The Panthers went shopping Sunday for speed, grit and goals during the NHL’s first day of free agency. And as dusk snuffed out the daylight, GM and coach Jacques Martin went home with his shopping bag full.
The Panthers made good on their promise to add to their roster by signing three veteran forwards – winger Richard Zednik, center Brett McLean and right winger and former Panther Radek Dvorak.
Coupled with the acquisition of goalie Tomas Vokoun last weekend, and long term deals to Nathan Horton and Bryan Allen, Martin said, “We’re very excited about the direction of our hockey club.”
“We wanted to get quicker and faster and we have two players in Zednik and Dvorak who bring those elements,” Martin said. “We wanted to get more scoring, and Zednik, prior to last year, had 20-to-30 goals in Montreal and, in the proper role, can get back to that production. McLean brings us some grittiness. He’s a responsible player and, what’s interesting about Brett, is he seems to be on an upside.”
Martin said he foresees Zednik playing on the first or second line, Dvorak on the second or third line and McLean as the third-line center.
In the first day of what is free agent frenzy, Martin said he spoke with the agents of several players, including former Panther Viktor Kozlov and Wild center Todd White. “The problem was money and terms were not right,” Martin said.
White, 32, who eventually signed with Atlanta, had 13 goals last season. McLean, 28, had 15 goals with the Avalanche.
McLean, whose 15 goals with Colorado last season was a career-high, signed for three years. Zednik, a 20-goal scorer three times in his NHL career, and Dvorak, a former first-round pick (10th overall) by the Panthers, signed two-year deals.
Zednik, 31, whose 2006-07 season was hampered by injuries, is a speedy, skilled forward who has scored 50 points twice during his NHL career with the Capitals, Canadiens and Islanders. He was originally drafted in 1994 in the 10th round (249th overall) by Washington, where he spent 6 ½ years of his career. Zednik’s 2006-07 season was rather chaotic when he missed six games in November with a wrist injury, 25 games due to surgery to repair a sports hernia, and then was traded in February to the Islanders.
During the four years he spent playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Zednik scored 50 points twice and had consecutive seasons of scoring 31 and 26 goals.
“Richard is a hard working forward who possesses a scoring touch,” Martin said. “We are confident that he will complement our nucleus of forwards very well. Additionally, he is a clutch player who has performed very well in postseason competition. He will be counted on as we look to bring continued stability and success to the Panthers organization.”
McLean, 28, has been a study in hard work in perseverance throughout his career. Drafted in the ninth round (242nd overall pick) by the Dallas Stars in the 1997 Entry Draft, McLean has made stops in Norfolk, Va., Houston, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Malmo, Sweden and Brandon, Manitoba.
It took six seasons after he was drafted before McLean got his shot in the NHL after he was signed as a free agent by the Blackhawks in 2002. McLean scored 11 goals (31 points) in 76 games with the Blackhawks in 2003-04 before signing as an unrestricted free agent July 3 with the Avalanche.
“Brett is a skilled and talented forward who has improved his numbers each season since entering the NHL,” Martin said. “He will be a valuable asset to our organization and will provide further depth at the center position.”
Dvorak, 30, begins his second stint in Florida. The Panthers’ first-round draft pick (10th overall) in 1995, Dvorak spent five seasons in Florida where he scored 56 goals in 336 games. He was traded to San Jose on Dec. 30, 1999 for goalie Mike Vernon and a third-round draft pick. San Jose immediately traded Dvorak to the Rangers, where he spent four seasons before moving on to Edmonton and, last season, St. Louis.
Dvorak played in all 82 games last season for the Blues, recording 10 goals and 27 assists.
“Radek brings a tremendous amount of veteran leadership having played in more than 800 games, while advancing to the Stanley Cup finals twice,” Martin said. “He is a hard-working and focused player who plays well at both ends of the ice. We are confident that Radek is the type of player that will fit into our lineup and play a pivotal role.”
When asked if the Panthers might continue to shop for free agents, Martin replied; “That’s probably it when you look at our roster now. We’re very happy with what we did today.”