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OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Free Agency Kicks off Sunday; Will Panthers Be Busy?

Panthermeet1The Panthers, and the rest of the NHL I guess, will open up free agency on Sunday at noon.

Dale Tallon and Mike Santos won't be as busy as they were last year when they signed four players in the opening two hours and a total of eight by the time the day ended.

I will be up bright and early working on things tomorrow.

For the quickest up-to-the-minute updates, follow me on Twitter @GeorgeRichards

If you aren't into the tweets, you can also like my Facebook page (On Frozen Pond) which hasn't been updated very much since the end of last season but will be used tomorrow.

It's just a lot easier to get news out on those two outlets via my iPhone than it is to log on here. Although there will be news posted here tomorrow -- just after the Twitter and Facebook accounts go.

Anyway, here is my story on the opening of free agency for tomorrow.

Who do you think the Panthers should go after tomorrow? The comment section awaits --

BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Dale Tallon went into free agency last summer with a barren roster, a pocket filled with contracts and a briefcase full of cash.

Panthermeet2By the time the opening day ended, Tallon had signed or traded for eight new players. In one day, Tallon reconstructed the Panthers roster.

Those moves, for the most part, paid big dividends as Florida won its first division championship, advanced to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years and came within a goal of knocking off the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils.

On Sunday, Tallon and assistant general manager Mike Santos will embark on another free agency opening day.

At noon Sunday, the market opens and Florida expects to be a player – although definitely not as busy as last July 1. First, Florida doesn't have as many holes. Second, this isn't exactly a bumper crop of free agents.

The Panthers don't have the glaring needs they did last summer – although there are a few holes that could use patching.

Florida's offense last year was, for big stretches of the season, offensive. The Panthers are pretty strong on defense but need to find a goalie – or not. More on that later.

“We're not looking at one thing, but we're trying to get better any way we can,'' Santos said. “We know we need to get more scoring and if that's available, we'll get it. If we can't, we could probably be bigger and more physical up front and we'll go that way.''

Florida currently has one goaltender coming back from last season, although Jacob Markstrom could join Jose Theodore as the Panthers tandem. That is, unless, the Panthers complete a much-rumored trade with Vancouver and bring Roberto Luongo back to South Florida.

LuongopinkpantherLuongo, Florida's franchise goalie from 2000 until traded to the Canucks by Mike Keenan in 2006, is likely done in Vancouver after Cory Schneider signed a three-year deal with the team on Thursday.

Luongo has 10 years left on the 12-year contract with Vancouver and it appears there is interest on all three (Vancouver, Florida and Luongo) sides to get a deal done. Luongo is said to have agreed to waive his no-trade clause to come back to Florida – where he and his family reside for much of the offseason.

Scott Clemmensen, Florida's backup the past three seasons, will be a free agent come Sunday.

Tallon said the Canucks and Panthers talked “goaltending” at last weekend's draft without mentioning Luongo by name; Santos said Friday neither sides have spoken about it since.

Florida could also have interest in future Hall of BrodeurplayoffFamer Martin Brodeur if he were to leave New Jersey after two decades with the Devils – possibly because of concerns with team ownership. Brodeur owns a home in Palm Beach County and won't come cheap.

Of the free agents who played for Florida last season, it's possible Jason Garrison played his final game with the Panthers although he could still sign with the team.

Garrison, who made an average of $675,000 the past two seasons, could garner $5 million per season on the open market after he scored a career-high 16 goals. Florida has reportedly offered Garrison around $3.5 million per season.

“We've kept the line of communications open,'' Santos said. “But when you get this close to July 1, typically, the player wants to see what his options are.''

The Panthers have spoken to Clemmensen and forwards Krys Barch and Mikael Samuelsson about returning – and it's possible the Panthers bring some or all of them back. The Panthers waived Mike Santorelli and Matt Bradley on Thursday.

Florida has quite a bit of money to spend to get to the raised salary cap floor, so don't be surprised if the Panthers make some big moves.

“We're ahead of schedule,'' Tallon said at the draft. “No one expected us to be where we're at this soon Neither did we, to be honest. We're satisfied we had a good year but we still have the same plan in place. We have long term goals, a blueprint, we're going to stick to. We're going to get better as we move forward.''


C Jason Arnott, St. Louis

Yes, getting up there in age, but can still score and make plays

G Martin Brodeur, New Jersey

The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer – and South Florida resident – led Devils to Stanley Cup Finals

RW Shane Doan, Phoenix

Doan is a Coyotes holdover from the Winnipeg days – but those days may soon end

D Jason Garrison, Florida

Do the Cats get a hometown discount after a career year on a contract year?

LW Jiri Hudler, Detroit

Scored 25 goals and 25 assists with the Wings last year and will get a raise from $3 million per

C Olli Jokinen, Calgary

It's doubtful Florida brings back its former captain although he would welcome a return

G Roberto Luongo, Vancouver

Not a free agent, but very much in play for the Panthers via trade

LW Dustin Penner, Los Angeles

Had 32 goals with Edmonton a few years back, has dropped off since

RW Alexander Semin, Washington

Some have questioned his play, but Semin is talented and can score from anywhere

D Ryan Suter, Nashville

Talented blueliner will command big bucks – likely out of the Panthers financial ballpark

LW Ray Whitney, Phoenix

The former Panthers fan favorite is still going strong at 40