With his team for sale and under orders to not spend any money, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was in the strange position of being a spectator during last year’s opening of the free agency market.
The financial handcuffs have been removed.
When the NHL’s free agent period opens Tuesday at noon, Tallon expects to be busy.
Whether he can persuade top-end talent to play in South Florida is another matter.
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“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 by signing a few defensemen and a few forwards.
Although this isn’t the strongest free agent class in recent years, there are players available 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 more than $30 million under the league-mandated cap of $69 million. The Panthers are about $14 million shy of the cap minimum ($51 million) but that will quickly change.
The signing of restricted free agents (notably Dmitry Kulikov, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes and Erik Gudbranson) and top draft pick Aaron Ekblad should pull Florida closer to — or even above — 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 count $1.4 million from last year’s buyout of Filip Kuba against it, as well as $2.2 million of Kris Versteeg’s retained salary from last year’s trade with Chicago.
The Panthers could 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.