Herald Staff


September 16, 2014

PANTHERS PROSPECTS WIN AGAIN: Florida goes 3-0 at Nashville tournament

Twitter: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers wrapped up the Nashville prospect tournament Tuesday with a 6-3 win over the Lightning. Florida went 3-0 in the tournament, sweeping the Bruins, Predators and Lightning.

In Tuesday's win, Florida took a 3-1 lead by the second break and rolled to the victory.

A good number of players who participated in the tournament will be on the ice when Florida opens training camp on Friday morning at the IceDen in Coral Springs.

On Tuesday, Florida got goals from MacKenzie Weegar, Logan Shaw, Jayce Hawryluk, Connor Brickley, Andrew Blazek and Juho Lammikko.

Here are some quotes courtesy of the Preds' PR staff:

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning


Florida Quotes

Forward Jayce Hawryluk

On what he will take away from the rookie camp experience…

It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot, being here with the older guys, on the pro life and what it takes to make it to the next level. You learn a lot here, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a tricky camp, and I’ve enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. At the same time, it’s business and I feel like I’ve gotten better and I’ve learned some things about what it takes to be a pro.

On playing with the other rookies…

It’s been great. This team is awesome, and the guys are great. Everyone on the team is awesome. We gel well and we’re a good team. It’s fun.

On his second period power play goal…

It was a great dish by Trocheck to me back door. I just had to put it in upstairs. It was a great pass.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad

On today’s game…

I feel confident in the way I’m playing, and that’s always a good feeling. When you can go out there and try new things and make new plays, it’s always good. Obviously I’m really happy about the way I’m filling out here at rookie camp, and with this group of guys it’s great. We’re happy.

On the difference between this camp and Juniors…

The difference is huge. It’s crazy. The speed and the impacts out there is pretty crazy. I’m happy to get this experience here and hopefully it’s another good and positive step forward as well as another milestone to playing in the NHL.

On playing against former teammate Anthony Camara…

He’s a very creative player, and a lot of people don’t know that part of his game. He can make plays, he can score goals, he can deke guys out and he can beat goalies out. He’s not only the physical fireball that he is, but he has a lot of handles to his game, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

Goalie Sam Brittain

On today’s game…

It was different. Today was the third game of the tournament, but it was super early in the morning so we were going through the same thing they were. We had a quick jump in the beginning and were able to hold that momentum throughout the whole game.

On his experience at this rookie camp…

It was a great experience. It was the first time we all really get to play together and compete together. I think for me, the biggest thing is to make sure that I understand what the coaches want out of myself and the rest of the guys as well as what they want going into the season.




September 15, 2014


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PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: The gang's all here ... Prospects 2-0 in Nashville

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers are scheduled to have their first on-ice session of training camp on Friday morning in Coral Springs. That means just about everyone is in town now getting ready.

The team held its biggest informal skate of the offseason today with just about everyone taking part save, it seemed, for Dave Bolland. His gear is in his locker, however, so I would expect to see him out there tomorrow.

If you want to come out to the IceDen in Coral Springs to see the practice, Tuesday will likely be the final one before camp opens.

Roberto Luongo and a few guys usually come out around 9 a.m. with the majority taking the ice around 10.

I spoke with a few players today -- Luongo, Al Montoya (who has a sparkly new mask) and Brian Campbell among others -- and there seems to be genuine excitement about the upcoming season.

Big change from this time last year when everyone was looking around wondering what was going on.

-- The Panthers are 2-0 at the Nashville Prospect Camp after beating the Preds on Sunday night. Florida isn't playing today but play the finale on Tuesday against the Lightning.

Here is a recap with quotes from the first two games courtesy of the Panthers and Preds PR departments:


Sunday -- Panthers 3, Nashville 1: With the win, the Cats rookies now own a 2-0 mark in the prospects tournament.

Vincent Trocheck scored the game-winner for the Panthers in the third period, when he picked up the puck along the boards and fired a wrist shot into the back of the net.

After a scoreless first period of play, the Panthers prospects took an early lead after F Logan Shaw redirected D Aaron Ekblad’s shot from the blueline past Nashville netminder Rob Madore.

Late in the middle frame, Nashville tied the game at 1-1 on goal from F Colton Sissons. F Stephen Hodges picked up his third point (2-1-3) of the tournament with an empty net goal with just under one-minute to play in regulation.

Panthers G Sam Brittain stopped 19 of 20 shots in 40 minutes of action, while G Clarke Saunders made 11 saves in the final frame.

Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers


Florida Quotes

Goalie Clarke Saunders

On tonight’s shootout…

It was fun, I haven’t done a shootout since junior hockey, so it’s been five years! We practiced in college all the time the day before a game, so I got some practice there. I really enjoyed it.

On playing with this team…

They’re great. They were so supportive today, especially since I didn’t play much last year I haven’t really had a game in some time. I felt a little rusty going in, especially not starting and going in during the third period, but the guys were awesome and made me feel comfortable out there and did a great job on the ice.

On the upcoming season…

It’s a fun time entering my first year of pro hockey; I’m looking forward to it. I’m not too sure where I’m going to end up yet, but I’m just working hard everyday.

Forward Vincent Trocheck

On tonight’s game…

It felt good, like a start to the season. I’m very excited, everybody’s dream is to play in the NHL and that’s what I’m fighting to do here so I’m excited to see what happens.

On the rookie tournament…

It’s been fun. The last couple of years we haven’t been winning as much as we have been in this rookie tournament, and now we are 2-0, so that’s definitely more fun than losing. We have a great group of guys and I’m just trying to be a leader.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad

On tonight’s game…

I felt really good. It’s about the team, it’s about the win, and that’s what is most important here. I’m very happy to have gotten that win and we are on the right track to finish this tournament in a winning style.

On staying positive…

You always want to feel good and put yourself in the right mindset before you go into a game like that. It’s a last ditch effort for everyone to show their stuff and prove that they are ready to play.

On playing with this team…

It’s been good to build new relationships and friendships; it’s always huge in the game of hockey. It’s very easy to step into a room of 25 guys and build a strong bond. It’s important since these are the guys coming up in the organization like myself and I’m getting to know them and become familiar with faces. When you are nice and respectful, a lot of people give you support along the way if you do those things.

Saturday - Florida 2, Boston 0: Rookie netminders Sam Brittain and Jacob DeSerres combined for a 30-save shutout, while F Steven Hodges and F Cody Payne scored goals for the Cats prospects.

After a scoreless first period of action, Hodges put the Panthers prospects on the scoreboard first when he slipped a shot inside the pipes past Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban.

The Cats prospects took a two-goal lead late in the second period when the South Florida native Payne banged a puck past Subban. Neither team would score in the final 20 minutes of action.

Brittain made 13 saves on 13 shots, before being replaced by DeSerres, who stopped all 17 regulation shots that he faced. Hodges finished the game with a goal and an assist, while F Jayce Hawryluk and D Mackenzie Weegar notched assists.

Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers


Florida Quotes

Goaltender Sam Brittain

Thoughts on the game…

It was a good game. It’s the first time we’ve been out there as a group. We’ve been together the past couple of days, but it felt good and it was a lot of fun. It was great.

On his strategy going into the game…

I just wanted to take it one shot, one minute at a time. I didn’t want to look ahead. I just wanted to do what I could do, show everyone where I belong and help the team win. I think that’s the biggest thing in these things. You want to do well individually, but you also want to do well as a team.

On what he hopes to bring to the team this season…

I think no matter where I end up playing and what I do, I have to make sure I give my team the best chance to win at every level. I’ve just got to do my best and keep progressing as a player.

Center Steven Hodges

Thoughts on the team’s performance...

I thought we did pretty well. We got better as the team went on. The first half of the game, we didn’t get as many shots as we wanted to. Once we started to get the puck towards it, we got more success and that’s something we can build on next game.

On his mindset when scoring the goal…

I just got a great pass from Weegar. He did a great play. Rocco [Grimaldi] did a great play driving right down the middle and gave Weegar a lot of room, gave myself a lot of room. Leger gave me a nice soft pass right on my tape and I had plenty of time to put it away.

Thoughts on team improvement during the pre-season…

I think just getting our intensity up. You can tell Boston is a pretty physical team, and we were okay to play with that. We are a fast-skilled hockey team, but we have a lot of grit and a lot of spark with the guys on our team as well. And that’s something we can incorporate into our team as well that will definitely make us a stronger competitor.



September 12, 2014

PANTHERS NEWS, NOTES: Prospect camp opens ... Panthers headed back to West Point

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers opened up their prospects camp on Friday morning with 26 players working out in Coral Springs.

Afterward, GM Dale Tallon spoke with the media before heading out with the crew to the airport for a flight to Nashville.

The junior Panthers open their prospect tournament game against the Bruins Saturday in Nashville.

Tallon said top pick Aaron Ekblad would likely play in the opening game and then they'll see where they go from there.

Ekblad suffered a concussion last month in Quebec but has been medically cleared although Tallon says Florida knows what Ekblad can do so they're not going to run him too hard in the prospect tournament.

-- Tallon told me that although the Panthers haven't hired an assistant general manager, don't worry, the job is being done.

Eric Joyce and Mike Dixon of the hockey ops department are doing the job and will continue to do so. Tallon added that he and scouting director Scott Luce will be more involved with the AHL operation in San Antonio as well.

-- Shane O'Brien, the veteran defenseman joining training camp on a try out, is in South Florida and working out in the informal veteran skates.

Tallon says Florida may bring in another forward on a PTO for camp, although he's happy with what the Panthers will open camp with next week.

-- Florida will play its final exhibition game of the preseason on Oct. 4 in Tampa and then head off for a few days of team building at West Point in New York.

The team is planning to fly back to Fort Lauderdale and hold a practice here before heading back to Tampa for the season opener on Oct. 9.

The Panthers have been to West Point before as Jacques Martin took the team there prior to its 2007-08 season opener against the Rangers.

With Vinnie Viola now the owner of the team, it was only a matter of time before the Panthers returned to the U.S. Military Academy for some work.

Will have more on the West Point trip when it becomes official.


September 03, 2014

AARON EKBLAD: Signed, sealed and ready to deliver for Florida Panthers


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

With just a week before its prospects camp opens, the Panthers signed top draft pick Aaron Ekblad to a three-year entry-level contract on Wednesday.

Ekblad, the first overall selection of the 2014 NHL draft, is expected to make the Panthers roster out of training camp but the team could still send him back to his junior team in Canada.

On Wednesday, Ekblad said he's going to make it so the Panthers don't exercise that option.

"I'm very confident and believe in myself,'' Ekblad said in a conference call. "I believe I can be on this team on opening night and I'm confident in that. I'm ready and I couldn't be in a better position than where I am.''

The Panthers have revamped their defense heading into the upcoming season with Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen the only full-timers returning from last year.

Florida signed veteran Willie Mitchell and will have young defensemen Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic working for a spot as well.

It was learned on Tuesday that Florida invited former Tampa Bay and Colorado defenseman Shane O'Brien to camp on a try out.

If Ekblad looks like he's ready to play at the NHL level, the Panthers aren't going to stand in his way.

"We're hopeful and we think he can,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's big and strong enough, has the ability. It's just adjusting to the pace. Timing is everything. Moving from junior to the NHL is a big step, especially on the back end defensively.''

Said Ekblad: "I have a lot of hard work left to make the team and I'm excited about it. I couldn't be happier to be put in this position. I know Florida is going to have a good team this year and in the future. I'm excited to be part of that process.''

On Wednesday, Ekblad said he had healed up from a concussion suffered last month with Tallon saying Ekblad has been medically cleared to practice although the team may bring him along slowly through prospect camp.

"We'll take our time because it's a marathon so we'll be careful,'' Tallon said. "He seems to be 100 percent so we'll see how it goes in the first few days of camp. If he's willing and healthy, we'll let him go. But we'll be careful.''

-- Tallon said the Panthers were talking to a couple of other players who may come to camp on a professional try out. Florida opens training camp Sept. 19 in Coral Springs.

O'Brien, 31, is the only player Florida has formally invited to camp so far.

"Shane [O'Brien] gives us some size and toughness,'' Tallon said. "He called me and was sort of begging for the opportunity to come and play for us. .-.-. We'll give him a shot and see what happens. You can never have too many tough defensemen.''


August 14, 2014

LOOK WHO'S BACK: Florida Panthers bring back Denis Potvin

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

After five years away from the organization, Denis Potvin will be back calling Florida Panthers games on television once more.

Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenseman who won four Stanley Cups as captain of the Islanders, was reintroduced as television analyst for the Panthers.

Potvin had worked Florida hockey games from the franchise's inception in 1993; he was let go by previous team president Michael Yormark following the 2008-09 season.

New Panthers president Rory Babich called the new broadcast team one of the best in hockey.

With Potvin joining play-by-play voice Steve Goldstein in the booth, Billy Lindsay -- who replaced Potvin in 2009 -- will take on a new role as sideline reporter as well as serve as in-game analyst during intermissions as well as the pre and post-game shows.

Randy Moller will remain the team's radio voice.

"We are pleased to welcome Denis back to the broadcast booth for the Florida Panthers," Babich said in a statement.

"With an exciting season on the ice right around the corner, the addition of Denis, a hockey legend with long-term ties to the organization, to the existing broadcast team of Steve, Billy and Drew promises to provide an enhanced experience for our TV viewers with one of the premier broadcast teams in the NHL."

I've reached out to Denis and hope to have something from him later today.

It's been no secret that Denis has missed living in South Florida although he was happy being able to work close to home in Ottawa the past few seasons.

Here's what Denis said when he was let go in 2009:

''I wasn't prepared for it. They had talked about reorganizing, renegotiating a lower rate. We never got to that. It's all about the economy. Now I'm looking for new opportunities. This is new to me. I've never been fired. I'm not done, not by a long shot.


''It's been exciting, a good run. Florida has become our home, our kids have grown up here. But their minds were made up. This isn't like the old days. Once you're somewhere for so long, you think you're a lifer. Things are different now. I have a lot of good memories. But once they told me I was done, I walked out.''

Check back later for more updates and hopefully some fresher quotes.


August 06, 2014

EKBLAD SUFFERS CONCUSSION: Panthers say top draft pick will be ready for camp in September

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Prized Panthers defenseman prospect Aaron Ekblad suffered a concussion playing in an exhibition game in Quebec on Tuesday night.

The Panthers have been in contact with Team Canada -- Ekblad was training with them at the time of the collision -- and feel confident Ekblad will be ready for training camp next month.

"We have been in communication with Team Canada and have mutually agreed to hold Aaron out for the remainder of the summer development camp as a precautionary measure,'' Florida GM Dale Tallon said in a statement.

"We will closely monitor Aaron’s health for the remainder of the off-season and expect him to be ready for our rookie camp in mid-September."

Ekblad, the first overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, was crushed by a pair of players from the Czech Republic team and left the ice.

Team Canada said that Ekblad will be held out of the rest of the Canadian World Junior development camp.

Ekblad was on the Canadian team that finished fourth at the tournament last December although he probably won't play in the tournament this year; he's expected to spend the season with the Panthers.



July 21, 2014

GOING BACK TO MIAMI: Al Montoya excited about joining Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers already had one extremely marketable goalie on their roster in Roberto Luongo.
On July 1, they added another -- one who could help them reach a large segment of the community who may not know much about the game.
Al Montoya, the first Cuban-American to ever play in the National Hockey League, said Monday that coming to South Florida and the Panthers is an exciting time not only for him but for extended family in the area.
"I'm not only able to further my career, but do so with a team that wants to bring a winning franchise to South Florida,'' said Montoya, who was born and raised in Chicago and is nicknamed the 'Big Cubano.'
"I grew up going down there visiting cousins, uncles. I have family in Coral Gables, my brother has a place in Miami Beach. I'm very familiar with the area. Whenever I get the chance, I come to Miami.''
Family is certainly important to Montoya and he's credited his mother -- Dr. Irene Silva -- as his biggest inspiration in the past.
Now a successful doctor on Chicago's north side, Montoya's mother escaped Cuba for Miami with her family as a young girl in 1963.
Montoya, who says his favorite local haunt is Versailles in Little Havana, is not only a solid backup to Luongo but he brings the added benefit of potentially helping the Panthers continue to grow hockey in the NHL's southernmost market.
"I was blessed with a gift and the Cuban people are a motivated bunch, a passionate bunch,'' Montoya said. "I'm just lucky enough to where I have an arena to show off my American dream. It doesn't matter where you come from or where you've been. Everyone can play hockey. Like I said, the Cuban people are very passionate. Once they figure out what the game is like, it's tough to let go.''
Montoya signing with the Panthers seems like a natural fit and perhaps could have come earlier.
When Montoya was taken sixth overall in the 2004 draft by the New York Rangers, there was talk Florida had interest.
The Panthers were picking one spot back of New York and ended up taking forward Rostislav Olesz -- who played in 349 games for Florida -- instead.
With the Panthers having Luongo back then as well, they may have been tempted to take Montoya in the first round in 2004 if they had the chance although there is no certainty then-GM Rick Dudley would have done so.
"I have had the 'what-if' in my head for a long time, wondering where my career might have been,'' Montoya said. "I'm very excited because this is somewhere I want to be. I want to help the franchise grow. I've seen hockey grow in the non-traditional climates.''
Montoya was expected to be the next big thing in New York after being drafted. Not only did Montoya help the United States win its first-ever gold medal at the world junior tournament, but he had a standout career at the University of Michigan.
With the emergence of Henrik Lundqvist, however, Montoya toiled in the Rangers' minor league system for three seasons and never reached the heights New York had hoped.
"In my mind I should have been in the NHL from Day 1 and that was my mistake,'' Montoya said. "The passion and compete level has always been there with me. I think I've really grown the past few years in the NHL. I feel very comfortable out there.''
With the Rangers, Montoya did get to experience playing against the Panthers in the first NHL-sanctioned game held in Puerto Rico in 2006.
Montoya started that game in San Juan, stopping nine of 10 shots and picked up the victory in New York's 3-2 win.
Montoya never made it into a regular season game with the Rangers, that chance finally coming when he was traded to the Coyotes in 2008.
On April 1, 2009, Montoya made his NHL debut as he pitched a shutout of host Colorado in the Coyotes' 3-0 victory.
In 2011, Montoya was traded to a New York Islanders team desperate for goaltending help. Montoya finally got a chance to see regular NHL minutes and played well enough to be brought back in 2011-12.
Montoya spent the past two years as the backup goalie in Winnipeg. Now 29, he has played in 91 NHL games, going 37-26-13 with a goals-against average of 2.63 and has stopped 91 percent of his shots faced.
Unhappy with the play of Dan Ellis, whom the Panthers had backing up Luongo at the end of last season, general manager Dale Tallon pursued Montoya and signed him to a two-year deal worth $2.1 million on July 1.
Ellis, too, is under contract for next season.
"Al has had a winning career in the NHL and in the AHL,'' Tallon said. "He's always wanted to come to Florida. He's excited.
"We already talked to [Luongo] about it and it takes a special type of goaltender to be a backup, to accept that role, be positive toward the No. 1 goalie.''
With Montoya and Luongo, the Panthers have a strong 1-2 punch in net. Montoya says he's excited about the possibilities.
"The coach and the team knows what I'm capable of and when I'm called, I'm going out there to win games,'' he said. "I'm not just there to give Roberto a night off, I'm there to help the team move forward. I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think things are headed in the right direction. I haven't seen my best yet.''

July 18, 2014

KULIKOV'S BACK: Panthers sign defenseman to three-year deal ... Tallon still working on Hayes, Ekblad

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The last time Dmitry Kulikov and the Panthers had to negotiate a contract it took much, much longer than anyone figured.
Kulikov held out for more money in 2012 and by the time the league locked out its players, Kulikov still didn't have a contract.
This time things went much smoother.
On Friday, the Panthers locked up Kulikov with a three-year deal worth a reported $13 million.
A restricted free agent, Florida would have held Kulikov's rights for the next two seasons. With this new deal, Kulikov will not be an unrestricted free agent until the end of the 2016-17 season.
"He has so much ability and this is a fair contract, it's what what guys around the league are getting paid,'' general manager Dale Tallon said.
"Now it's time for him to make a statement and be a leader on our team. He has all the ability in the world. He just has to channel it in the right direction. We're happy to have him in the fold. He's a great kid, still a young guy. He has tremendous ability. It's hard to find those guys.''
Kulikov spent much of the 2012-13 lockout playing 22 games in his native Russia for his hometown team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv.
When the lockout ended on Jan. 12, Kulikov still didn't have a contract.
The teams negotiated through the shortened training camp with Kulikov rushing home after agreeing to a new two-year deal just before that season opened.
Kulikov missed the 2013 season opener citing jet lag from his marathon trip back to the United States, but played in the second game and ended up appearing in 34 games before having his season shortened by a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Since being drafted 14th overall by the Panthers in 2009, Kulikov has played for just two teams. He started with Florida as an 18-year-old rookie and aside from his brief stint with Lokomotiv has spent his entire career with the Panthers.
Kulikov, 23, has played in 313 NHL games over five seasons and has made his share of mistakes.
Last year, Tallon was rumored to have made a deal with Colorado for Kulikov although he denied it. Kulikov was benched by then-coach Peter Horachek after numerous miscues although Kulikov finished the season strong.
"He's on the upswing and still has a lot of good hockey in front of him,'' Tallon said. "He's one of our young defensemen and now he's one of those guys who needs to be a leader for our younger guys. We expect big things out of him.''
Because of his past contractual squabbles with the Panthers, there has been rumors that he might head off and play in Russia.
Last season, Kulikov denied wanting to play in the KHL saying his short time there during the lockout satisfied any craving he may have had to play in his homeland.
"I would like to face those people saying those things and ask them where they are getting their information,'' Kulikov said of the rumors at the time.
"Wanting to go back to Russia? Those words have never come out of my mouth. I think the people starting that are just trying to create more drama for the league or whatever. .-.-. I had a great experience in the KHL during the lockout. That was my first chance to play there. I left when I was 17. I wanted to play there and see how it is.
"But that experience was enough for me. I experienced it. My dream since I was a kid was playing here. I'm living the dream.''
With Kulikov signed, the Panthers have now come to agreements with all restricted free agents except for winger Jimmy Hayes.
Florida signed center Brandon Pirri to a two-year deal earlier this week.
"He's very highly skilled, has a great shot,'' Tallon said. "We'll use him a lot for offense. He'll get stronger and better defensively as he goes.''
Hayes -- who scored a career-high 11 goals after coming over to Florida in the Kris Versteeg deal with Chicago -- has elected to take the team to arbitration. Hayes' hearing is scheduled for July 29 in Toronto.
The Panthers and Hayes could come to an agreement beforehand, however, and Tallon said the two sides were still talking.
"We hope to get a deal done before arbitration,'' Tallon said. "He's the only guy left.''
Florida also has seven defensemen under contract for next season not including Aaron Ekblad, the top pick in last month's draft. Ekblad is expected to get a chance to make the team in training camp with Tallon saying there's no rush to make a deal.
"We'll wait until rookie camp,'' Tallon said. "He handled himself very well as prospect camp, did a good job. I'm not worried about that. We'll get him signed when the time comes.''
One defenseman who won't be with the Panthers in training camp come September is Michael Matheson. Florida's top pick (23rd overall) in 2012, Matheson has previously announced that he'll be headed back to Boston College for his junior year.
Listed as the Panthers' top prospect last year by the Hockey News, Matheson has been previously named as the Eagles' captain for the coming season.
"We want to win when I'm here so that went into my decision, being ready when I get here,'' Matheson said at Florida's development camp last week. "I want to have an impact on this team when I get here.''

July 08, 2014

ROCCO'S WAY: Rocco Grimaldi fighting for spot with Florida Panthers ... Cats add depth with Olson and Zanon


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After two strong years at the University of North Dakota -- the last of which he led the Sioux in scoring -- Rocco Grimaldi is ready for the next challenge in his career.
It all starts this week with the Panthers.
Grimaldi, 21, is one of Florida's more promising prospects although unlike some of at this development camp, he'll have a chance to shine at training camp in September.
Even though the Panthers went out and signed a number of forwards making the competition for a job even more fierce, Grimaldi isn't shying away from the fight.
"It was just time for me,'' said Grimaldi, who left North Dakota with two years of eligibility remaining to sign a three-year entry-level deal with the Panthers in May.
"I'm one of those people who likes a new challenge and wants to do something that's a little harder than expected. Moving on was hard because I loved North Dakota, the team, the people there. But, it was time for me to challenge myself against the best players in the world. I want to see where I'm at, how I can keep getting better.''
Listed on the roster at 5-6, Grimaldi is easy to spot on the ice because he is the smallest.
His lack of height, however, has never defined Grimaldi's game and he is determined to make sure the Panthers pay him notice.
In two-plus seasons with the Sioux -- a knee injury in his fourth game at UND forced a redshirt season as a freshman -- Grimaldi scored 31 goals with 46 assists. His 17 goals and 39 points led the Sioux last season.
Despite his size, the Panthers liked what they saw in Grimaldi when they made him a second round pick (33rd overall) in 2011.
Florida knew the California native was headed to college and hoped to see his game grow.
The Panthers haven't been disappointed.
"He's such a dynamic player,'' said Brian Skrudland, the Panthers' first captain who is their director of player development.
"When I went to North Dakota and was sitting in the crowd, I felt so proud that Rocco Grimaldi was a Panther. People were talking about him, saying in warm-ups 'watch that little guy, he's going to light it up.' He never disappoints. He comes with an effort and has a great attitude.''
Last year at North Dakota, Grimaldi was a postseason hero, recording his first hat trick (Grimaldi's final two goals were into an empty net) in the Sioux's 5-2 victory over Wisconsin in the NCAA regional semifinals.
The MVP of the NCAA Cincinnati Regional, Grimaldi helped the Sioux reach the Frozen Four with a 2-1 win over Ferris State in double overtime.
As a freshman, not only did Grimaldi lead all North Dakota rookies in scoring, but he helped lead Team USA to Gold at the World Junior Tournament. In the Gold medal win over Sweden, Grimaldi not only tied the score with a goal, but ended up winning it with one as well.
"Those memories stay with you forever,'' he said. "Those three years are ones I won't forget.''
After this past season, Grimaldi made the decision to leave college and fight for a job with the Panthers.
Not only is Florida flush with talented young forwards, but the Panthers signed four more during free agency.
"I think it's good. I like a challenge,'' Grimaldi said. "It's good to have those kind of players here. I'm excited about what the future holds for the Panthers. We're going to do some good things in the coming years and I'm happy to be a part of it. If playing in the NHL easy, everyone would do it. It's all about the sacrifices you're willing to make.''
If Grimaldi doesn't start the season with the Panthers, he'll likely make his professional debut with Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Don't count him out just yet, however.
"He might just be that guy that says, 'you know what? Brendan Gallagher did it in Montreal and I'm not going to San Antonio','' Skrudland said. "It's on him to decide, for him to make the decisions really hard on the coaches in September and October.''
Although Grimaldi is aware of the probability of starting the season in the minors, that doesn't mean he is accepting of it. No, Grimaldi's goal is to be with the Panthers not sometime in the future, but from now on.
"I've always been told to focus on the big picture and [San Antonio] is something that could happen,'' Grimaldi said. "But right now I'm not focused on that. I'm focused on making the team. I won't be shocked or upset if it doesn't happen. I'm excited. We have a good, young core group. There's a lot of opportunity.''
The Panthers added some depth on Tuesday by signing center Brett Olson and defenseman Greg Zanon to one-year deals.
Both players have two-way provisions in their contract.
Zanon gives Florida an option on defense as the 34-year-old has played in almost 500 NHL games with Nashville, Minnesota, Boston and Colorado. He spent last season with San Antonio.
Olson, 27, has played in 145 games for the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL over the past two seasons.
-- The Panthers won't have an on-ice session Wednesday as development camp moves east. The team plans a beach day for its young players as well as some community service.
On-ice activities return Thursday morning at 8:15 at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs. The sessions are free and open to the public.

July 07, 2014

NEW STAFF: John Madden, Mark Morris, Mike Kelly, Robb Tallas to join Gerard Gallant

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers will have three full-time assistant coaches this season as Tallon said the team hired former head coaches Mark Morris and Mike Kelly to join Gerard Gallant's staff.
Tallon had already announced that former Florida center John Madden would return as an assistant coach.
Brian Skrudland, who joined Peter Horachek's staff last year when Kevin Dineen was fired, will return to his role as Florida's director of player development.
Morris, 56, was recently fired as coach of the AHL's Manchester Monarchs after eight seasons.
As the top minor league team of the Kings, Morris was instrumental in helping young players develop into eventual Stanley Cup champions.
"He's good at developing young defensemen and that was very important to us,'' Tallon said. "We have a lot of good, young defensemen in our system.''
Kelly was Gallant's assistant with Saint John in Canadian junior hockey. When Gallant left to be an assistant coach with the Canadiens, Kelly took over as head coach and general manager of the Sea Dogs. Kelly, 54, was fired by Saint John last fall.
"[Kelly and Gallant] had success in Saint John together and are very comfortable coaching together,'' Tallon said. "We have a top-notch coaching staff.''
Goalie coach Robb Tallas will return for his sixth season with the Panthers.

FIRST STEPS: Aaron Ekblad ready for challenges ahead with Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Among the dozens of young hockey players skating around the Panthers training facility Monday afternoon, Aaron Ekblad stood out.
Unlike all but one other player, Ekblad has a single digit on his back. Ekblad's No. 5 will likely remain with him not only through this development camp but through training camp, into the upcoming season and beyond. It will also, no doubt, end up on the backs of many fans.
While the majority of those partaking in this camp -- almost all wearing high double-digits -- will be back in juniors or playing college hockey this fall, Ekblad expects to stay right where he is.
Being the first overall selection in the NHL draft brings many perks -- not just being able to select the number you wear.
It also gives Ekblad the true opportunity to make it to the NHL at the age of 18.
"It's what I do with those opportunities,'' Ekblad said after skating at the Panthers' training facility for the first time on Monday.
"There are a series of milestones and I have to perform and prove that I'm ready at each one of them, I'll prove I belong here. I'm obviously going to get the chance, but I have to prove myself. I can't rest on my laurels, rest on where I was drafted. I consider all of us as equals.''
The Panthers had flirted with the idea of trading the top pick in last month's draft but general manager Dale Tallon didn't get enough for it. Well, not enough to make him give up the rights to Ekblad.
Florida loves Ekblad's upside and ability to play older than his years.
Although defensemen take longer to develop than forwards because of the intricacies of the position, the Panthers feel Ekblad is going to be able to handle it.
Bryan McCabe, the former Florida captain, knows about the pressures Ekblad is facing. McCabe started his NHL career as a defenseman with the Islanders when he was 20. McCabe also became the youngest captain in the league by age 22.
"He's a kid in a man's body but is very confident and well-rounded in his game,'' said McCabe, who works in player development for the Panthers.
"He's very grounded and humble and doesn't act like a first-overall pick. He's going through the grind with everyone else. .-.-. He's handled the pressure thus far, there's no reason to think he won't now. He's very mature for his age.''
Ekblad said he won't take the opportunity the Panthers are giving him for granted. Florida is going to give Ekblad every chance to make the team out of training camp, but even if he does that, the battle isn't over.
Florida could allow Ekblad the chance to make the opening night roster but still send him back to his junior team in Canada after nine games.
Tallon said Ekblad's play will determine where he ends the upcoming season.
"We'll have a good long look at him at training camp,'' Tallon said Monday afternoon. "If he's ready, he's ready. If not, well, [Jonathan] Huberdeau went back. Guys come back better players.
"But if he's ready, we're keeping him, no doubt. We're still thinking the same thing about this being a marathon. We're getting closer with each draft.''
Said Ekblad: "I have the opportunity and I just need to run with it.''
-- The Panthers development camp continues Tuesday with on-ice sessions starting at 8:45 a.m. The camp is held at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs and is free and open to the public.

July 02, 2014

CAMP DAYS: Panthers to hold development camp in Coral Springs next week

The Panthers will hold their annual development camp starting next week at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
All practices will be free and open to the public.
A number of Florida's most recent top draft picks -- including Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov and Michael Matheson -- will take part.
Here is the schedule and roster for the camp.

Monday, July 7 – On-ice (1:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m. & 2:45 p.m.-4 p.m.)
Tuesday, July 8 – On-ice (8:45 a.m.-10 a.m. & 10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.)
Wednesday, July 9 – No on-ice session (beach workout & community service event)
Thursday, July 10 – On-ice (8:45 a.m.-10:15 a.m. & 9:45 a.m.-Noon)
Friday, July 11 – Red vs. Blue Intrasqaud Scrimmage (9 a.m.-11 a.m.)


F Barkov, Aleksander @Barkovsasha95 6'3" 213 Left Tampere, FIN 9/2/95 Florida (NHL) 54 8 16 24 10
F Basaraba, Joe @joebasaraba 6'2" 191 Right Fort Frances, ON 5/2/92 Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC) 35 8 10 18 35
F Beauvillier, Francis @FrankBeauvi22 6'1" 181 Left Sorel-Tracy, QC 10/22/93 Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) 28 13 18 31 28
Shawinigan (QMJHL) 36 9 18 27 60
F Brickley, Conner @ConnorBrickley 6'0" 190 Left Malden, MA 2/25/92 Vermont (H-East) 35 5 10 15 49
San Antonio (AHL) 8 1 1 2 4
D Brown, Josh @jrbrown94 6'5" 213 Right London, ON 1/21/94 Oshawa (OHL) 56 2 10 12 83
F Buckles, Matt @BuckNasty1pt9 6'1" 205 Right Toronto, ON 5/5/95 Cornell (ECAC) 29 4 0 4 39
F Clapperton, Chris @Clapperton57 5'9" 174 Left Chandler, QC 2/22/94 Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL) 53 26 36 62 55
D Downing, Michael @M_Downing4 6'3" 192 Left Canton, MI 5/19/95 U. of Michigan (Big-10) 34 2 10 12 60
D Ekblad, Aaron @ek5colts 6'3" 213 Right Windsor, ON 2/7/96 Barrie (OHL) 58 23 30 53 91
F Fidler, Miguel @senorfidler 6'0" 186 Left Edina, MN 3/17/96 Edina High (High-MN) 25 16 25 41 24
F Grimaldi, Rocco @RGrimaldi23 5'6" 160 Right Anaheim, CA 2/8/93 North Dakota (NCHC) 42 17 22 39 48
F Hawryluk, Jayce @JayceHawryluk 5'10" 190 Right Yorkton, SK 1/1/96 Brandon (WHL) 59 24 40 64 44
F Hodges, Steven @shodges13 5'11" 178 Left Yellowknife, NT 5/5/94 Victoria (WHL) 52 21 26 47 65
F Hyman, Zach @ZachHyman 6'0" 197 Right Toronto, ON 6/9/92 U. of Michigan (Big-10) 38 4 5 9 8
F Kosov, Yaroslav 6'3" 220 Left Magnitogorsk, RUS 7/5/93 Magnitogorsk (WHL) 32 2 2 4 0
F Lammikko, Juho 6'1" 190 Left Noormarkku, FIN 1/29/96 Assat-U20 (Fin-Jr.) 37 17 25 42 32
Assat (Liiga) 20 0 1 1 0
D Matheson, Michael @MMatheson7 6'2" 180 Left Pointe-Claire, QC 2/27/94 Boston College (H-East) 38 3 18 21 49
D McCoshen, Ian @ijmccoshen3 6'3" 205 Left Faribault, MN 8/5/95 Boston College (H-East) 35 5 8 13 48
F Payne, Cody @paynercjc 6'2" 220 Right Weston, FL 1/14/94 Saginaw (OHL) 57 26 9 35 35
D Racine, Jonathan @JRacs3 6'2'' 194 Left Montreal, PQ 5/28/93 San Antonio (AHL) 51 0 6 6 91
Florida (NHL) 1 0 0 0 2
F Rau, Kyle @KyleRau 5'8" 173 Left Eden Prairie, MN 10/24/92 U. of Minnesota (Big-10) 41 14 26 40 16
F Shaw, Logan @loganshaw11 6'3'' 202 Right Glace Bay, NS 10/5/92 San Antonio (AHL) 46 1 7 8 24
Cincinnati (ECHL) 20 8 10 18 8
D Suellentrop, Colin @Csuellentrop25 6'1" 205 Right Plantation, FL 6/10/93 Oshawa (OHL) 67 3 20 23 98
D Taker, Shayne @Staker07 6'4" 210 Left Surrey, BC 2/12/90 Notre Dame (H-East) 40 4 14 18 10
San Antonio (AHL) 5 0 0 0 0
F Trocheck, Vincent @Trocheck_89 5'10" 182 Right Pittsburgh, PA 7/11/93 San Antonio (AHL) 55 16 26 42 32
Florida (NHL) 20 5 3 8 6
F Turgeon, Tony @turg04 6'4" 232 Left Grand Forks, ND 8/23/89 San Antonio (AHL) 5 0 0 0 21
Cincinnati (ECHL) 13 0 2 2 59
F Vecchione, Mike @Mvecc8 5'10" 195 Right Saugus, MA 2/25/93 Union College (ECAC) 38 14 20 34 32
D Weegar, MacKenzie @weega52 6'0" 183 Right Ottawa, ON 1/7/94 Halifax (QMJHL) 61 12 47 59 97
F Wegwerth, Joe @wegs27 6'3" 230 Left Burnsville, MN 6/16/96 US U-18 (USHL) 52 3 2 6 123
D Wittchow, Ed @TeamEdward_20 6'4" 205 Left Burnsville, MN 10/31/92 U. of Wisconsin (Big-10) 37 1 6 7 26

G Brittain, Sam @SBrittain1 6'3" 229 Left Calgary, ALTA 5/10/92 U. of Denver (NCHC) 39 19 14 6 2.22
G Cowley, Evan @ECtendy31 6'3" 185 Left Evergreen, CO 7/31/95 U. of Denver (NCHC) 5 1 2 0 1.76
G Fagerblom, Hugo @Hfagerblom 6'6" 202 Left Sweden 1/9/96 Frolunda U18 (Swe-Jr.) 8 1 2.24
G Stevens, Colin @colinstevens30 6'1" 174 Left Niskayuna, NY 6/30/93 Union College (ECAC) 36 28 4 2 2.05

July 01, 2014

NEW LOOK FOR PANTHERS: Tallon signs six on opening day of free agency

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Dale Tallon wasn't as busy on the opening of the NHL's free agency period Tuesday afternoon as he was in 2011 although it was real close.
The Panthers signed five players within the first 90 minutes of the floodgates opening and brought in six by end of the work day.
Tallon signed four forwards, a defenseman and a goalie -- adding more than $17 million in payroll toward the coming season.
Not long after signing two-time Stanley Cup champion Willie Mitchell from Los Angeles, Tallon said he was going to take a little break from the frenzy. "We're going to sit back,'' Tallon said.
The Panthers also added forwards David Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Shawn Thornton and Derek MacKenzie as well as goalie Al Montoya.
"It was a great day for our franchise and we exceeded expectations,'' said Tallon, who signed seven new players on the first day of free agency in 2011 which led to the team's first postseason berth in over a decade.
"We identified a number of players and we got them all, basically. I've never had that before. The guys we identified we ended up getting. We had needs we had to address.''
A few minutes after noon, Florida made its first move of the day by signing former Carolina and Pittsburgh winger Jussi Jokinen to a four-year deal worth $4 million per season.
A solid scorer throughout his nine-year career, Jokinen -- who is no relation to former Florida captain Olli Jokinen -- scored 58 points for the Penguins last year. That was 19 more than Florida's leading scorer in rookie Nick Bjugstad.
Jokinen has played in 660 games with Carolina, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and has 149 goals with 265 assists.
"He has a lot of class, a real pro,'' Tallon said. "He has great skills and can score. He'll also help [Aleksander] 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.''
The Panthers then made its biggest financial splash by signing Bolland, the former Chicago and Toronto center to a five-year contract worth $5.5 million per season.
Bolland, whose biggest claim to fame is scoring the goal lifting Chicago to the Cup in 2013, said he narrowed his choices to remaining in Toronto or coming south to be reunited with Tallon.
"I'm coming to a team that's really growing and is going to be a contender,'' said Bollard, who was drafted in 2004 by Tallon while he was the GM of the Blackhawks.
"Dale put together a great team in Chicago. I think it's going to be great with all the young players here.''
With defensemen going fast throughout Tuesday, the Panthers signed Mitchell with their final move of the day.
Mitchell, 37, has spent the past three seasons with the Kings and was instrumental in Los Angeles winning the Cup in two of those seasons.
In 795 NHL games over 12 seasons with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and Los Angeles, Mitchell has 30 goals and 135 assists. He's also played in 89 postseason games during his career.
Florida goalie Roberto Luongo welcomed his former Vancouver teammate to South Florida via Twitter.
Mitchell signed a two-year deal worth $4.25 million per season.
"Great to be your teammate again,'' Luongo wrote.
Aside from Bolland and Jokinen, Tallon added two other forwards in former Boston enforcer Thornton and Columbus grinder MacKenzie.
Thornton, 37, spent the past seven seasons with the Bruins but played under Tallon in Chicago earlier in his career.
"It was pretty disappointing when [Boston] said I wasn't coming back, I'm not going to lie,'' Thornton told Canada's Sportsnet. "I spent a great seven years here. But I've had a few weeks to get over it. The focus then became to find somewhere I would fit and [my family] would be happy. Honestly, Florida was at the top of my list.''
Not happy with backup goalie Dan Ellis -- he went 0-5 and stopped just 84 percent of shots faced after coming over in the Tim Thomas deal with Dallas -- Tallon went out and signed Montoya.
The first Cuban-American to ever play in the NHL, Montoya spent the past four years as a backup with the Islanders and Winnipeg.
A first-round pick by the Rangers in 2004, Montoya toiled for five seasons in the minor leagues before making his NHL debut with Phoenix in 2009.
Tallon signed the former Michigan standout to a two-year deal worth just over $1 million per season. He'll compete with Ellis to be Luongo's backup.
On Tuesday, Tallon gave the early edge to Montoya.
"He's won in the NHL and the American Hockey League,'' Tallon said. "He's from Chicago and always wanted to come to Florida. He's excited. We talked to [Luongo] about it and it takes a special kind of goalie to be a backup. He's had a couple good years in a row.''

FREE AGENT FRENZY: Florida Panthers busy early on in signing Bolland, J.Jokinen, Thornton, MacKenzie and Montoya

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers were a busy bunch as the free agency period kicked off Tuesday at noon.
First, Florida inked former Carolina and Pittsburgh winger Jussi Jokinen to a four-year deal worth $16 million.
Soon afterward, center Dave Bolland joined the team with a five-year deal worth $5.5 million each season. Bolland, drafted by Florida GM Dale Tallon in Chicago, is a two-time Stanley Cup champ with the Blackhawks. He spent a rough season in Toronto last year as he missed a big part of the season after suffering a severed ankle tendon.
The Panthers also officially said goodbye to enforcer Krys Barch as Boston tough Shawn Thornton was signed to a reported two-year deal. Thornton has spent the past seven seasons in Boston but also has a Tallon connection as he once played in Chicago.
Thornton has played in 559 NHL games and has incurred 906 penalty minutes.
Florida also brought in some competition for the backup goaltending job by signing former University of Michigan standout Al Montoya.
Montoya, the first Cuban-American to ever play in the NHL, spent the past four years with the Islanders and Jets.
The fifth player to sign on with Florida was another forward as former Columbus center Derek MacKenzie signed a three-year pact. MacKenzie, who was drafted and broke in with the old Atlanta Thrashers, is expected to compete for a spot on one of Florida bottom two lines.
The Panthers now need to go after some defensemen and word is that is exactly what they are doing.
Stay tuned.
More to come as the free agency period rolls on.
Follow me on Twitter @GeorgeRichards for information as it comes in.

June 30, 2014

TIME TO SHOP: Florida Panthers buyout Jovo, head into free agency with plenty of cash


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
With his team for sale and under orders to not spend any money, last year's opening of the free agency market put Dale Tallon in the strange position of being a spectator.
The financial handcuffs have been taken off this time around.
When the NHL's free agent period opens Tuesday at noon, Tallon expects to be busy.
The Panthers, as far as free agents go, are back open for business. Whether Tallon can persuade top-end talent to sign up is another matter.
"We have addressed needs on our team and have a list of people we think can help us,'' Tallon said Saturday at the NHL draft. "Now it's a matter of selling them on the benefits of coming to Florida to help us turn the franchise around.
''We have great players, a goaltender [Roberto Luongo] and ownership willing to spend. It's a great place to live. We're using every tool possible to get guys to come to Fort Lauderdale.''
Although Tallon's work this week will be overshadowed by what his NBA neighbors in Miami do, Tallon will attempt to make a splash in signing a few defensemen as well as a few forwards.
Some needs could be filled through a trade or two, although Tallon is expected to get most of his new acquisitions via free agency.
Although this isn't the strongest free agent class in recent memory, there are players out there who could improve the Panthers' roster.
"We will be aggressive and have room to spend,'' Tallon said. "We have some needs and want to help our young guys develop. .-.-. help these young kids get through the potholes.''
Florida is a little over $30 million under the league-mandated cap of $69 million with new ownership telling Tallon he's authorized to be closer to the cap ceiling than the floor.
The Panthers are about $14 million shy of the cap floor ($51 million) but that will quickly change.
The signing of restricted free agents (noteably Dmitry Kulikov, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes and Erik Gudbranson) as well as top draft pick Aaron Ekblad should pull Florida closer to -- or even over -- the cap floor.
On Monday, captain Ed Jovanovski was officially bought out of the last season of his four-year contract.
Jovanovski's buyout -- for $2.75 million of the $4 million he was scheduled to make -- will not count against the cap as Florida used one of its two compliance (amnesty) buyouts it had at its disposal.
“We sincerely thank Ed for his seven years of service and dedication to the Florida Panthers and the South Florida community,” Tallon said in a statement issued by the team.
“This was not an easy decision.''
Although Jovanovski's money won't count against the cap, Florida does attribute $1.4 million from last year's buyout of Filip Kuba against it as well as $2.2 million of Kris Verteeg's retained salary from last year's trade with Chicago.
Florida has been rumored to be involved in a potential trade with Philadelphia which would bring former Tampa Bay star center Vinny Lecavalier back to the Sunshine State.
If that deal was to go through -- it's considered doubtful as Lecavalier's productivity has slipped and he's signed for three more years -- it wouldn't be until Wednesday.
Lecavalier, bought out by the Lightning last summer, is due a $2 million bonus on Tuesday and any team interested in the 2004 Stanley Cup champ wants the Flyers to pay that fee.
The Panthers could also have interest in some of the new additions to the free agency market. Like Jovanovski, a handful of other players were bought out and are able to sign with any team.
Those players include former Buffalo defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and Arizona center Mike Ribiero.
Florida could also resign fourth-line winger Jesse Winchester who scored a career-high nine goals last year.

June 29, 2014

END OF AN ERA: Florida Panthers to buy out Ed Jovanovski's final year

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
PHILADELPHIA -- The Ed Jovanovski Era with the Florida Panthers is close to ending.
Jovanovski's long NHL career may be over as well.
On Sunday, the Panthers placed their captain on waivers with the intent to buy out the final year of the four-year deal he signed with Florida in 2011.
Jovanovski will get roughly $2.7 million of the $4 million owed to him by the Panthers as buy-out candidates get two-third their contract price per the collective bargaining agreement.
On Friday night, Jovanovski told the Miami Herald he wasn't sure what the Panthers were going to do before Monday's deadline.
The possibility of a buyout, however, was on his mind but still seemed to come as a surprise.
Jovanovski had hoped the Panthers, after he battled back from a serious and painful hip surgery, would allow him to end things on his own terms.
On Sunday, Jovanovski texted he wouldn't be making any public comment.
"This game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life,'' Jovanovski said at the end of last season.
The Panthers don't talk about players until they've cleared waivers. That's expected to come Monday at noon. When asked about Jovanovski on Friday, general manager Dale Tallon said there was no new update.
This was a very difficult decision for Tallon who is one of Jovanovski's biggest supporters.
"He's a leader and God bless him,'' Tallon said when Jovanovski returned in January. "What's he's doing is unbelievable. He's a tough SOB and I really like him. His teammates love him. If anyone would come back from this is Jovo. He's been terrific.''
The defenseman, whom Florida took with the top overall pick in 1994, spent seven of his 18 NHL seasons with the Panthers.
Florida traded him to Vancouver in 1999 as part of the Pavel Bure deal and he spent seven seasons with the Canucks before signing with the Coyotes as a free agent in 2006.
Jovanovski returned to the Panthers in 2011 as a free agent and played in 109 games over the past three years.
Last year, Jovanovski returned from major hip surgery and played in 37 games upon coming back in January.
Jovanovski, who turned 38 last week, became the first known professional athlete to return from hip resurfacing. After being limited to just six games in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Jovanovski had the very intrusive surgery and worked his way back to the lineup.
It was a slow, painful process.
"This has been a tough road, no question,'' Jovanovski said in April.
"When I came back and went through the rehab, there was that doubt of the chances of never playing again. .-.-. There were days in which I said 'what am I doing. It's an uphill battle.' There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it's pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I'm doing. It's great being able to play the game I love.''
Jovanovski had been working out with the thought he would play next year and it's possible although unlikely another team gives him a chance to give it one more try.
If Jovanovski decides to retire, Florida could offer Jovanovski a position within the team something he said in April he would be receptive to. Being bought out by the Panthers, however, could change his feelings toward the team.
"I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win,'' he said. "It's something I love to do. I've been in this community so long, I'd love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It's going to be an interesting summer. We'll see where that unfolds.''
Last season, Jovanovski said not being around the team during his injury was one of the worst things he's endured.
"It killed me,'' he said. "And it's one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. At the end of the day, do what you love to do.''

Here are some quotes from Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson and Peter Horachek from last year.

On the Masterton nomination:
"I appreciate that, it's definitely an honor. For me, anytime you are nominated for something, it's a great honor. This has been a tough road, no question. When I came back and went through the rehab, there was that doubt of the chances of never playing again. Having the passion to come back and get in there and do my work, 35 games or so into it and not missing many practices, it's definitely a treat to be here.''
Where there times during rehab in which you doubted the process?:
"For the most part I tried to remain as upbeat as I could. There were days in which I said 'what am I doing. It's an uphill battle.' There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it's pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I'm doing. It's great being able to play the game I love.''
Where there family members who said 'what are you doing?'
"Not so much by my wife. A lot of that came from my mom and dad. There were 18. 19 years of grinding. When I got back from my surgery and they saw what I went through that first week ... It wasn't fun. It was miserable. As the days move on, your attitude is, well the sun comes up kind of thing. Everything is moving forward. With the rehab regimen these days, you're right back at it and you start feeling better. That's kind of what happened to me. You have to start somewhere.''
Where do you rank coming back on your list of accomplishments?
"It's got to be up there. We all enjoy the great seasons, the teams. But this one really hits home.''
You're not done yet, right?
"I think working out off the ice, then on the ice and getting into game action for me, it's going to be a really important summer to concentrate on an 82 game schedule. Really work at playing and having success. There is no other way to put it. I have to work hard. When you put your mind to it, anything is a possibility.''
Have you talked to Dale about your future?
"No. I have a year on my contract and I plan on fulfilling it.''
So if it's up to you, you'll be here for training camp?
Feel how you've shown the kids how it's done?
"It's not so much showing it. You don't wish anyone to go through what I went to. There are a lot of prevention things today like what [Huberdeau] went through like scoping. This was kind of a last resort kind of thing to first and foremost improve my quality of life, be able to play with my kids, bend over and put my socks on and tie my shoes. I was lost at one point. It was a daily struggle to do a lot of things. But if they can see anything, it's anything is possible. This game has been really good to me and has given me everything I've ever needed in my life and my family's life. The opportunity is through the roof for these guys financially and being able to do what they want to do.''
How much did you miss the game, being around the team?
"It killed me. And it's one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. At the end of the day, do what you love to do. We play a game. It's hard, a lot of the things that go unnoticed. The travel; yes we do fly on charters, but it's a grind getting in at 2, 3 in the morning and have to get ready in the morning. It tests you that much more. But it killed me not being around the guys and that's something that bothers me when it's all going to be over.''
Want to stick around the game?
"Yeah, that's something that is definitely a possibility. I love the game that much. I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win. It's something I love to do. I've been in this community so long, I'd love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It's going to be an interesting summer. We'll see where that unfolds.''
"It was a serious injury to come back from as a hockey player and at his age as well, the passion he's shown and character he's shown to come back, it was for the love of the game. That's really impressive.
"Having him in the dressing room is a huge piece. It's noticeable when he's not here. That battle he's shown, the determination, is something we all need to learn from. Hockey isn't forever and to show that passion is an amazing thing to see. His return has been seamless. He basically took a year off and it's a tough thing to do and come back and play. It's quite the invasive surgery. It's a big deal. For him to come back is amazing to see. I don't think a lot of guys could have done what he's overcome. That's a true testament to what he's all about.
"He's here for the love of the game. That's a passionate man right there. That's something we should all learn from and everyone in this locker room should take note of it.''
"The perseverance of that is incredible. Where you are in your career and going through a surgery, as we've talked before, no one has ever returned from. I think it's the same surgery Bo Jackson had.
"Playing later in your career is tough, the day-to-day and the travel and the recovery. To come back and work hard enough and have the doctors clear him, give him credit for that.
"They are big kids at heart. He may be late 30s, but they love the game. That's what they love, they are their happiest on the ice. The young guys see that, see that fight through and injury and spend months and months of recovery time. He went through training camp and had the disappointment of the doctor saying it's not healed. He continued to push until he got back in. It's a great story.