By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The Panthers continued adding mobility and experience to their blue line Thursday when they signed defenseman Jordan Leopold to a one-year contract.
Leopold, whose rights were acquired Saturday from Calgary in exchange for Jay Bouwmeester and a third-round draft pick, joins a Panthers blue line that includes Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen and Ville Koistinen. The Panthers also have rookies Jason Garrison
, Dmitry Kulikov
, Keaton Ellerby
and Clay Wilson.
Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton, who Wednesday said the possibility of signing Leopold was “remote,” was pleased to ink the veteran, who has also represented the U.S., in international competition.
“I’m not glad to get it done, I’m pumped to get it done,” said Sexton Thursday evening. “We are absolutely ecstatic to have Jordan in Florida. I did think (chances) were remote (Wednesday), and that’s one of the interesting things about free agency and certainly one of the interesting dynamics of the market we're living in, both the NHL market and the way the NHL is effected by the global economy.
“Jordan turned down more money and longer terms from other teams to come and play here, and to me that’s an incredibly genuine sign of how badly he wanted to play here.”
Leopold said Thursday night he thought Florida was the best choice.
“I don’t know if the other teams were the right fit for my family,” he said. “I’m happy. I’m excited about the possibility of playing and proving myself.”
Leopold said he spoke Monday night with former Minnesota teammate Keith Ballard and “things were positive.”
Leopold, 28, played in 83 games last season with both Calgary and Colorado scoring seven goals with 17 assists and 24 PIM. For his career in the NHL, he has played in 355 games with Calgary (2002-06, 2008-09) and Colorado (2006-09) registering 109 points (29-80-109) and 162 PIM. He has also played in 46 postseason contests for both Colorado and Calgary recording 15 assists and 18 PIM.
The Golden Valley, Minnesota native also has extensive experience on the international stage. He has represented the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympic, four World Championships and two World Junior Championships.
Leopold played four years at the University of Minnesota (1998-2002) and was a teammate of Ballard's during the 2001-02 campaign. He won the NCAA championship during his senior season and was awarded the prestigious Hobey Baker Award, given to the top U.S. collegiate player. He was originally drafted by Anaheim with their first choice, 44th overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
Sexton said the Panthers have improved their blue line over the last week despite losing Bouwmeester and Karlis Skrastins, who was offered a one-year deal by the Panthers but chose a two-year deal Thursday with Dallas.
“We felt it was important to upgrade our mobility, and we think we’ve really done that with Leopold, with Koistinen and with Clay Wilson, a young player we signed earlier today,” he said. “We’re a mobile crew now. Add to that Keith Ballard and add into the mix Bryan Allen and Bryan McCabe and we’re excited about the mobility on defense. Knock on wood (Allen) is healthy and can play with us all year, because that’s like trading for a strong player because we only had him for a couple games last season.
“We’re really pleased with our rebuilt defense. We’re mobile, we can get up ice quickly, and with the style of play that we have from our forwards and the style of play (coach) Pete (DeBoer) wants to play, it’s going to be very exciting hockey here this winter.”
And Sexton warned the Panthers may not be finished tinkering with the roster.
“We’re never done looking to improve,” he said. “We will be relentless in trying to find the right players and right deal to make our team better. From a salary perspective, we’re creeping up to where we were last year. Rest assured we are not done. It doesn’t mean anything is imminent, it doesn’t mean anything might happen in the summer, but we’re not sitting back. We’re not done.
“We think we’ve got a couple terrific young players Ellerby, Garrison and Kulikov…those guys are good young players. (But) we’re not done trying to upgrade our team. There’s a lot of time between now and the start of the season.”