Friday, July 1, 2011

Panthers Bring Home Fan Favorite, Add 3 Others On Free Agent Frenzy

SUNRISE - The Florida Panthers made a big splash on opening day of NHL free agency. Florida began the day needing to spend around $40 million dollars, just to make the NHL mandated salary floor for 2011-12. The first order of business was to bring in veteran players, and it started with goalie Jose Theodore. But the Panthers weren't done, adding Scottie Upshall, Ed Jovanovski, and Marcel Goc.

Theodore (pronounced Joe-Say TEE-a-door) won the Hart (MVP) and Vezina (best goaltender) Trophies in 2001-02, and the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship) in 2009-10. While last year he served as a backup, posting a 15-11-3 record with a 2.71 GAA and .916 save %, the soon to be 35 year old from Laval, Quebec will be asked to start again. He has also spent time in Washington and Colorado, but is probably best known for his time in Montreal. Theodore spent parts of 8 seasons playing with his hometown Canadiens. He has extensive playoff experience, appearing in 51 games with a 2.82 GAA and .911 save %. Theodore's deal is for 2 years with a cap hit of $1.5 million.

Upshall says goodbye to Columbus, where he was shipped to on deadline day. He spent the start of his season with the Phoenix Coyotes. Upon the signing, Upshall changed his twitter avatar to the "leaping cat", and posted:
"Ecstatic to be joining the Florida Panthers Organization!! Awesome day... Truly a dream come true."
Upshall scored a career high 22 goals last season. The Left Winger from Fort McMurray, AB is just 27, but is now with his 5th team. Upshall also has extensive playoff experience from the Phoenix Coyotes surprise run in 2009-10, scoring 3 goals and adding 2 assists in 17 playoff games. Florida is taking a slight risk with the winger, signing him for 4 years at a $3.5 million cap hit per season, but Upshall should be a key member of this club for years to come.

Ed Jovanovski returns "home". The 35 year old defenseman (happy birthday last week by the way!) was selected first overall by the Panthers in the 1994 entry draft. He went on to have 3 1/2 successful seasons with the Panthers before being traded to Vancouver for a guy named Pavel Bure (ever hear of him?) From 1999-2006, "Jovocop" stayed in Western Canada, before trading rainboots for sunscreen again, playing the last 5 years with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Windsor, ON native was given a 4 year contract worth over $4 million a season, all but ensuring he finishes his career with the team he started it all with. Jovanovski's rookie season with the Panthers is still the closest he ever got to the Stanley Cup, and you know the veteran defender wants to change his fate back where it all began.

If the worst you do in a day filled with signings is pick up Marcel Goc, then you're having a good day! Goc is the highest ever German picked in the NHL draft (unless you count Dany Heatley, but he's really Canadian), having been picked 20th overall in 2001 by San Jose. Goc is a depth guy. He'll give you 10-ish goals a year, but he was a +10 last year. He makes things happen and will be a good third liner. The 27 year old will see a cap hit of $1.7 million over 3 years.

These four join Kris Versteeg, who was acquired around 4:00 pm from the Philadelphia Flyers. They also join defenseman Brian Campbell, who was acquired at the draft from the Chicago Blackhawks and quickly signed a 5 year $7+ million dollar deal with the Panthers, and Tomas Kopecky, who was also acquired from the Blackhawks in a different deal. He signed a 4 year $3 million dollar contract just prior to the opening of free agency.

What happened today is unprecedented in the world of the new NHL. Hockey fans will love these moves, and the Panthers are very close to being a playoff team with these new players. If there is no basketball or football this season, South Florida sports fans WILL have something to cheer for come the fall!

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