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8 posts from July 2014

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.