In a season which has been mostly a disappointment, the Florida Panthers have at least one bright spot in the play of Jonathan Marchessault.
In Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild, Marchessault continued his career year by scoring his 20th goal of the season.
Not bad for a player the Panthers found at the NHL’s version of the dollar store as he left the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent to sign a bargain deal with Florida for $1.5 million over two seasons.
The Panthers and Marchessault visited the Lightning on Saturday night.
Florida assistant general manager Steve Werier targeted Marchessault as a free agent who could help the Panthers if given the opportunity Tampa Bay couldn’t promise.
"We thought he was a guy who could crush it," Werier said. "He had limited opportunity in Tampa because they were a team with an embarrassment of riches at forward but was great with the opportunity he had.
"We sold him on that. We told him we thought he could be a big part of our team here."
The Panthers gave Marchessault the hard sell despite his limited NHL playing time.
Werier said the Panthers called Marchessault’s agent right when the free agency period opened. Florida, unlike other teams, were offering Marchessault the chance to be part of the big club.
While other teams may have offered one year contracts with a two-way, minor league provision, the Panthers were bringing a two-year contract to the table with one-way NHL protection.
How much did Florida covet Marchessault leading into the signing period?
Owner Vinnie Viola called up Marchessault and the two talked about Florida’s plans for him for over an hour.
Moments after the market opened, Florida announced it signed goalie James Reimer – with Marchessault and Colton Sceviour quickly following suit.
"We explained to him that he wasn't just a depth addition for us," Werier said.
"He is one of those who wasn't drafted and isn't a big guy so he doesn't have that stereotypical pedigree. But, he's been really good at every level he has played at including in Tampa. If he did the things here he did in Tampa, yeah, he could punch way above his pay grade."
After Friday’s loss, Marchessault was in no mood to celebrate his milestone goal instead focusing on a Florida season heading southbound in a hurry.
"Our whole season, right now, has been a disappointment," he said. "At this point of the year, time is limited. We have less games; we need to turn this boat around."
▪ Greg McKegg didn’t need to introduce him to the Panthers on Saturday night as the former Florida fourth-liner stepped into the Lightning lineup for the first time in four games due to injuries.
McKegg, who played in 31 games for the Panthers this season, was claimed by the Lightning when Florida waived him just before the trade deadline last month.
“It will be a little weird to play against a team I was just on a few weeks ago,” McKegg said. “It should be fun. You never know what can happen at the trade deadline, but this team is on a bit of a roll and we want to keep it going.”
▪ Florida started goalie James Reimer on consecutive nights after he faced 44 shots on goal and 70 attempted shots in Friday’s loss to the Wild.