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Panthers bolster forward corps, sign Chris Higgins to one-year deal

SUNRISE, Fla. - Chris Higgins didn't need much convincing before joining the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers signed Higgins to a US$1.6-million, one-year contract Friday, with plans to make him the second-line left-winger behind David Booth on the depth chart.

"Booth and Higgins on the left side, that's pretty good," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "He'll be a top-six forward on our team."

Higgins was Montreal's first-round draft pick in 2002 and had 72 goals for the Canadiens in his first three full NHL seasons. He's scored just 20 goals in the three years since, splitting time with Montreal, Calgary and the New York Rangers.

When he and the Panthers opened talks, Higgins indicated he believes he's ready for a bounceback season. A few hours later, the deal was done.

"Obviously I'm very excited," said Higgins, who also considered re-signing with Calgary. "It's a great opportunity to come down and prove myself again."

Higgins has dealt with an array of injuries the last three seasons, but said Friday that he feels "great" and that his workouts this summer have gone according to plan.

"He wanted to be here," Tallon said. "Look at his history, with three 20-goal seasons in a row. He had a tough year last year. He wants to bounce back and show his worth. I think he'll be a wonderful asset for our team."

And a big selling point on joining the Panthers, Higgins said, was the presence of Tallon—who helped put together the club that Chicago used to win the Stanley Cup this past season, and has visions on a similar rebuilding plan in Florida.

"Dale taking over was pretty appealing for me," Higgins said.

The Panthers also signed right-winger Bill Thomas and left-winger Triston Grant to one-year, two-way contracts Friday. Both played primarily in the American Hockey League last season and are expected to head to Florida's affiliate in Rochester, though Tallon said each would have a chance to compete for NHL jobs with the Panthers in training camp.

Tallon already has had a busy summer in his new job with the Panthers, who haven't won a playoff game since 1997.

"We're not done. We have to keep getting better," Tallon said. "There are some possibilities out there. We'll just keep pursuing and looking and trying to improve."



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