The Florida Panthers entered free agency in the kind of position that can get a team and a general manager into some trouble.
They had cap space to burn and a group of free agents filled with the type of players that you don't want to throw big money at it.
But somebody is going to get that money, and the Panthers made sure they took a head-first dive into the market by making one solid move and one potentially disastrous move. The Panthers agreed to terms with former Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen on a four-year, $16 million deal, and then followed that up by signing Dave Bolland to a five-year contract that will pay him $5.5 million per season.
NHL Free Agency
NHL Free Agency
On one hand, Jokinen is a solid player, and while he's sure to be underrated because of his success playing alongside Evgeni Malkin this past season, he's always been a smart two-way player that can drive possession and put up 50 points in a second line role. He's done it everywhere he's played but it seems to get overlooked because of that one year in Carolina where everything fell apart for him and he passed through waivers.
It's not a bad deal, and it's only a $500,000 per year raise over his previous contract. Coming off the type of season he had in Pittsburgh that's not the worst investment a team could have made in this market.
The Panthers made sure they took care of that with their second move of the day when they signed Bolland.
At some point over the past two years, perhaps right around the time he scored that cup-clinching goal for the Chicago Blackhawks, Bolland went from being an OK third-line center to some sort of mythical hockey creature that leads teams to wins with his grit and clutchness. Toronto seemed to love him and constantly overstated his on-ice contributions, and the Panthers appear to have fallen into the same trap. He's not a scorer, he's coming off a major injury that limited him to just 23 games, and he's turned into a black hole when it comes to driving possession.
At his best, he's an OK checking-line center. But they're paying him like he's a top-line guy.
In two or three years when this group of free agent signings is up for buyouts and on the trading block as teams are trying to correct their mistakes, don't be surprised if Bolland's name is at the top of that list.