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14 posts from July 2010

July 23, 2010

Cliff Viner Talks Florida Panthers: "We're a Sleeping Giant''

CliffThe Panthers made a minor change in their management structure on Friday as Cliff Viner took sole control of the organization.

In November, Viner and Stu Siegel were named co-general partners in the hockey club and arena management company, running its daily operations together.

Siegel will remain a partner in the franchise and run the team's charitable foundation as he has since 2008. Viner says no shares in the team nor money was exchanged between the two partners. Viner and Siegel took over the franchise from Alan Cohen last year – although, like Siegel, Cohen still owns part of the team.

Viner says he has been working on restructuring the team's finances as well as working on ticket and sponsorship packages of late. Siegel is said to be turning over his responsibilities with the team to re-focus his energies on his other businesses.

“There was strength in having the two heads together at the outset as we made a new strategic plan,'' said Viner, who becomes the CEO and NHL governor of the Panthers immediately.

“The two of us really worked together to change the plan for what we wanted to do. I'm happy we started the way we did, I'm happy with the outcome. We're a long was from where we were in November. We're in a better place.''

Viner is a season ticket holder from Boca Raton who first invested in the Panthers in 2003. He became more involved with the team in 2007, and began working with the front office last summer during the transition from the Cohen ownership group. Although Viner and Siegel weren't officially running the team at the time, they approved Randy Sexton becoming the team's full-time general manager on Oct. 2, 2009, and later had Bill Torrey lead a search for a new GM.

Former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon was hired by Viner and Siegel in May. Viner and Siegel also approved a larger front office budget for Tallon, although the team will have a lower payroll than it did last season when it finished 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. The Panthers currently have a payroll around $50 million – about $10 million below the league's salary cap.

Viner says the Panthers are turning a new page and going in the right direction. He adds that South Florida is big enough to support not only Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Heat, but the hockey team as well.

“I'm very excited. I have a passion for the business and love the people I have met in the business,'' Viner said. “That's what drives me. We have such a terrific sleeping giant; a little success and people will see why we got involved in the first place.

"This is a big enough market for all of us. We need to show some success. Everyone knows our lack of success the past 10 years. But the place is ready for us, the fans are hungry. They like our brand, but they haven't had much to cheer about. Give them that and the perception of our franchise will change dramatically.''


Panthers Ownership Shuffle: Cliff Viner now Sole Managing Partner

StucliffThe Panthers are expected to announce today that Cliff Viner will become the team's sole managing partner with Stu Siegel remaining on as a limited partner.

I've been told Siegel (at right in photo, hugging Viner as Michael Yormark turns to check out what's going on) will remain with the franchise and continue to run the charitable foundation.

Viner and Siegel took control of the Panthers from Alan Cohen (who still owns a nice chunk of the team) last November.

The two ran the team together, although as many of us speculated last fall, those kind of deals rarely work. Everyone figured one of the two would eventually take over. One voice kind of thing -- although in public, the two very much seemed to have the same thoughts on how to move the Panthers forward. So far, I have to say, they have done a pretty good job of getting things back on track.

Anyway, hope to speak to Viner later on today. According to the Panthers website, they are both listed as co-managing partners with Siegel serving as the team's CEO and NHL governor. Viner will take over those duties.

-- Also, according to @ChrisBottaNHL the Islanders decided to not renew the contract of analyst Billy Jaffe because he wasn't positive enough.

Well, anyway, Botta reports that Denis Potvin is an obvious candidate to replace Jaffe in the MSG booth. If Potvin doesn't get the analyst gig, he could take over pre and post game duties on Isles games.

July 22, 2010

Upgrade at Center: Jeff Taffe for Marty Reasoner

MartyWhile not exactly a blockbuster deal, the Panthers did make a move on Thursday, sending fourth-line center Jeff Taffe to the Blackhawks in exchange for Marty Reasoner.

Reasoner spent the past two seasons with the Thrashers, only scoring four goals with 13 assists last season. He's been better offensively in the past, however, scoring 14 goals for the Thrash in 2008-09 and 11 for the Oilers the previous season.

Taffe split his time with the Panthers and Rochester last season. He was penciled in as Florida's fourth line center after Gregory Campbell's trade to Boston.

Covering the Marlins today, will have more stuff later -- after the BBQ.

July 16, 2010

Heat Trio Get Royal Treatment ... In Sunrise? Panthers Offer Wade, James, Bosh VIP Package at Billboard

HeatThe Florida Panthers and Florida Marlins have done some cross-promotional work in the past, and why not?

Not only do the two organizations share DNA, but they don't really compete with each other save for a few weeks here and there.

The Panthers haven't done much business with the Heat since their ugly arena battle back in the day. Plus, the two go head-to-head many nights and are fighting for the same slice of the media pie. So why would the two franchises work together?

With the Heat signing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others, it appears the Panthers are breaking down that wall and trying to grab a small spot under the bright light currently focused on the Heat and its SuperTeam.

The Cats aren't going to beat the Heat in this fight anytime soon. So why not join them?

Last week, on the eve of James announcement that he was taking his talents to South Beach, the Panthers introduced a season ticket plan based on LeBronmania.

'Seats Fit for a King' is a promotion in which fans can buy season tickets for $23 per game in the lower level, $6 in the upper. The 23 represents James' number in Cleveland; the 6 is for his new number in Miami.

In radio spots, the Panthers make sure everyone knows that while the Heat may not have tickets available for next season, they do.

In today's Miami Herald, the Panthers -- err, BankAtlantic Center -- welcomed the Heat's trio with a full page ad. The ad ran in the special Miami Heat section, and the Panthers were the only South Florida sports team (aside from the Heat, natch) to order up a spot. The Dolphins previously welcomed the trio with an ad in the local papers.

"Dwyane, LeBron & Chris,'' the Panthers ad reads, "congratulations on becoming kings of the hardwood.''

It goes on.

"Welcome to your playground. Here is your gift from the BankAtlantic Center.''

And here are the gifts the Heat trio will presumptively receive from the Panthers (who run the BAC):

-- Four 'Royalty' floor seats for all events

-- Four seats in the ADT Club for all events

-- VIP parking in the Lexus Garage.

That's a pretty nice haul, especially with Justin Bieber coming to town next month.

As they say, the rich get richer.

Get Ready to Grill: Another Cats Cookout

TailgateWant to meet Shawn Matthias? How about Gord Murphy or Mike Santos?

Well today is your lucky day.

The Panthers are having another one of their summer cookouts aimed at selling tickets -- and letting you meet some of their peoples.

The second cookout of the summer (Dale Tallon and Pete DeBoer presided over the first one) is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at The Billboard.

The event is free to the public, although you need to call the team to get on the list. Free food and drinks will be offered, and you'll get a chance to mingle with Matthias, Murphy (the team's newest assistant coach) and Santos (the team's newest assistant GM). WQAM is also going to be doing a show from the event from 7-10 p.m., but if you make it to 10 without them kicking you out, I would be surprised.

According to the team's release, "the Panthers sales team will be on hand with special ticket offers and opportunities for fans to select seat locations for the upcoming season. With a more intimate seating capacity of 17,040, dynamic pricing on single game tickets, and the buzz surrounding the Panthers 2010 Draft, season ticket inventory is going fast and fans are encourage to buy now to get the best seats at the best prices.''

OK.

Says Michael Yormark: “I would also strongly urge non-renewed and potential new fans to attend Thursday’s event, as our limited season ticket inventory is going fast due to the new foundation being built by GM Dale Tallon, and our more intimate seating capacity for the 2010-11 season.”

The festivities will include a free barbeque dinner, drinks and live interviews and meet-and-greet opportunities in the Panthers Den of Honor.

Fans interested in attending should call 954.835-PUCK to RSVP for the event.

Players and personalities attending are subject to change.
 

July 15, 2010

Kenndal McArdle, Mike Duco and Tyler Plante Sign

Mcardle The Panthers signed three of their restricted free agents on Thursday as forwards
Kenndal McArdle, Mike Duco and goalie Tyler Plante agreed to one-year contracts for next season.

McArdle and Duco both spent time with the Panthers last season but spent the bulk of the season with Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Plante was Rochester's starting goaltender for much of the American's first round playoff series.

All three players signed two-way contracts, meaning they will all likely see time in Rochester again in 2010-11.

McArdle, Florida's first round pick of the 2005 draft, was having a promising season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. McArdle ended up having surgery on both shoulders. Duco spent 10 games with the Panthers last season and will be competing with McArdle for a spot on the Panthers fourth line during training camp.

Here's the Panthers release:

Duco, 23, played in 10 games with Florida last season, registering 50 PIM. The Toronto, Ontario native also appeared in 59 games with Rochester (AHL) last year scoring nine goals with 10 assists and 111 PIM. He played in seven postseason contests with Rochester, scoring one goal with 18 PIM.

McArdle, 23, has played in 22 games with Florida (2008-10) registering three points (1-2-3) and 31 PIM. He also played in 18 games with Rochester (AHL) during the 2009-10 campaign, scoring three goals with five assists and 63 PIM.  The Toronto, Ontario native was drafted by Florida in the first round (20th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Plante, 23, played in 26 games with Rochester (AHL) last season going 12-12-1 with a 2.66 GAA and a .914 save percentage. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin native played in seven playoff games with Rochester, going 3-3 with a 2.43 GAA. He was originally drafted by Florida with their second choice (32nd overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.




 

July 08, 2010

Panthers Jump on LeBron Bandwagon ... Torch Back With Duds

Jameswade The Heat may be out of season tickets thanks in part to LeBron Mania, but the Panthers are trying to get in on the fun.

From now until July 12, you can get season tickets in the lower bowl for $23 per game; $6 in the upper deck.

They're calling it 'Seats Fit for a King.'

LeBron has worn No. 23 since coming into the league out of high school; he's changing to No. 6 next season.

What a coincidence the Panthers are charging six bucks for an upper deck ticket, eh?

-- Former Panthers head coach John Torchetti has been reunited (and it feels so good) with Rick Dudley in Atlanta as an associate head coach under Craig Ramsay.

Ramsay, you may remember, also used to work in Florida. It's a small, small, world.

To read more, check out the AJC site...

July 06, 2010

Going Back in Time: Panthers Hire 96ers Murphy and Skrudland

Backfuture2

By bringing back two original member of their franchise on Tuesday, the Panthers dipped into their past in hopes for a brighter future.

General manager Dale Tallon and coach Pete DeBoer announced that original Panthers Gord Murphy and Brian Skrudland were hired by the team in different capacities.

Murphy, a defenseman who played six seasons in Florida, will be DeBoer's new assistant coach joining Jim Hulton and Robb Tallas.

Skrudland Skrudland, the Panthers original captain, will become the team's director of player development and will be involved in helping mold the team's prospects on and off the ice.

Tallon added that it was important for the current batch of Panthers to realize things always haven't been bleak as far as hockey goes in South Florida.

Although the Panthers haven't made it to the playoffs in an NHL record-tying nine consecutive seasons, the team advanced to the playoffs in two of its first four seasons in the league and made an improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs with Skrudland and Murphy – both chosen by the Panthers in the 1993 expansion draft.

“I wanted to bring back some of the alumni, bring a sense of family and winning tradition from the early Panthers days,'' said Tallon. “Their passion, dedication .-.-. they have history. They know what it takes to be successful down here. We want to build the a tradition, a culture of winning. Paying the price to win. These guys exemplified that.''

Murphy, who was an alternate captain in Florida, has been an assistant coach the past seven seasons in Columbus and said he had hoped to someday return to South Florida.

With Mike Kitchen leaving DeBoer's staff, the two spoke over the course of the past few weeks and Murphy was able to do some early scouting of the young defensive core he will inherit. Like Kitchen, Murphy will Murphy coach the defense as well as the penalty kill.

“We started the franchise there, my daughter was born there it was a great six years,'' Murphy said. “That's a place my wife and I still hold very near to our hearts. I've followed the franchise ever since I left and that crest on the jersey really means a lot to me. I'm excited about this.''

DeBoer said Murphy didn't get the job because he played for the Panthers when they were good, but that was a nice bonus. DeBoer said if Kitchen wasn't to return – DeBoer added he hoped he would – he wanted an assistant coach who had not only played in the league, but worked under strong coaches, had a “strong hockey IQ,” work ethic and strong character.

“He fit all that and happens to be a former Panther,'' DeBoer said from Canada. “That's great. He's going to be working with our young defensemen .-.-. For me, that's the most important job in the franchise going forward. .-.-. We're going to play a team game, have depth. That's how the '96 team won and that has to be our formula. To have guys like Gord and Skrudland, who believe and know first hand that it can be accomplished and isn't a pipe dream, is critical.''

Rats2 Skrudland had been an assistant coach in Calgary from 2000-03 before coaching in youth hockey the past few years. Skrudland was a guest of the team when it opened the new Den of Honor last season and he spoke of bringing the pride of the franchise back. On Tuesday, he reiterated those remarks.

“I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be back in the game and to be back involved with this team, one I have a place in my heart for,'' said Skrudland, who played in Florida from 1993-97. “When you get to draft as high as Florida has, it's no surprise you end with high charter guys. We have players here who are the full package. It won't take nine more years for this drought to end, I can tell you that.''


July 03, 2010

MAGIC CITY RACING XTRA: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a Working Man

Dalejr2 DAYTONA BEACH – Dale Earnhardt Jr. bristled at questions late Friday night regarding people within the racing community questioning his work ethic and focus on his primary job of driving the No. 88 Chevy for Rick Hendrick.

Earnhardt Jr. won the Subway Jalapeño 250 Nationwide Series race here on Friday, his first trip to Victory Lane since winning a Cup race at Texas in 2008.

That win came just seven races into his new career with Hendrick Motorsports, a much-hyped move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. in which Dale Jr. became perhaps the most sought after free agent Cup driver in history.

Since that first year – he won just the one race in 2008 – Earnhardt has had to constantly answer questions regarding whether he has the same passion he once did as he has struggled to find success on the track. Off the track, Earnhardt has no such concerns as he has a number of lucrative deals with such sponsors as Pepsi-Co., Wrangler and Adidas.

“I think people can stop questioning my commitment, whether I care, whether I have the passion anymore,'' he said, mixing in a few curse words for effect. “I mean, I can't work any harder than I am working right now. I can't. This is all I got.''

Earnhardt did agree that Saturday's trip to Victory Lane could be good for his race psyche.

“This helps my confidence,'' he said. “Anytime you win, you do good, I think that happens.''

Last year was extremely tough on Earnhardt and his team. As he watched fellow Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon all advanced to the chase for the championship, Earnhardt struggled and pulled down only three top 10 finishes in his first 22 races.

In May, after a 40th place finish at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, Hendrick made a change, replacing Earnhardt's longtime crew chief Tony Eury Jr. with Lance McGrew. Eury Jr., Earnhardt's first cousin, was Earnhardt's crew chief in Friday's race.

This year, Earnhardt is ranked 13th and has five top 10 finishes – matching last year's total – through the first 17 races.

Earnhardt, driving an Impala designed to honor his late father, took the lead in Lap 70 of the 100-lap race on Friday and held off the field to get his first Nationwide Series win since 2006. Earnhardt runs a very limited schedule on NASCAR's second tiered series, saying winning at that level isn't what he wants to do.

Earnhardt does have 23 such wins to his credit, including six at Daytona. He will probably run Nationwide events at Daytona in the future, giving him a chance to catch his dad. Earnhardt Sr. won seven Busch Series races at Daytona.

“Every win, I just soak it up like a sponge because we've had such a trying time the past few years,'' Earnhardt Jr. said. “I saw where Daddy had two more Nationwide wins than I did, so I got a little closer to him there.''

-- The start of Saturday's Cup race was delayed almost two hours because of rain.

-- Bobby Labonte made his 600th Cup start and was the race's Grand Marshall. He gave the start engines order while seated in his car on pit road.

MAGIC CITY RACING XTRA: Jimmie Johnson Looking for No. 5

Jimmiejohnson48 DAYTONA BEACH – Jimmie Johnson's bid to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship this season got off to a terrific start.

Johnson started off the year with wins in three of his first five races, leaving competing drivers to just shake their heads.

“I'd rather lose to any of the 41 cars out there than this No. 48 car," Kurt Busch said after finishing third in Johnson's first win at Bristol in March. "I thought we had them beat.''

Then, Johnson began a decent.

In a five-race span from April 25-May 30, Johnson had just one top 10 finish – with three of his races ending in the 30s.

Was Johnson's bid for another championship in trouble?

"We've been in a worse situation in the past and come back,'' he said after finishing 37th at Charlotte on Labor Day weekend. That dropped him to seventh in the standings.

“We'll keep working on it and get it figured out."

It looks like he and his team have done just that as that five race span appear to be just a blip.

Johnson rode into the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on a two-race winning streak, earning his first road course win in California when Marcos Ambrose stalled his car by trying to conserve fuel while holding the lead with six laps left. Johnson also took the checkered in New Hampshire last weekend.

In the two races previous to his wins, Johnson finished within the top six at Pocono and Michigan.

With rain wiping out qualifying for Saturday's race, Johnson was able to take a starting spot on the front row as season points determined the starting grid.

Johnson came into Daytona trailing Kevin Harvick by 105 points in the standings. With nine races left – not counting Saturday's late race -- to determine the chase to the championship's field of 12, Johnson appears solidly entrenched to make his run at his fifth straight championship.

“We've had some good races and some bad races,'' Johnson said. “A month ago everyone was saying the 48 was in a slump and now we're on top of the world. We've just gone to work every day. Some weekends are better than other. That's life. We're happy where we're at. We're happy to have five wins and there's a lot of racing to get ready for the chase.''

Johnson has been NASCAR's dominating force the past decade, not only winning the series championship four straight years, but being in contention in the four years prior to his championship runs as well.

In 2002, in his first full season on the circuit, Johnson finished fifth in the Winston Cup standings. The following year, he finished second to Matt Kenseth, then was runner up to Kurt Busch in 2004. In 2005, Johnson won four races and finished fifth as Tony Stewart won the championship. But since then, it's been all about Jimmie Johnson.

In the past nine seasons, Johnson has made his No. 48 Chevrolet a standard in Victory Lane as he has won 49 races in 305 starts. He also has 125 top five finishes during that span with 187 in the top 10.

It's no wonder he's a favorite to leave Homestead-Miami Speedway with the Tiffany designed Sprint Cup that is awarded to the series champ.

Again.

“They have shown some vulnerability this year by being off the pace a little bit at times and not having things go their way like it has in the past,'' said Hendrick teammate – and on-track rival -- Jeff Gordon.

“They've shown the past couple of weeks that they don't allow that to get to them and that is what makes them so strong. They know how to rise to the occasion at the right time and I think they know how good they are. They can get on track pretty quick.''


Randy Sexton Off to Penguins

SextondraftSorry I'm a little late on this, but I'm covering the Daytona race and watching all this rain has made me a bit slow.

Anywho, congrats to Randy Sexton who will join the Penguins organization as their assistant director of amateur scouting.

According to a release from the Pens, Sexton will "work closely with director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck and his staff in overseeing amateur scouting in North America and Europe.''

Sexton had been with the Panthers since JM the then GM hired him to be the team's assistant GM in 2007.

When JM left to be the coach of the Canadiens, Sexton took over the job and was given the full time (well, that's a relative term) gig right before the Panthers season opener in Helsinki on Oct. 2.

Sexton was told in April that the Panthers were looking around for a GM and in May told him that they found one in Dale Tallon. Sexton stuck around and helped the transition and was part of the Panthers draft party just last weekend in Los Angeles. But his contract expired on June 30, and Tallon hired Mike Santos to be his assistant to the regional manager.

Now I'm going back to watch guys turn left.

More racing EXTRA! coming up later for all you gearheads.

July 02, 2010

RACING SPECIAL: Earnhardt Jr. Brings No. 3 to Victory Lane in Daytona

Dalejr DAYTONA BEACH -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have the most fans in NASCAR, but even those who don't necessarily like him were likely rooting for him on Friday night.

Driving in a car designed as a homage to his late father, Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 70 of a Nationwide Series race at Daytona and held on to take the checkered flag.

Earnhardt Jr. had to hold off Joey Logano on a green-white-checkered race to the finish after a late caution, one in which the top eight drivers on the grid gambled by not pitting and deciding to race on older tires.

Earnhardt Jr. flew through the finish, then drove his celebratory victory lap with his hand out the window waving at fans. It was Earnhardt Jr.'s first win in the Nationwide Series since 2006 at Michigan and was his eighth at Daytona. Earnhardt Jr. has won six Nationwide/Busch races at Daytona as well as two Cup races.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. died soon after crashing on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 after driving aggressively to help block for Earnhardt Jr. and eventual winner Michael Waltrip.

Earnhardt Jr. was driving a car with his father's No. 3 on it for only the third time since his death – all three in NASCAR's secondary series. Junior has won two of those three races; both came at Daytona.

“We lost everything here,'' crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said through tears after the race. “To win here with his number...”

"I feel lucky, real, real lucky to win. If I didn't win, what a waste of time,'' Earnhardt said on Victory Lane. "I did it for Daddy, proud of him for going into the Hall of Fame. This is for his fans. I hope they enjoyed it. No more 3 for me. We won. That's it.''

On Thursday, Earnhardt Jr. told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that Friday's race would likely be the last time he drove a car with his father's famous number on it, and he reiterated those comments on ESPN on Friday.

Dale3 Now an owner of his own Nationwide Series team, Earnhardt Jr. as well as Richard Childress Racing and Teresa Earnhardt teamed up to make Friday's salute to 'The Intimidator' possible.

Earnhardt Jr. drove a Chevy not only with his dad's number, but the Impala sported the familiar blue and yellow color scheme complete with Wrangler sponsorship – Wrangler was Earnhardt Sr.'s primary sponsor from 1981-87. Earnhardt Jr. even wore a firesuit reminiscent to the style his father wore in the early 1980s.

Earnhardt Jr. said the car's retro look was to honor his father's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but it also created a rush on souvenir trucks as the blue-and-yellow themed gear was pretty much everywhere on the race grounds.

After Friday's win, they might just sell out as the crowds grow for Saturday's Cup race. Earnhardt Jr. will return to his normal sponsors and No. 88 for the Coke Zero 400.

And even though Earnhardt Jr. said he was “99 percent” sure he wouldn't roll out the No. 3 again, even his peers sounded like they hoped he might have a change of heart.

“I think it's an awesome sight,'' Mark Martin said on Thursday. “I know that a lot of our fans weren't around during that era, but a lot of them were, too. For all the ones who were, they get it. It's good to see Junior in it and it's good to see it happening.''

Said Kurt Busch: “You look at it and go 'that's cool'.''

CHANGE FOR CHASE?

NASCAR chairman Brian France said Friday that the Chase to the Championship could be changed next year.

“We want to make sure it's giving us the biggest impact moments that it's supposed to,'' France said. “We're happy with the Chase. It just means if we can enhance it in a pretty significant way we may do that. That will be the thing we decide in the coming months.''

Four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson said Friday that he's talked to NASCAR about potential changes and he says some of them are pretty radical. The Sprint Cup Series champion is crowded following the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“From my conversations with them, they are very serious about making some changes,'' Johnson said. “I don't know what exactly because we've talked about minor changes all the way up to some very extreme options they are considering. I know their number one goal is to make it entertaining and exciting.''



Chris Higgins Signs With Panthers -- One year, $1.6 Million ... Mike Kitchen OUT ... Rochester Additions

Higginsnydn

DAYTONA BEACH -- As first reported by USA Today's Kevin Allen, the Panthers have signed winger Chris Higgins to a one year deal.

This is a nice little inexpensive move ($1.6 million), as Higgins has the ability to put some pucks in the net.

"This is a bounce back year for him,'' GM Dale Tallon said. "He wanted to be here. He had three 20 goal seasons in a row, coming off a tough year. He wants to prove his worth and he thinks were going in right direction. I think he'll be a wonderful addition.''

A fast skater -- the Panthers are really putting an emphasis on speed these days -- Higgins was crushing it in Montreal before groin and shoulder injuries seem to have taken something off his game.

From the 2005-08 seasons, Higgins scored 72 goals with 56 assists for the Habs.

Higgins missed a chunk of the 2008-09 season with various injuries and was shipped to the Rangers in the offseason in the Scott Gomez deal. Higgins didn't last the season with the Rangers as he went to Calgary in the February Olli Jokinen deal after Higgins really disappointed in the Big Apple. 

Perhaps a change of scenery -- and the carrot that is another contract year next summer -- will be beneficial.

"I'm very excited, it's a great opportunity to prove myself again,'' Higgins said. "I'm glad Dale took over and glad to join him for the first year. That was a big draw for me.

"Dale taking over was pretty appealing to me. I want to prove myself to a new organization that has high hopes for their players.

"I had a great time playing in Calgary, I liked played for Brent and Darryl. Thought it was a good fit in Florida, trying to change things and become a winner. I want to be a part of that. I think Dale will put his fingerprint on the organization and he wanted me to come and be a part of it.''

For the Panthers, Higgins gives the Panthers some offensive help, and if he plays well and the team is (cough, cough) out of contention at the deadline, he could also bring something back in a trade at the deadline.

But that's looking way ahead.

(Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

- Mikekitchen - Pete DeBoer confirmed through a text message today that assistant coach Mike Kitchen will not return to the Panthers staff next season.

Kitchen spent three seasons with the Panthers, hired by Jacques Martin for the 2007-08 season and retained by DeBoer for 2008-09.

Kitchen was said to be pursuing a head coaching job, although there aren't any openings in the NHL right now. Kitchen was formerly the head coach of the Blues and came to the Panthers after being fired in St. Louis.

Last year he famously got into a dust up with Nathan Horton during a morning skate after Horton was flinging pucks into the side of the ice where Kitchen was working with Florida's defensemen.

DeBoer previously announced that Jim Hulton and Robb Tallas would return next season. Both were at the draft with DeBoer and the Panthers staff.

DeBoer says a replacement will be named next week.

-- The Panthers also made a couple of other signings for Rochester, signing RW Bill Thomas and LW Triston Grant to one year two-way contracts.

From the Panthers:

“Bill and Triston are two experienced American Hockey League players who add depth to our organization,” said Tallon. “They both understand the commitment that is necessary to play at the National Hockey League level and will have the opportunity to compete for a spot on our club when training camp opens in September.”

Thomas, 27, played in 33 games with the Springfield Falcons (AHL) last year registering 17 points (5-12-17) and appeared in six games with Lugano (Swiss) scoring two goals with one assist. For his career in the NHL, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound right wing played in 56 games for Phoenix (2005-08) and Pittsburgh (2008-09) scoring 11 goals with nine assists. The Pittsburgh, Pa., native posted professional career best numbers scoring 24 goals with 28 assists in 75 games played with the San Antonio Rampage (AHL) during the 2007-08 season.

Grant, 26, played in 74 games with the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) last year recording 25 points (12-13-25) and a team leading 236 PIM. The 6-foot-2, 215-poound left wing also appeared in three games with the Nashville Predators. For his career in the NHL, he has played in 11 games with Nashville (2009-10) and Philadelphia (2006-07) registering one assist and 19 PIM. The Neepawa, Man., native was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the ninth round (286th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Career Stats

 Stats

 Year

Team

GP

G

A

Pts

+/-

PIM

PPG

PPA

SHG

SHA

GW

SOG

Pct


 2003-04

MON

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

N/A


 2005-06

MON

80

23

15

38

-1

26

7

5

3

0

3

148

.155


 2006-07

MON

61

22

16

38

-11

26

8

7

3

0

3

159

.138


 2007-08

MON

82

27

25

52

0

22

12

13

0

1

5

241

.112


 2008-09

MON

57

12

11

23

-1

22

2

2

2

0

1

151

.079


 2009-10

CGY

12

2

1

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

28

.071


 2009-10

NYR

55

6

8

14

-9

32

0

0

0

0

1

137

.044


 Career


349

92

76

168

-22

128

29

27

8

1

13

864

.106



July 01, 2010

Dale Tallon: Maturity (and a budget) Brought Panthers Patience on Day 1 ... Sexton, Birch Out

TallonhuetThe opening day of the NHL free agency period came and went without any news from the Florida Panthers.

General manager Dale Tallon said he would be patient and not get swept up in the moment and spend crazy money.

Tallon, as general manager of the Blackhawks, has been guilty of that in the past – Nikolai Khabibulin, Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet come to mind.

But so, too, have the Panthers as they overspent on moderate players.

“Nothing surprises me on July 1,'' Tallon said of some of the big contracts handed out around the league Thursday. “The only thing I regret is that I can't play [anymore]. It's always amazing on July 1, people always overpay. We have to be patient and prudent. We've been active on the phone, trying to make deals that make sense.''

The Panthers did add a front office piece as Mike Santos was hired from Nashville to be the team's assistant general manager.

Sextondraft Randy Sexton, who was said to be a candidate for the job, will not be retained after his contract expired on Wednesday.

Sexton was the Panthers assistant GM under Jacques Martin from 2007 until taking over for Martin last summer.

Sexton was fired as GM in May when Tallon was hired but stayed on with the Panthers and was part of the war room during last week's draft in Los Angeles. 

Here's hoping Randy finds something soon.

Wouldn't be surprised to see him land in Pittsburgh as he and Ray Shero are close. Sexton's free agency signings last summer weren't much to talk about (although he didn't have much to work with throughout the summer with the ownership in flux) but he made some good moves at the deadline and stockpiled some draft picks that Tallon and the Panthers hope to get solid return on.

Jack Birch, hired by Mike Keenan in 2004 to be director of hockey operations, was also let go. Birch worked closely with the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.

Santos worked for the Panthers for parts of two seasons from 2001-03 before leaving to become president and commissioner of the North American Hockey League. Santos, the Preds director of hockey operations the past four seasons, has extensive minor league experience and will oversee the Panthers prospects in Rochester.

Santos, 45, will also be responsible for most day-to-day activities, allowing Tallon to “do what I do best and go out there and procure some talent.''

“I'm very excited,'' said Santos, who adds that he's an avid Dolphins fan. “Foremost, it was the people here who attracted me in Dale Tallon and Bill Torrey. I like the way they plan to be here, it's similar to the way we did things in Nashville. Dale had a similar plan in Chicago. I believe in that plan and think it's going to be success.

“This hasn't been a place where stability has been a strong suit. I'm looking forward to getting [the Panthers] on the right track and keeping it on the right track.''

Here's more on Santos from the Panthers press release:

“Mike brings to our team more than 20 years of hockey experience after working in a variety of capacities in the National Hockey League, the American Hockey League and the North American Hockey League,” said Tallon.

Santos “He has done an incredible job in helping to assemble a competitive Nashville club that has qualified for the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. He is very knowledgeable in the CBA, contract negotiations, salary cap compliance, budget forecasting and minor league operations. We welcome Mike back to the Panthers and look forward to his continued contributions to the organization.”

Prior to working in Nashville, Santos served as the Florida Panthers Director of Hockey Operations/Corporate Counsel for the 2002-03 season, after joining the organization during the 2001-02 season as a hockey operations consultant.

He was named commissioner and president of the North American Hockey League in 2003 and led the Junior “A” league through three seasons of unprecedented growth. The Lowell, Massachusetts native has also spent time working in the NHL’s New York office, as well as for the New Haven Nighthawks (AHL) and the NY Islanders.

A graduate of Boston College, he received his Master’s Degree from the United States Sports Academy in 1989, earned his Juris Doctorate from St. John’s University School of Law in 1998, has been a member of the New York state bar since 1999 and serves on USA Hockey’s Congress, as well as its junior and legal councils.