Panthers Re-Sign Kozlov, Whitney
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ The Florida Panthers locked up two of their key free agents Tuesday by signing leading scorer Ray Whitney and center Viktor Kozlov.
Whitney, 25, agreed to a two-year contract, avoiding arbitration, and Kozlov signed for one year. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Whitney scored 32 goals, tying Scott Mellanby’s 1995-96 team record, after coming to the Panthers in November off waivers from the Edmonton Oilers. His 33 goals overall tied him for 10th in the league with Boston’s Jason Allison.
Kozlov also was acquired by the Panthers in a November trade, coming from San Jose as part of a deal that included Florida’s first-round draft pick, which turned out to be the draft’s No. 1 selection. The 23-year-old Russian set a career high with 17 goals and 13 assists in 64 games overall.
The trade came under fire when the Panthers won the NHL’s draft lottery, missing out on a chance to draft highly touted Vincent Lecavalier, taken instead by rival Tampa Bay. Murray contends that Kozlov also has the potential to be an impact player.
``We saw at the end of last year that he was growing into an all-around leader,″ Panthers general manager Bryan Murray said. ``He played a lot of minutes on the power play, penalty kill, and he had a good line.″
Kozlov’s one-year deal will allow him to capitalize on that potential next summer, Murray said.
``We did that for his benefit,″ he said. ``I really believe Viktor has the chance to emerge, and his contract will give him an opportunity to be rewarded in the future.″