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Numbers Game: Panthers spend big money in free agency

Scott Cullen
7/1/2014 5:58:16 PM
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The Florida Panthers had money to spend in free agency, and loaded up, bringing in four forwards, one defenceman and a goaltender on the first day of free agency.

Numbers Game looks at the Panthers' big first day of free agency.

The Panthers Get: LW Jussi Jokinen, C Dave Bolland, C, Derek MacKenzie, RW Shawn Thornton, D Willie Mitchell, G Al Montoya.

The Florida Panthers headed into the offseason giving general manager Dale Tallon more financial freedom than they've had in recent seasons, and he wasted no time spending that money, with mixed results.

Jokinen, 31, had a strong season playing on Evgeni Malkin's wing in Pittsburgh, scoring 57 points in 81 games, the second-best point total of his career. That situation is not a luxury that Jokinen can count on in Florida where, despite their young talent, they have no one in Malkin's class, but Jokinen has shown that he can be a productive contributor with solid possession numbers when playing with skilled players.

Slot him alongside young Finn Aleksander Barkov and that has the makings of a solid two-way line and maybe Jokinen isn't likely to be scoring 50-plus points in Florida, where no one scored even 40 points last season, but Jokinen can be a useful player for at least three of the four years for which he signed, at a total cost of $16-million.

Then, things got silly.

Coming into free agency, there was a natural connection to make between Dave Bolland and Panthers GM Dale Tallon, given their time together in Chicago, but Bolland is a third-line centre so it's really hard to justify the kind of money and term that was given. Bolland signed a five-year, $27.5-million contract, and it's just flat-out outrageous.

Bolland played well with the Maple Leafs last season, at least he did when he was healthy, but he's missed 142 games over the past five seasons and is coming off a season in which he missed 59 games due to a sliced ankle tendon.

At his best, Bolland has been productive, scoring more than 35 points three times, and handled a lot of tough assignments in terms of zone starts and quality of competition, but assuming that he's up to that level now, after his latest injury, seems a tad optimistic and paying money and term that is more typical of a top-six forward is just really difficult to digest. For a checking centre, he also hasn't been very good at limiting shots against while killing penalties.

Sure, the Panthers are nowhere near the cap now, and maybe they never will be, but it's hard to take a team from being also-rans to contenders simply by paying a checking centre a boatload of money. By contrast, Paul Stastny and Thomas Vanek were the only two free agent forwards to come at a higher cap hit and neither one signed for five years. They didn't get as much term as Dave Bolland.

MacKenzie, a 33-year-old checking centre, has been a reliable fourth-liner for the Blue Jackets. He had a career-high 237 hits last season and in four seasons with the Blue Jackets, he's won 54.9% of his draws.

Signed for three years and $3.9-million, MacKenzie gives the Panthers good depth down the middle and it looks like Bolland and MacKenzie are going to bump prospects like Brandon Pirri and Vince Trocheck down the depth chart, presumably right out of the Top 12 unless they can fit on the wing.

Shawn Thornton is a tough guy whose game has been declining in recent seasons. He's fought 90 times over the past six seasons, but that's about what the 36-year-old (who turns 37 later this month) can do at this point. Whether that's worth more than a million dollars per season or multiple years probably has different answers for teams that aren't trying to reach the salary floor.

After missing the entire 2012-2013 season, Willie Mitchell had a nice comeback season, playing more than 20 minutes a night, a crucial part of the Kings' second Stanley Cup win in the past three seasons. He's 37, so not the fleetest afoot, but Mitchell has size, strength and adds a shot of reliability to the Panthers' defence.

In Mitchell and Brian Campbell (at least for now), the Panthers have a couple veterans that could show the way for first overall draft pick Aaron Ekblad and Mitchell, while a decent addition gets a nice payday -- two years, $8.5-million -- to eat some minutes on the Panthers' blueline.

Backup goaltender Al Montoya is a 29-year-old who posted a .920 save percentage in 28 games with the Jets last season. Trouble is, in the prevous two seasons, his save percentage was .894, so it's not really reasonable to expect more than Montoya's career average which is .910. Adding Montoya would figure to mark the end of Dan Ellis' time in Florida, though it may be difficult to find a taker for a 34-year-old coming off the worst season of his career.

The Florida Panthers spent big money in the summer of 2011, overpaying a bunch of veterans in order to reach the salary floor, and this year has a similar feel to it. The issue for the Panthers is that they are a franchise that has reached the postseason once in the past 13 years; they don't need to overpay free agents as much as they need to build a stable base of talent. With all the money the Panthers spent on July 1, there's not much reason to believe any of those players are going to be long-term answers.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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