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Sunday, July 1, 2012
Panthers hope Kuba can fill Garrison's void

By Scott Burnside

We’re about to find out whether Jason Garrison's breakout season with the Florida Panthers was as much about environment as natural skill.

Unable to come to terms with Garrison, who registered a career-best 16 goals this past season playing mostly with playmaking specialist Brian Campbell, the Panthers signed former Florida prospect Filip Kuba to a two-year deal worth $4 million annually on Sunday.

GM Dale Tallon said he expects Kuba to get a chance to play alongside Campbell next season where it’s hoped he can help replace the offense lost with Garrison’s departure via free agency.

“He’ll probably play with Soupy," Tallon told ESPN.com Sunday afternoon. "He’s got a big shot, too. He’s going to help our kids and help our power play."

Kuba, 35, has hit the 30-point plateau five times, including last season, when he played mostly with Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson in Ottawa and registered 32 points. He had a career-best 15 goals with Tampa Bay in 2006-07, but he’s never hit double digits in goals in any other season.

Still, Tallon said he feels Kuba is a nice fit on the ice but also in terms of dollar and term with youngsters like Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic vying for playing time along the Panthers' blue line in the coming months and years.

Tallon said he doesn’t blame Garrison, an undrafted 27-year-old, for testing the market after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.

“He had a career year. He’s got to go for it,” Tallon said.

A year ago, Tallon was a one-man free-agent frenzy, signing seven free agents and acquiring Kris Versteeg on July 1. With his team fresh off a surprise Southeast Division title, Tallon is much less active this year.

He did, however, shore up his goaltending situation by signing backup Scott Clemmensen to a two-year deal worth an average of $1.2 million.

“We’re protected now,” said Tallon, who also has veteran Jose Theodore under contract for another season.

The Panthers will continue to be linked to Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, who has asked to be traded and is believed to be amenable to a return to Florida, where he played the first five years of his NHL career. But with goaltending at a premium on the free-agent market, Tallon has given himself stability regardless of how the Luongo situation works out.