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Panthers will be aggressive in free agency, GM says

Tallon has full support of owner, who wants to spend to cap limit

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- Dale Tallon has some advice for pending free agents involved in their recruiting process.

"Well, I hope those people have a lot of sunscreen," the Florida Panthers general manager said Thursday. "Come down to Florida, it's nice and hot.

"We're going to be aggressive. We're going to do the right thing and hope the chips fall where they may. But we're going to make sure we're in there and be aggressive."

The NHL free agent interview period begins Sunday and runs through Wednesday. Tallon has made no secret that the Panthers plan to be busy, through that four-day span and on July 1, the date free agents can begin to sign.

Various reports, including one from Sportsnet, have linked the Panthers with forward Artemi Panarin and two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (2013, 2017), who are each eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Tallon obviously cannot comment on specific players but did say money will not be an issue when it comes to accruing talent this offseason.

"We've got the full support of (owner) Vinnie Viola," Tallon said. "He wants me to be aggressive in free agency and wants to spend to the [NHL salary cap], so we're going to do what the boss wants us to do. I'm happy with that.

"With our new coaching staff and the flexibility we have, we're very optimistic about our future."

Video: Speculating on future of Roberto Luongo with Panthers

The push to win, theoretically and financially, played a significant role in Joel Quenneville's decision to coach the Panthers (Quenneville was hired April 8). 

"He's very happy," Tallon said. "That's one of the reasons he came. That was part of the sales pitch, that we're committed to this. It's important to him as well. I'm real happy with that relationship." 

To Tallon's point: He said the Panthers plan to use Quenneville's success as a selling point to pending free agents. Quenneville was coach of the Chicago Blackhawks for three Stanley Cup championships (2010, 2013, 2015).

Florida has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past seven seasons (2015-16) and twice in the past 18 seasons (2011-12). Last season, the Panthers finished 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.

"I want them to get to know me," Tallon said. "I want to sell our wares and tell them where we're headed and what we're doing in the marketplace. Yeah, I'd love them to know [Joel] and I face to face.

"We have a solid culture there now. We've got a coach in place for the next five years. Vinnie Viola's committed, we're staying there. We have got stability all through the organization and we're committed to winning, and those are the things that we want to say, regardless of where we're located.

"You could be located anywhere. If you're not committed, it doesn't matter. We have to let people know and show them that we are committed."

The Panthers continue to wait to hear what goalie Roberto Luongo's plans are. The 40-year-old was limited to 43 games this season because of injuries. He could try to play another season, retire, or be placed on long-term injured reserve. Tallon, who's in Vancouver for the 2019 NHL Draft Friday and Saturday, said he expects to hear a decision by July 1.

"It's totally up to Roberto," Tallon said. "We've talked a couple of times. The decision is solely up to him. Whatever is best for him and his family. We're going to go along with whatever he decides he wants to do.

"It's a decision that's probably going to come shortly. There's no rush for the draft, it's not going to make any impact. But moving forward, before free agency, I would think we'd have an answer before then."

Luongo has three seasons left on a 12-year contract he signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Sept. 2, 2009. Florida could be subject to some salary cap recapture charges if Luongo does reitre.

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