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Panthers are first out of the gate...

ESPN is reporting that the Florida Panthers have signed aged forwards Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts to 2-year, $2.25 million contracts, kicking off the free agency extravaganza. This won't get anybody too excited, I hope, but it does help to set the bar for other signings to come. Two veteran, reasonably effective players hiring on for right around the $1 million mark should send a strong signal to other available players that big paydays are a thing of the past (that means you, Martin Lapointe).

As a result of this deal, you have to like the experience that Florida is bringing in to work with their promising young talent, while Toronto is retooling around younger players like Jeff O'Neill. The Panthers hope that Roberts and Nieuwendyk don't just score a few goals, but help their core talent develop into solid NHL players able to carry the team forward in future years.