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WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: Recapping Panthers’ Free Agent Signings

by Jameson Olive / Florida Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. –The Florida Panthers commitment to capturing a Stanley Cup has been on full display in recent weeks, as numerous upgrades continue to be made to last season’s Atlantic Division championship roster.

In addition to re-signing core players such as Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Aaron Ekblad to lengthy extensions, the team also made a series of savvy moves on the free agent market, signing goaltender James Reimer, defenseman Jason Demers and forwards Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault.

“It’s a young league and the game’s getting faster every year,” Panthers General Manager Tom Rowe said. “We felt the guys we picked up (in free agency) gave us more skill. It definitely gave us some quicker guys on that third-line position and gives (head coach Gerard Gallant) more options than he had last season.”

With these latest moves, the Panthers now have nine of their core players signed through at least the 2020-21 season, including six players who were signed to new contracts within the last two weeks.

“We really like what we did this offseason and today just probably completed all the pieces that we needed to and now we’ll sit back and wait,” Rowe said. “If we can pick up another guy here, we’ll look at it, but we’re not going to be in a rush.”

Here’s a look back at all of Florida’s free agent acquisitions thus far…

James Reimer
Position: Goaltender
Contract Length:
Five years
2015-16 Team: Toronto, San Jose

The Panthers established a formidable one-two punch between the pipes on July 1, signing goaltender James Reimer to a five-year deal to work in tandem alongside starting goaltender Roberto Luongo.

“We felt we wanted to get some more depth in goal,” Rowe said. “James was available, a guy that we had all targeted as our No. 1 priority going into the season.”

Reimer, 28, played 40 games last season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, posting a combined 17-14-7 record with a 2.31 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

“They’ve got a great team and great management and ownership,” Reimer said of the Panthers. “They’re passionate about winning. As a player, that’s the organization you want to be a part of.”

With Reimer and Luongo sharing the crease, the Panthers now boast one of the league’s elite puck-stopping duos at even strength. Last season, Reimer led goaltenders who had played at least 1,500 5-on-5 minutes with a .940 save percentage, while Luongo’s .934 ranked fifth.

“I don’t think I can say enough for (Luongo),” Reimer said. “He’s a heck of a goalie. He’s an elite goalie and I think his personality is known across the league. He’s a great guy.

“For me, I’m excited. I can learn a ton from him and see how he plays the game and how he handles certain situations. For me, I’m a guy that always likes to learn and keep growing. Having the opportunity to play with him, it’s a great opportunity.”

Keith Yandle
Position: Defenseman
Contract:  Seven years
2015-16 Team: New York Rangers

When the Panthers acquired the negotiating rights of impending unrestricted free agent Keith Yandle from the New York Rangers on June 20, they essentially skipped to the head of a long line of suitors that would surely covet the puck-moving defensemen when the league’s free agency period opened on July 1.

In the end, this extra negotiating time proved to be invaluable, as the Panthers’ steadfast commitment to winning absolutely captivated Yandle’s imagination, persuading the talented blueliner to forgo free agency and sign a seven-year contract to remain in South Florida on June 23.

“When they traded for my rights here and I learned how committed they are to winning and how committed they are to getting better and you learn more about their group. Playing against them you know how good they are,” Yandle said. “I put myself in a good situation where you can win and have fun doing it. Seems like a great group of guys here and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

"I feel (the Panthers) are an all-in organization that wants to win. I'm at the point of my career I want to win a Stanley Cup, and I want to do that there in Florida."

A fourth-round pick, 105th overall, of the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2005 NHL Draft, Yandle has been one of the NHL’s most-reliable contributors from the blue line since breaking into the league in 2006, recording 369 points (72-297-369) in 661 career games with New York (2015-16) and Arizona/Phoenix (2006-15).

“We are thrilled to have signed Keith to a multi-year contract,” Rowe said. “He is a highly skilled and experienced defenseman who will be a tremendous asset on our blue line and in our dressing room. We look forward to Keith’s contributions to our team both on the ice and in the South Florida community.”

Yandle, 29, recorded 47 points (5-42-47) in 82 games with the Rangers this past season, including a team-high 22 points on the power play. Florida’s power play, meanwhile, ranked 23rd in the NHL at 16.9 percent last season.

“It’s a big part of the game now,” said Yandle, whose 92 points on the power play since 2012 rank second behind only Montreal’s PK Subban. “Special teams you can win or lose games. I take pride in helping out on the power play.”

Jason Demers
Position: Defenseman
Contract Length:
Five years
2015-16 Team: Dallas

The Panthers added another key piece to their blue line on the second day of free agency, signing puck-moving defenseman Jason Demers to a five-year contract on July 2.

“We are excited to sign Jason and we are thrilled that he chose Florida,” Rowe said. “He will play an integral role on our blue line and will help our transition game and special teams. This is another important signing for us this offseason.”

A 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Dorval, Quebec, Demers has posted 143 points (28-115-143) in 423 NHL games with Dallas and the San Jose Sharks, and was one of the more highly sought after defenseman on the free agent market for his right-handed shot and ability to drive possession.

However, when the opportunity to join a young team on the rise presented itself, Demers admitted that his decision to sign with the Panthers was simply a “no-brainer.”

"I want to go somewhere where I have a chance to win," said Demers, who recorded seven goals and 23 points in 62 games for the Stars this past season. "They got a lot of young talent, and we can be very competitive for a lot of years. They've been building toward this the past two or three years. It's an exciting time to be in Florida right now."

Jonathan Marchessault
Position: Forward
Contract Length:
Two years
2015-16 Team: Tampa Bay

The Panthers added some offensive firepower to their bottom-six when they signed forward Jonathan Marchessault to a two-year contract on July 1. 

Marchessault, 25, recorded 18 points (7-11-18) in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning this past season. Where he really excelled, however, was at putting pucks on net, leading all Lightning skaters with 37.5 shots on goal per 60 minutes last season – more than Steven Stamkos (30.9) and Nikita Kucherov (34.2).

“He’s a real gritty kid, a real skilled guy,” Rowe said of Marchessault. “He can chip in with some goals. We look at him as a guy that will compliment that fourth line, third line combination.”

A 5-foot-9, 174-pound native of Cap-Rouge, Quebec, Marchessault has played in 49 NHL games with Tampa Bay (2014-16) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (2012-13), recording 19 points (8-11-19).

Colton Sceviour
Position: Forward
Contract Length:
Two years
2015-16 Team: Dallas

The Panthers believe they acquired a key piece to their third line when they signed versatile forward Colton Sceviour to a two-year contract on July 1.

Sceviour, 27, recorded 23 points (11-12-23) in 71 games with the Dallas Stars during the 2015-16 season. He also competed in 11 playoff games for Dallas, recording two goals and three assists.

“We think he’s going to be a real good guy to help us on the third line,” Rowe said of Sceviour. “He can score goals. In the American League, he was a pure goal scorer… He’s definitely going to help in the third-line position, be able to kill penalties, and if we need somebody on the power play, he’ll be able to fill in there as well.”

A 6-foot, 195-pound native of Red Deer, Alberta, Sceviour has posted 62 points (28-34-62) in 170 NHL games.

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