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Expect the Florida Panthers to be busy, looking for trades and free agents

Jun 26, 2011, 11:23 PM EDT

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One Getty Images

The times, they are a-changin’. When the Florida Panthers traded for the final five years on Brian Campbell’s gigantic contract ($7.1 per season), it signaled a new era in Florida Panthers hockey. Since Dale Tallon was brought to Sunrise to turn things around, the Panthers have been selling every veteran they can find and have filled the team with young cheap players and high-ceiling prospects.

But everything out of Florida is pointing towards a new direction for the struggling Panthers. There are new jerseys, a new head coach, new AHL affiliate—and now a new organizational philosophy. Signing Campbell is the first step for the Panthers as they transition in the NHL financial landscape from seller to a buyer. Instead of being a place that free agents avoid like the plague, GM Dale Tallon and the Panthers hope to be creating a desirable environment for players around the NHL. As Tallon told the Miami Sun-Sentinel, convincing Campbell to waive his no-trade clause was the first step in his plan this summer:

“This is a very important week for us,” Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon said. “[We went through] a lot of pain last year to get ourselves in this position. We earned the right now to do what we need to do to get this franchise turned around.
“These moves we’re doing now will help us sell guys to come on July 1.”

Assistant GM Mike Santos echoed Tallon’s notion that the two-time All-Star’s decision to come South with his $35.7 million price tag, could turn Campbell into a pied piper to other coveted free agents.

“What’s really important in this whole thing is you now see players want to play for the Panthers,” Santos said. “It started to happen last year; we’re seeing it here at the draft that Florida has become a destination not only because [of the sunshine], but because they think we can win.”

There’s no doubt the Panthers have plenty of money to spend in the offseason. While they are about $42 million under the salary cap, there’s a more important number at play right now. Going into free agency, the Panthers are $26 million under the salary cap FLOOR. That’s right—they need to find a way to creatively spend $26 million before the beginning of next season. Needless to say, they’re going to be throwing around money like a millionaire at the $.99 store.

According to the newly acquired Campbell, Florida might be able to attract more free agents that most people originally thought:

“[Tallon] did a lot of good things in Chicago,” Campbell said. “I’ve already talked to a lot of ex-teammates who have said ‘get me there. I want to be there too.’ Dale will make this a very attractive place to play. We’ll get this organization going in the right direction, get the fans back.”

Before they can start attracting outsiders, they’ll have to make some internal decisions on the players that are already in Florida. From the sounds of it, they have already decided to cut ties with Nicolas Bergfors and are working to bring fellow RFAs Mike Santorelli and Shawn Matthias back next season. They’ll make a run to keep unrestricted free agent goaltender Tomas Vokoun in the mix—but if their unsuccessful they may want to give hot-shot prospect Jacob Markstrom a look in training camp.

In addition all of the cap space the Panthers have to play with, the team has stockpiled great prospects over the last two years. Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad, and Drew Shore all have the potential to be good NHL players when they’re called up to the big club. Now the team is changing gears and kicking into the second phase of their rebuild: acquire proven veterans.

The team has confirmed they are looking to acquire some new players and Campbell and explained that players are eager to join the team. We’ll see if they can start putting it all together.

  1. sharksfan754 - Jun 27, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    They have a ton of money to spend but in my opinion, miami/south Florida has the worst fans in sports. Even if they’re good this season, don’t expect them to show. Maybe if the pull off a deep run in the playoffs they’ll fill the seats

    • whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 27, 2011 at 9:03 AM

      sure looks like they are when they sell out every dolphins game and sells out every heat game. i am guessing even the marlins will sell out when their new stadium opens. just like EVERY OTHER market, put a decent team on the ice and fans will show.

      • govtminion - Jun 27, 2011 at 10:59 AM

        There’s something to be said for that. Look at Colorado- when things were good, the fans packed Pepsi Center full every night. When the team went into the tank a couple of years ago, suddenly people weren’t coming out to see the Avs anymore- despite being a team that had two Cup championships in recent memory and the longest sellout streak in sports to that point.

        I also remember how wild and crazy the Panthers fans were in ’96 against those Avs- remember the rat delay? Granted, that means a lot of fair-weather bandwagon fans, but their money sure looks the same as a diehard’s when you go to the bank. Put a good team on the ice, money starts flowing again, seats get filled, and life in Sunrise gets a little better- and it would be about time something went well out there. The diehards down there (they’re out there, I’m sure!) deserve to finally see some decent hockey.

  2. whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 27, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    If they don’t sign Vokoun, please trade a bag of pucks for Nicklas Backstrom and his 6 million cap hit.

    Thanks,

    Every Wild Fan

  3. svallen - Jun 27, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    They need to spend A TON of money to get to the cap floor. There are some great free agents out there the Panthers could look into (http://www.spotrac.com/free-agents/nhl/). They are going to need to persuade some top named players to come to the Panthers, and I think that is why they traded to get Campbell – to show the rest of the NHL that this team is willing to spend to win. That or they will pay players that aren’t worth a certain amount of money – overpaying and shifting salaries for those other teams to have to increase what they would spend.

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