|Center Shawn Matthias celebrates one of his career-high 14 goals last season while playing the New Jersey Devils. (Getty Images)
For Panthers GM Dale Tallon, it was all about taking the 2013 free agency period one day and one move at a time.
"We've got to be patient here. I said that we would be patient today and that we're not going to overpay and that we're going to chip away at this all summer," said Tallon on a conference call a couple of hours after the start of free agency. "We don't play a game until October so we've got time here to keep fixing and keep adding.
“We're not done yet."
The biggest move of the day was locking up center Shawn Matthias. The forward had a breakout year last season, led by his play in March. Matthias scored a career-high 14 goals, including 11 in the second last month of the season.
"A very good deal. He's improving and if he keeps improving, we've seen flashes of brilliance last year, now he's just got to get more consistent," said Tallon on signing Matthias to a two-year contract. "He's fairly young, big, can skate and he's going to fit into what we have got coming as far as size and speed, he fits into what the plan is."
Compared to the last contract Matthias signed just before camp started, the 25-year old was happy to get it done so he could focus on the upcoming season.
"I'm happy to get it out of the way. The last contract I did, it was two days before camp so it's nice to have it out of the way and now I can just focus on training and getting ready for the season," said Matthias. "It was nice to do the first contract signed in front of my parents so it was a pretty special moment for them and it was a lot of fun."
Signing Matthias was a priority for the Panthers, especially with the loss of the longest tenured Panther, Stephen Weiss. The franchise's all-time leader in games played (654) and assists (249) and second leading point producer (419) signed a five-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings Friday. Playing with the Panthers since being drafted fourth overall in the 2001 NHL Draft, Weiss will certainly be missed but Tallon and Matthias were happy for him.
"We just couldn't get it done," said Tallon. "It just didn't fit in. It's not very often you get into this position or you have a chance to be an unrestricted free agent and I don't blame Stephen one bit. I'm happy for him, I think he's much deserving; it just didn't work out for us. We just have to move on."
"Obviously everyone knows that Stephen and I are pretty close. I lived at his house for a couple of years," said Matthias. "He's a special guy. He's been with the team for so long and he really cared about the Panthers. I'm sure it's a tough day for him. I learned a lot from him."
"He was a classy guy. I've gotten to know him and I like him a lot and I'm happy for him," added Tallon. "You've got to take a shot when you get that opportunity. He has to think of his family and all of that and I ought to congratulate him on a great career here and wish him all the best."
Tallon tried to find a contract that would fit both parties, being mindful of what the Panthers have in the system as well as the budget that's in place. Fortunately for some of the young players, they'll get a chance to compete early on in their professional careers.
"We're going to go with our young guys," said Tallon. "That's been the plan all along and that's the way we're going to go.
"The (Aleksander) Barkov's and (Nick) Bjugstad's and (Drew) Shore's and (Vincent) Trocheck's. Those are the guys that are our future. That's what's going to have to get done here."
While it was a change in the longest tenured status (going from Weiss to Matthias), the Panthers did add some new faces as they signed forwards Joey Crabb and Jesse Winchester and defenseman Mike Mottau. Crabb, especially, will be given a chance to come in and play some minutes for the Panthers.
"He's going to play. Kill penalties, got skill, speed and he competes hard," said Tallon. "I'm trying to change the dynamic of our forth line for speed, more aggression. He's a good role player, good penalty killer, got high energy... He's a right winger with speed. He played in the World Championships two years ago for Team USA. I was real happy with the way he played. He understands his role. He does it very well."
The Panthers GM is confident in all three of the new skater's games as they will be very valuable during the season, feeling that Florida will be better prepared for injuries whenever they pop up.
"Last year we were injured and we didn't have a lot of guys that could come up and play and fill in so we're trying to correct that situation with the addition of Winchester, Mottau and Joey Crabb and (Bobby) Butler," said Tallon. "We've got guys that can come up and play valuable minutes for us when we're injured. Last year we didn't have enough depth to offset those injuries."
Those weren't the only moves as Florida traded enforcer George Parros to Montreal in exchange for LW Philippe Lefebvre and a 2014 seventh round pick. That followed up on Wednesday's buyout of defenseman Filip Kuba.
"We finished last, last year," said Tallon. "We brought in some players and they didn't quite work out. I'm trying to stir the pot here and get some pieces that fit and that's what we're doing."