NEW YORK -- If John Madden had it his way, he wouldn't have waited until the season was nearly halfway over before signing with an NHL team.
"I thought I'd be playing at the beginning of the year, to be honest with you," said the 38-year-old Madden, who signed Wednesday for the rest of the season with the Florida Panthers. "I feel I have something to prove. I still feel I can still play the game. I've got a little fire in my belly again for being looked over another time."
One look at Madden's resume can explain his surprise about being unable to find a contract this summer.
The native of Toronto spent his first 10 seasons in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, where he compiled two Stanley Cup victories and a Selke Trophy. He spent the 2009-10 season with the Chicago Blackhawks where he lifted the Stanley Cup for the third time. The checking center had 12 goals and 13 assists in 76 games with the Minnesota Wild last season, but was unable to find a home this season.
Injuries were taking their toll on the Southeast Division-leading Panthers, who believed he was a good fit because of his experience and ability to kill penalties. Stephen Weiss has been trying to find a balance between centering the team's top line and working on the penalty kill, and the addition of Madden will relieve Weiss of some of those defensive duties.
Madden said he had been keeping tabs on the Panthers because Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Brian Campbell, his teammates during the Blackhawks' championship season of 2010, were playing in Florida. After a while, Madden said he was blown away by the success the Panthers were having.
"I started watching and, wow," Madden said. "They're really playing well. It's fun to watch. I played with a few other guys here (Jose Theodore in Minnesota, Scott Clemmensen in New Jersey), and they've got some great young players here. It's been fun to watch so far."
Madden won't be in the lineup when the Panthers face the Rangers on Thursday night, but he's hoping to make his season debut Friday in New Jersey against the team that gave him his start in the NHL.
"Just to have Madds in general, it's going to help our hockey club," Weiss said. "That'll be great. Just from playing against him, I know how he good he is on draws and killing penalties and good defensively."
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