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Panthers Make Splash with Bobrovsky Signing, Add Depth in Free Agency

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

Dale Tallon Availability

Dale Tallon Post-Free Agency Availability

Dale Tallon addresses the media after free agency as the Panthers acquire Sergei Bobrovsky, Anton Stralman, Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly

  • 01:14 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers checked all of their boxes on Monday.

An elite starting goaltender? Check.

A reliable veteran defenseman? Check.

An even-strength goal scorer? Check.

A little depth for good measure? You can check that one off, too.

With a greenlight to spend up to the cap, Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manger Dale Tallon marked the opening of the NHL's free agency period with a splash, signing four players that filled the team's last few remaining holes ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

In addition to finding a new starting goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and the top free agent available at his position, the team also got stronger at both ends of the ice, adding defenseman Anton Stralman and forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari.

"As a group we felt we needed to make some changes to our roster to get it deeper so we could make a good run for the playoffs," Tallon said. "We addressed some needs… We have plenty of scoring ability, plenty of offense. We had to address compete, physicality and goals-against. Those were the concerns we had, and I think we did a good job of addressing those needs."

Fresh off a push to the postseason with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Bobrovsky owned an 37-24-1 record with a .913 save percentage, 2.58 goals against average and a league-leading, career-best nine shutouts last season. A two-time all-star, the 30-year-old owns a career record of 255-153-37 behind a .919 save percentage, 2.46 goals against average and 33 shutouts.

Dating back to the start of the 2012-13 season, Bobrovsky's .921 save percentage stands as the second-best among NHL goaltenders that have suited up in at least 300 games in that span.

"He gives you a chance to win every night," Tallon said of Bobrovsky, who leads the NHL with 115 wins over the last three seasons. "He's durable and a very good player. He's a student of the game. Nobody works harder. It'll be interesting to see guys like [captain Aleksander Barkov] and Bobrovsky working off the ice. It'll be a great example for our young players to follow."

In the wake of Roberto Luongo's retirement last week, the Panthers have quickly re-solidified their goaltending for at least the next decade. Bobrovsky is under contract for the next seven years, Sam Montembeault is developing, and 2019 first-round pick Spencer Knight just arrived.

"He knows the plan," Tallon said of Knight's future. "He's good with it. He's got time now to mature and develop at his pace. We've got high hopes for him. He's a brilliant goaltender."

Setting up shop in front of Bobrovsky will be a fellow veteran newcomer in Stralman.

A major minutes eater on the blue line, Stralman brings an incredible amount of responsibility and experience to Florida's young defensive corps. The 32-year-old has committed fewer than 30 turnovers in each of the last three seasons, despite averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game in that span.

A right-shot, Stralman spent the previous five seasons as an integral part of Tampa Bay's blue line. In 47 games with the Lightning last season, he tallied two goals, 15 assists, 71 blocks and 51 hits. Entering his 13th NHL season, he's accumulated 242 points (47 goals, 195 assists) in 749 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Over the last six seasons, Stralman has suited up in at least 73 games five times.

"I like his ability to move the puck, his defensive play," Tallon said. "He's steady. He's reliable. He's smart. He'll be a good partner for one of our young guys. I look at a [defenseman Mike Matheson] as a steadying influence with him. I think they'd be a good pair."

Looking to fill up the net more at 5-on-5, the Panthers targeted Connolly, who ranked third on the Washington Capitals with 21 even-strength goals last season. Despite owning the league's second-ranked power play in 2018-19, Florida placed 16th in the NHL with 162 goals at 5-on-5.

A Stanley Cup champion with Washington in 2018, Connolly's numbers improved during each of the three seasons he spent in D.C. After notching 23 points in 2016-17, he went on to post 27 in 2017-18 and then a career-high 46 this past season. In that span, he recorded 52 total goals.

"Connolly's a very efficient player," Tallon said. "He's averaged 18 goals the last three years with about 12 minutes of ice time per game. He can kill penalties. He can play on the power play. He can play a heavy game down low, and he's only 27 years old. That came into it as well. It's a good contract. I think it's a good fit for us."

The final piece of Florida's spending spree, Acciari joins the Panthers after reaching the Stanley Cup Final with the Boston Bruins this past season. A versatile, bottom-six forward, the 27-year-old registered six goals and eight assists for a career-best 14 points in 72 games in 2018-19.

A physical, hard-nosed player, Acciari ranked second on the Bruins in hits in each of the last two seasons, dishing out a combined 373 body checks in that span. A penalty killer that can take some of the weight off other players, he averaged 1:34 shorthanded minutes last season.

"That's what we've been lacking," Tallon said. "This guy's going to make people accountable, and make our own players accountable as well. He's a versatile player. He wins faceoffs and will take some of the burden away from [Barkov], taking D-zone faceoffs, killing penalties and playing that physical role. He gives our fourth line a little more spirit and passion."

There's also an important common denominator between all four players: playoff experience.

After hiring three-time Stanley Cup-winner head coach Joel Quenneville in April, the Panthers made it clear their eyes are squarely set on a return to the playoffs in the upcoming season. And with today's signings, they've brought in four players that know how to get there.

Stralman's suited up in 104 postseason contests, while Acciari and Connolly have competed in 35 and 38, respectively. Connolly is only one year removed from hoisting the Cup over his head, while Acciari fell just one game short of winning it against the St. Louis Blues a few weeks ago.

Bobrovsky, meanwhile, has started 30 postseason games, going 6-4-0 in the 2018-19 playoffs.

"That's very important," Tallon said. "A Stanley Cup winner in Connolly and guys that all played in the playoffs last year as well. It's going to help our young guys. They're going to show them the way and the price you have to pay to get into the playoffs. These guys will lead by example."

Having already successfully made it through the hiring of a new coach, the draft and now free agency, the next box the Panthers need to check is both the most exciting and most difficult.

"I'd like to be given an automatic bid to the playoffs or into the finals, but that's a box we have to check for ourselves," Tallon said. "It's been great so far. We've got work to do. We have to continue to keep improving every day. That's what we're all about."

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