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Southeast: Panthers moving in right direction

by Robert Picarello

Florida's Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss committed to six-year contracts,
becoming foundation for the Panthers.
Florida Panthers GM-coach Jacques Martin made several important moves this summer, most notably trading for goalie Tomas Vokoun from Nashville. But Martin also made a couple other significant moves when he got two homegrown Panthers, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton, signed to long-term contracts.

Both Weiss, 24, and Horton, 22, committed to six-year contracts, becoming g foundation players for the Panthers.

"By signing Stephen to a long-term deal, we hope that this serves as further proof of our organization's dedication and commitment to bringing continued stability and success to the Panthers and our organization," Martin said.

Both players enjoyed career years last season for the Cats, combining for 51 goals and 110 points.

Weiss, who was Florida's first choice (fourth overall) in 2001, posted career highs in goals (20), assists (28) and points (48) last season. Weiss also led the team in power-play goals with 10.

"Stephen is an important part of our core nucleus of offensive talent and we are pleased to have reached a long-term agreement with him," Martin said. "He posted career best numbers last season and we look forward to his continued production and contributions to our organization both on and off the ice."


Weiss is grateful he will be able to remain with the Panthers.

"I feel great,” he said. “Florida is where I was drafted, and it’s a place where I want to win. I’m thrilled I can be with this team for a little bit longer. We’re obviously going in the right direction and building something that I want to be a part of. Hopefully, this is the start of many winning seasons to come."

Horton, who was chosen third overall in 2003, also enjoyed a breakout season last year with the Panthers, scoring 31 goals and 31 assists.

"This is where I wanted to be," Horton said. "This is an unbelievable place to play. The guys, the franchise … it’s a great organization. Obviously, I wanted to stay here and be part of this team."

The feeling was mutual.

"Over the past year, Nathan has taken significant steps in his growth process and we believe that he possesses many of the essential qualities that we strive for in our players," Martin said. "He joins a growing list of players who have signed multi-year deals to remain with the Panthers that includes Olli Jokinen, Ville Peltonen, Ruslan Salei, Mike Van Ryn and Bryan Allen."

Now all Martin has to do is lock up his stud defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to a long-term deal and the Panthers should be good to go in the Southeast for years to come.

Around the Southeast -- The Atlanta Thrashers signed defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski to a free-agent deal. The 30-year old backliner scored five goals and five assists in 41 games for the Panthers last season. He also appeared in one game with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the club acquired him from the Panthers in exchange for a 2007 fourth-round draft pick in late February. Kwiatkowski has appeared in 264 career NHL games over six seasons with Ottawa, Washington, Florida and Pittsburgh, scoring 16 goals and 24 assists along with 225 penalty minutes. He also has appeared in six playoff games, all with the Capitals in 2003. … The Capitals re-signed John Erskine, 27, to a two-year contract. He appeared in 29 games for the Caps last season, finishing with a career high seven points off one goal and six assists and 69 PIMs.

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