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Cats Plot Course For Draft, Free Agency

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
RFA David Booth is one of those players that assistant GM Randy Sexton is looking to re-sign this summer. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
By Dave Joseph for

Randy Sexton says the Panthers are exploring opportunities to upgrade the team the next several weeks and are well into the process of resigning some of their restricted and unrestricted free agents.

Sexton, the Panthers assistant General Manager who has taken over the leadership of hockey operations in wake of Jacques Martin’s departure, said he has spoken to the free agents the team wants to resign as well as all of the GM’s around the league about possible moves over the summer.

“We’re exploring opportunities to upgrade the team either through free agency or trades,” Sexton said. “I started the process a couple days ago by talking to all the GM’s around the league, finding out what they’re looking to do and who they might move and what they might want in return to try and get a sense of what’s available and what it might take to do a deal.”

Sexton also said negotiations with popular forward David Booth have been “very positive,” and both sides want to come to a contract agreement.

The Panthers assistant GM since January of 2007, Sexton is familiar in the GM’s role having served that position (1993-95) as well as President and CEO in Ottawa (1988-96). His background in hockey can be traced back to 1978 as a member of St. Lawrence University’s hockey team. He was captain from 1981-82.

Sexton said immediately after Martin’s departure June 1, he was asked by owner and general partner Alan Cohen, COO Michael Yormark and Alternate Governor Bill Torrey to guide hockey operations.

“And I was thrilled to do so,” Sexton said. “I huddled quickly with (head coach) Peter (DeBoer) and got a sense from him of what his priorities were, what he wanted to do. I think Peter and I see the game an awful lot the same way. I think we both have similar desires for the type of team we want to have. We’re in synch there, and that’s good because it’s easy to do what we want to do.”

While working on the budget, Sexton said he’s been in contact “with all the guys we want to resign.”

“We’ve started the process in getting them to resign,” he said. “What we have to do is put our dollars to work and get the right guys at the right price.”

One of those players being Booth.

“His agent and I have had good conversations,” Sexton said. “They’ve been very positive. There’s no animosity on either side of the table. We’ve been crystal clear. We really like David and we really want him to be part of our future. And they’ve been equally positive, saying he loves it here and really wants to be a Panther for a long time. Now we just have to work through the process of getting a deal that both sides find mutually respectable.”

Sexton said forward Richard Zednik, who signed a contract with Yaroslavl of the KHL in Russia, has an out in his contract until August 1 to return to the NHL. Sexton said he didn’t know if the Panthers could match the KHL offer. Sexton reiterated he has had conversations with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester’s agent but wanted to keep those conversations private out of respect to both parties.

Along with trying to upgrade the team and signing unrestricted and restricted free agents, Sexton said he spent a couple days last week at the Panthers development camp outside Toronto and was impressed by the team’s young talent, which included Michal Repik, Keaton Ellerby and Michael Frolik.

“It was the best group we’ve ever had up there,” Sexton said. “That was my observation, but I must have had that comment from six or seven coaches, players and staff, too. So that was encouraging.”

The next month will be busy for Sexton and the rest of the Panthers staff as they head to the June 26-27 Entry Draft in Montreal and then free agency July 1.

“We have time to get everything done we want to get done,” Sexton said. “I’m optimistic. Between now and the draft I know we’ll be prepared. At the draft I know we’ll be prepared. We’ll get a good player at No. 14 if we don’t move up. If we’re able to do a few things we’ll be able to pick up another player or two to give us some more depth. And then we’ll be ready for free agency come the first of July.

“You hope by the first 10-to-15 days of July, our team we’ll be in good shape and ready for its return.”
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