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Panthers owner: ‘We intend on being in the free agent market in a significant way’

Dec 16, 2013, 7:28 PM EDT

Vincent Viola AP

Vinnie Viola says the Florida Panthers are going to be aggressive during this summer’s free agency period.

“We intend on being in the free agent market in a significant way” Viola told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We’re here to build a winner.”

Under normal circumstances, this might sound like an owner paying lip service to fans of a struggling fanbase, but a couple things stand out.

One, Viola has already opened up the checkbook. Within 48 hours of finalizing his purchase of the club, Viola gave GM Dale Tallon the greelight to spend on unattached veteran free agents — which he did, spending $6 million on Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes, Jesse Winchester, Tom Gilbert and Krys Barch.

Thomas, 39, was perhaps the best example of an aggressive free agent approach. He didn’t come cheap — $3.75 million in salary — and was a big risk given he’d been away from the NHL for over a year, but the gamble has paid off as Thomas has become a workhorse for the Panthers and kept the struggling team afloat on certain nights.

Another thing to consider? Tallon’s history playing the free agent market.

Prior to the 2011-12 campaign, Tallon went out and revamped the club through a series of signings: Tomas Fleischmann, Jose Theodore, Sean Bergenheim, Ed Jovanovski and Scottie Upshall, to name a few. The result was a Southeast Division championship and the club’s first playoff appearance since 2000.

Viola wants to see the club get back to that level.

“We want to patiently win now,” he explained. “I don’t know if we can resolve the two logically, but that’s how I would say it.”

  1. steelers88 - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:39 PM

    But what top free agent would want to go to a Florida panthers team where the team sucks and the team has no fan support. I mean maybe the only reason why a free agent would want to sign with Florida is because of the weather.

    • Mike Halford - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:50 PM

      Also, $$$$$$$

    • anthj99 - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:50 PM

      Money talks. Always has, always will.

    • 7mantel - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:51 PM

      I would ! Hate the cold !

    • hockeyflow33 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      No income tax

      • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:48 PM

        No, there is a fan base. Nobody shows up to see a perronnial loser, such as the Panthers who have made the playoffs once since 2000. The year after they did make the playoffs, they played to 97.3% to capacity at the 5th largest arena in the NHL.

        And yes, having no state income

      • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:49 PM

        No, there is a fan base. Nobody shows up to see a perronnial loser, such as the Panthers who have made the playoffs once since 2000. The year after they did make the playoffs, they played to 97.3% to capacity at the 5th largest arena in the NHL.

        And yes, having no state income tax and warm weather year round never hurts either. Not to mention they can offer just about more money to any player since they are I’m guessing below the cap floor.

    • skr213 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      I bet they could land a whole team full of Russian players who only care about money and can’t play D to save their lives. They’ll fit right in in Florida.

      • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:51 PM

        Yeah fit right in on a team that has won 5 of the last 6

    • ejbigg - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:56 PM

      The Penguins had no fan support before Crosby, much less than the Panthers in fact. Any market can do well with a competent product on the ice

    • blomfeld - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:22 PM

      Um … like maybe Roberto Luongo ? :)

  2. alicesrightfootesq - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    I grew up in Florida watching the Panthers. This is the first time in their history they have an owner seems like he genuinely cares about hockey and the team’s on-ice performance. Someone grab me a tissue because I can’t believe this is happening.

  3. pmonte3122 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    Lol take an aggressive approach and you’ll be in Quebec within 5 years

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:53 PM

      Kind of hard when the Panthers are locked into a lease until the 2028-29 season. By then, I’m sure we will have either renovated BB&T Center or have built a new arena

      • dirt2013 - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:06 PM

        Yep and contracts are gold in sports.

        They will not be in Canada in 5 years but in Seattle.

      • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:47 PM

        NHL contracts and MLB contracts are all guaranteed. Don’t be confused about the NFL where contracts aren’t guaranteed. But those are for players.

        I don’t think Broward County is going to let the Panthers out of their lease for free, considering they just footed the bill for a new $4.2 million dollar scoreboard. The county wouldn’t have paid for it without some guarantees of some sort the Panthers won’t break their lease

  4. steelers88 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:11 PM

    Don’t get me wrong I really want to see the Panthers succeed I really do. But all I’m saying is the cap is going to expand for every NHL team. If your a top tier free agent would rather play for teams like the Penguins, Blackhawks, Bruins or the Kings or would you rather play for the Panthers.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:56 PM

      You could sign with the Kings, Pens, Bruins, etc for 3 million a year and get taxed on your income or make $5 million a year in Florida without income tax on a team 2 years removed from a southeast division championship and taking the eastern champion to overtime of game 7.

  5. skr213 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    Should be “we intent *to be* in the free agent market.” Not sure how much I trust a rich business owner who doesn’t even know correct grammar.

    • blomfeld - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:24 PM

      God bless you friend …

  6. steelers88 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    To be fair however the Panthers haven’t really given their fans good competitive teams on the ice. I wonder if the Panthers ever started to win year after year if the fans would show up. I mean TB fans show up to support the Lightning. Why can’t the Florida Panthers do this for their team.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      Given a winning team they would. Go back and look at attendance last year coming off a division winning season

  7. tampabayirish - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    The Panthers need a uniform/logo makeover. They have never significantly changed anything on their uniforms…which is fine for established teams with near 100 year histories (I.e. Red Wings, Canadians, Leafs, NY Yankees, Notre Dame, Packers). The Lightning have modified their logo/uniform/primary team colors 3 times in their short history and have done a nice job with each change. The Panthers building could use a makeover as well. Very plain. Strange location in West Broward, borders on The Everglades…that’s a swamp FYI.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:01 PM

      As long as it doesn’t bring back the hideous blue jerseys. Also their location isn’t that bad. Especially since the games start at 7:30. Broward is perfect because it’s right in the middle between Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. It’s also an hour and a half from Naples if those people want to venture over for the weekend

  8. steelers88 - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    Did they ever talk about building a new arena for the Panthers? I agree that it’s one of the worst arenas in the league. If they were to build a new arena it should be in the Miami area.

    • tampabayirish - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:05 PM

      The Panthers would be very unlikely to get any public money for a new building after the financial disaster that Marlins Park is going to be. In fact, I don’t see any major sports team getting public money in Florida. The exception is the MLS team in Orlando getting money from the City of Orlando. (Orlando is desperate for any attention outside of the mouse). The Dolphins asked the State of Florida for money last year and were rejected. No public referendum to fund any sports stadium in Florida has any chance of passing in a vote. Zero. The Panthers will have to pay to upgrade their own building, build their own building or move. I suspect that the long term answer is to move the franchise. How does the GTA Panthers sound? Or the Quebec Pantheres?

      • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:52 PM

        Incase you forgot, Orlando has the Magic in a brand new arena which was publicly financed. There are ways around public referendums for sporting venues. Just ask the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. Yes, Marlins Park is a disaster, but only because the owner promised to increase payroll. To his credit, he did… for a year and then traded everyone. Which is why everyone is upset. There is a lot of time between now and 2027 to figure out a new arena

  9. steelers88 - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    I do agree with you that a top free agent might come to the Panthers because of the money and income tax. But if I were a top free agent I would rather sign with a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. I wouldn’t want to sign with a team like Florida that is rebuilding.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:57 PM

      Florida does a decent young core of up and coming players like Huberdeau, Kulikov, Barkov, Bjugstad, etc.

      But at least this new owner is saying he’s willing to spend money to make the team better. To his credit, he’s been very visable during game nights. He’s not a slouch who sits in his box and is never seen or heard from.

      Now hopefully he can get arid of this Club Red bullcrap, which helps make our attendance look bad. The 3 sections behind the benches. They run about $400 a pop. You can sit one section over for 1/4 of the price

  10. evermench - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    You can be “in” all you want on whoever is available but the love has to be reciprocated. Good luck with that.

  11. steelers88 - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    I have experienced to rebuilding teams in my life the Penguins and Pirates. What I have learned is that you need to prove that your competitive and then the free agents will sign. The Panthers do have a young core but I feel like they are still a couple years away from competing. Now if the Panthers can turn it around in the second half and finish with a winning record then maybe they can attract a couple free agents.

  12. thedavesiknowiknow - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    What free agent market?

  13. tmoore4075 - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    We saw this with the new Sabres owner. “We’re gonna spend!” And then they do, but no one wanted to go there, so they spent big money on 2nd tier players. If you can get good players at a decent price, then great. But you’ve got too many of these owners who come in thinking they are just gonna spend and it’ll fix. Spend wisely or just draft and develop.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 17, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      In all due respect tmoore4075, but the quality of life and weather in south Florida, is a tad better than Buffalo, NY. Just sayin

      • tmoore4075 - Dec 17, 2013 at 3:36 PM

        That’s all well and good but teams still get into bidding wars for 2nd tier guys because there aren’t many big names that ever hit the market. If a guy can get more money from Buffalo he’ll go there. I can’t blame them because it’s their chance to get paid. Don’t spend money for the sake of spending money. However the bigger problem for FLA is they might HAVE to overspend just to reach the floor.

  14. frankiesweep - Dec 17, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    What NHL veteran wouldn’t want to spend their winter in Florida playing hockey, having no state income tax, and being able to go to the beach.

    They’d much rather spend their time in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg…


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