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After Making Moves in June, Panthers Enjoyed 'Relaxed' Free Agency

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

2018 NHL Free Agency: Dale Tallon

2018 NHL Free Agency: Dale Tallon

Panthers General Manager/President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon addresses the media on the first day of free agency

  • 01:45 •

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - With the vast majority of their roster set to return, and having already taken care of their most-glaring needs earlier in the offseason, the opening of the NHL's highly-anticipated free agency period came and went rather quietly for the Florida Panthers.

"Quite frankly, I was more relaxed today than I have been in a long time on July 1," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said with a chuckle. "Usually it's nerve-wracking because you have to spend a lot of money on July 1 to get good players."

After signing free agent defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich and trading for high-scoring winger Mike Hoffman last month, Tallon said the Panthers entered Friday's free agent frenzy with only a few holes left to fill in their lineup. With budding superstars like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad already in place, just a few complimentary pieces were needed.

"We're going to still sit back and evaluate and see where we're at moving forward," Tallon said. "We still have a couple of contracts to get out of the way, then we'll see what happens in August. If we need something, then we'll see what's available and go from there. I'm confident in our young team. I'm confident in our depth chart. I'm confident in our young players."

With their first move of the day, the Panthers addressed their forward depth with the re-signing of Jared McCann to a two-year contract. After winning the third-line center job in training camp, the 22-year-old pieced together a solid season in 2017-18, notching nine goals and 19 assists for a career-high 28 points in 68 games. Of his nine goals, four were game winners.

"At the end of the year I kind of showed that I could take on more of a role," McCann said. "This year I feel like I've earned the coaches trust. I'm just looking to build on it some more and be used in every situation I can be used in."

Having already inked Frank Vatrano to a one-year extension on Friday, the signing of McCann leaves the Panthers with just three more restricted free agents: MacKenzie Weegar, Alexander Petrovic and Curtis Valk. The team extended qualifying offers to all three players on Monday.

In the upcoming season, McCann will compete with Denis Malgin and rookie Henrik Borgström for the role of third-line center. He could, however, also carve out a spot for himself on the wing.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," McCann said. "I realize that nothing's ever given. I know I'm going to have to earn a spot still. I'm ready to take that leap and show them that I can do it."

With McCann locked up, the Panthers then went out and found their new third-string goaltender in Michael Hutchinson, who spent parts of the last five seasons with Winnipeg. The 28-year-old veteran is coming to Florida on a one-year deal hoping to eventually make it back to the NHL.

After suiting up in 96 games over three seasons with the Jets, Hutchinson spent the majority of last season with the club's AHL affiliate in Manitoba, where he ranked second in the league in save percentage (.935) and third in goals-against average (2.08).

In 102 career NHL games, Hutchinson has a 2.65 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

"It's always nice to have a fresh start," Hutchinson said. "I'm just looking to have a good rest of the summer and go into training camp and play well and hopefully turn some heads. We'll see what happens. [The Panthers] have two good goaltenders ahead of me. I'm just looking forward to an opportunity."

Now with the Panthers, Hutchinson is expected to fill the void left in AHL Springfield by Harri Sateri, who signed with Detroit on Sunday, and serve as a mentor to second-year pro Samuel Montembeault, the 21-year-old heir apparent in net for Florida - a role he's ready to embrace.

"There's a lot of give and take," Hutchinson said of mentorship. "The younger kids always have so much enthusiasm for the game and want to be at the rink. That's always infectious. Any little bit [of information] you can pass on, they really appreciate that."

So, to recap Florida's offseason thus far: a veteran shutdown defenseman? Check. A top-six, high-scoring winger? Check. A third-string goaltender? Check. With no major items left on his offseason wish list, Tallon believes the Panthers improved without sacrificing their stability.

"That's the key," Tallon said. "We had so much instability a few years ago: new faces, new players, new coaches. Now we want to make sure that we let our guys develop in the proper way, that we have a strong core. The coaches are more comfortable with the players and the players will be more comfortable with them. I look for everyone to get off to a good start."

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