The Panthers made a number of surprising moves Monday, declining to tender qualifying contractual offers to restricted free agents Steve Eminger and Anthony Stewart among others. Both Eminger and Stewart could return to Florida next season, but on July 1, both are free agents and can sign with any team they would like.
Eminger was acquired by the Panthers at last year's trade deadline in a deal with Tampa Bay, with the 25-year-old unseating veteran defenseman Nick Boynton for a handful of games before coach Pete DeBoer put Boynton back in the lineup. Boynton, who said he didn't think he would return next season, is also a free agent later this week will not be offered a new contract by the Panthers.
Stewart was Florida's first round pick (25th overall) in 2003 and spent the entire 2008-09 season with the Panthers after bouncing around the organization the previous three seasons.
Florida also declined to tender offers to David Shantz, Franklin MacDonald, Drew Larman and Tanner Glass. The Panthers did offer contracts to David Booth (who is in negotiations with the team) and David Brine.
''We're fairly certain he would have a pretty good case in arbitration,'' acting general manager Randy Sexton said of Eminger, ''and I'm not prepared to put this organization in a position where we'd have to pay a large arbitration reward. After July 1, if he wants to chat, we can. But at this time, we're not going to be tendering him an offer.''
Sexton also said the Panthers were willing to bring back veteran defenseman Karlis Skrastins as well as forwards Ville Peltonen and Radek Dvorak. Sexton said all three have shown a willingness to return to the Panthers and Florida has mutual interest ''at the right money and the right terms.''Brett McLean was put on waivers and the last year of his three-year will probably be bought out.
Florida's activity in the upcoming free agent market will be determined on which of its players it can resign. Goaltender Craig Anderson will be a free agent, and if Florida can't come to terms with him, it will be forced to look elsewhere.
Sexton also said newly acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold's agent told him that Florida was an attractive destination for his client. Florida acquired Leopold's negotiating rights on Saturday after sending Jay Bouwmeester to Calgary. Both Leopold and Bouwmeester can be free agents on Wednesday.