Panthers owner: ‘We intend on being in the free agent market in a significant way’

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Vinnie Viola says the Florida Panthers are going to be aggressive during this summer’s free agency period.

“We intend on being in the free agent market in a significant way” Viola told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We’re here to build a winner.”

Under normal circumstances, this might sound like an owner paying lip service to fans of a struggling fanbase, but a couple things stand out.

One, Viola has already opened up the checkbook. Within 48 hours of finalizing his purchase of the club, Viola gave GM Dale Tallon the greelight to spend on unattached veteran free agents — which he did, spending $6 million on Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes, Jesse Winchester, Tom Gilbert and Krys Barch.

Thomas, 39, was perhaps the best example of an aggressive free agent approach. He didn’t come cheap — $3.75 million in salary — and was a big risk given he’d been away from the NHL for over a year, but the gamble has paid off as Thomas has become a workhorse for the Panthers and kept the struggling team afloat on certain nights.

Another thing to consider? Tallon’s history playing the free agent market.

Prior to the 2011-12 campaign, Tallon went out and revamped the club through a series of signings: Tomas Fleischmann, Jose Theodore, Sean Bergenheim, Ed Jovanovski and Scottie Upshall, to name a few. The result was a Southeast Division championship and the club’s first playoff appearance since 2000.

Viola wants to see the club get back to that level.

“We want to patiently win now,” he explained. “I don’t know if we can resolve the two logically, but that’s how I would say it.”