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Panthers get busy, sign 6 as free agency begins

- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - The Panthers began preparing last year for the beginning of free agency and were one of the busiest teams in the NHL on Friday.

Florida general manager Dale Tallon created cap room by dealing away veterans at last year's trading deadline. That was the difficult part. Friday was the fun part.

The signed six veterans and acquired another in a trade.

Tallon said the result was not only a new-look roster, but a better one.

"We're committed to turning this around," he said. "It was very painful last year to do what we had to do and now we want to start to enjoy this process and see some success."

Leading the list of free agent signings was five-time All-Star defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who began his career in Florida after being the first overall pick in the 1994 draft.

Also joining the Panthers was veteran goalie Jose Theodore, who won the Hart and Vezina trophies while with the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-02.

The other free agents signed were forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc, and defenseman Nolan Yonkman.

Forward Kris Versteeg was acquired from Philadelphia in exchange for a second- round pick in 2012 or 2013 along with a third-round choice next year.

Jovanovski joins a corps of defensemen that was bolstered at the draft by the trade for speedy Brian Campbell. Jovanovski spent his first 3 1/2 seasons in Florida before being shipped to Vancouver in the multiplayer trade involving Pavel Bure.

Jovanovski, who made three All-Star appearances with Vancouver and two with Phoenix, left Florida as a defenseman teeming with potential and returns as an established veteran.

"I'm excited to come back to Florida," Jovanovski said. "The first years of my career were great. Then getting traded out of there and to go somewhere else was tough on me and the family when it happened.

"A lot of things worked out for the good while I was playing elsewhere, but it's good to be back in Florida. With the moves Dale is making, the guys that they're adding, it shows great promise for the organization."

The acquisition of Versteeg reunited Tallon with another player he brought to Chicago and who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010. Versteeg scored 21 goals while playing for Toronto and Philadelphia last season.

Upshall was a 22-goal scorer while splitting time between Phoenix and Columbus. Fleischmann, who was limited to 45 games last year because of a blood clot in his chest but has been cleared to play, scored 23 goals for Washington two seasons ago.

"I don't think what we did today was add any type of a superstar player, but I think that all of these players have the ability to contribute offensively and make us a tough team to play against," said assistant GM Mike Santos. "We'll be able to roll four lines and probably be able to score with all four lines and that's something we haven't been able to do here in a long time."

Despite the flurry of activity on Friday, Tallon said the reshaping of the Florida roster wasn't done.

"We've got a lot of work to do still," he said. "We're not anywhere near where we need to be, but thank God we're not where we used to be."

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