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Panthers go on a shopping spree

by Emily Kaplan /
Florida General Manager Dale Tallon told reporters at the conclusion of last weekend's Entry Draft that the Panthers were "not done yet."

He wasn't kidding.

Tallon was the NHL's busiest general manager on the first day of free agency, signing five unrestricted free agents in an effort to jumpstart the rebuilding process on a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2000. The signees include defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who got a four-year deal reportedly worth $16.5 million; forwards Scottie Upshall (four years, $14 million), Tomas Fleischmann (four years, $18 million) and Marcel Goc (three years, $5.1 million), and Sean Bergenheim (four years, $11 million); and goaltender Jose Theodore (two years, $3 million).

Overall, the Panthers on Friday committed more than $67 million in salaries -- and Tallon said there's more to come.

"We're never done, we're never satisfied," he said during a conference call Friday evening before the signing of Bergenheim was announced. "We're committed to turning this around. It was very painful last year to do what we had to do, but now we want to start to enjoy this process and see some success. I want to see these guys, together, have success."

The Panthers, who entered Friday about $24 million below the League's $48.3-million salary cap floor, also completed a trade for Philadelphia forward Kris Versteeg, who was a vital contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run in 2010.

"I don't think what we did today was add any type of a superstar player," Assistant General Manager Mike Santos said during the same conference call. "But I think that all of these players have the ability to contribute offensively and make us a tough team to play against because we'll be able to roll four lines and probably score with all four lines. And that's something we haven't been able to do here in a long time."

Exactly one month ago, Florida named Kevin Dineen as its new coach. The team Dineen will inherit doesn't look much like the squad that finished dead last in the Eastern Conference standings in 2010-11.

Along with Friday's acquisitions, the Panthers also added defenseman Bryan Campbell at last weekend's Entry Draft and signed center Tomas Kopecky to a four-year, $12 million contract earlier in the week.

"We want people that want to be Panthers," Tallon said. "We don't want people who come down here to get suntans and want to play golf. All of these guys here want to be a part of turning this around, and winning and being a championship team."

Theodore's signing appears to assure the end of Tomas Vokoun's time in Florida. Vokoun, the Panthers' starting goalie for the last four seasons, is an unrestricted free agent. Theodore , who will be 35 at the start of the season, is a former Vezina and Hard Trophy winner.

"I like the fact that he's a champion," Tallon said. "He's a winner."

Upshall, meanwhile, will bring some offensive punch to the Panthers' lineup. The 27-year-old established career highs in goals (22) and points (34) this past season while playing for both the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jovanovski, 35, began his career with the Panthers as the No. 1 pick in the 1994 Entry Draft – but hasn't played for Florida since 1998-99. In 1,019 career games with the Panthers, Canucks and Coyotes, Jovanovski has 133 goals and 348 assists.

Fleischmann, 27, has 68 goals and 91 assists in 305 career games with the Capitals and Avalanche. He had 12 goals and 31 point in 45 games before blood clots in his chest forced him to miss the rest of the season. Tallon said Fleischmann has been cleared to play.

Bergenheim, also 27, had 14 goals and 29 points with Tampa Bay during the regular season, then enjoyed a breakout postseason with 9 goals as he helped the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Versteeg scored 21 goals and 25 assists in 80 games this past season, which began in Toronto before he was traded to the Flyers in February. The Panthers gave up a second- and third-round pick for the 25-year-old, who is signed through next season with a cap hit of just over $3 million.

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