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


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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.


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