Dale Tallon has completed an unprecedented string of player acquisitions this off-season, bringing in seven free agents for the NHL roster and trading for three more. Some additional prospect and minor-league signings brings the potential for over half of this season's Panthers roster to be composed of players new to the team. To accomplish this, Tallon first needed to engage in a sometimes painful process of breaking down the Panthers roster he inherited from former General Managers Randy Sexton and Jacques Martin. This series will look at the players the Panthers let go between Tallon's hire and the end of the 2010-2011 season.
Chris Higgins was a short-timer even for a Panthers team undergoing massive turnover. He was brought in last summer and played only 48 games for the Cats before being traded to Vancouver in the deadline day fire sale. Nevertheless, he was one of the bright spots on the Panthers' offense last season.
Higgins' NHL career started with the Montreal Canadiens, where he was a 20 goal scorer for three seasons. His numbers fell off in his fourth season and he was traded to the Rangers, who traded him to the Flames late in the season. After two seasons with a combined 20 goals scored, Higgins looked to have a bounce back year with a new team and Dale Tallon gave him a chance, signing him to a 1-year, $1.6 million contract.
Higgins bounced between the first and second lines throughout the season, depending on injuries and the whims of Pete DeBoer. The goals didn't come, but it wasn't for lack of trying. He was pace for about 20 goals when he was injured. He was still injured on deadline day, but was traded to Vancouver for minor-league defenseman Evan Oberg and a third round draft pick in 2013. He only had 11 goals in 48 games for the Cats, but on last year's team that was good enough for fifth-place in goals, behind David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Mike Santorelli and Marty Reasoner. Those four players, probably not coincidentally, are the only forwards besides Shawn Matthias who started the season with the Panthers and didn't get traded, loaned or let go at the end of the season. Reasoner left as a UFA after the Panthers offered him a contract.
Higgins came back from injury and scored two more goals playing on the third and fourth lines, but was promoted to the second line for the playoffs, where he had 4 goals and 4 assists in 25 games. The Canucks seemed happy with his performance and gave him a 2-year, $3.8 million deal at the end of the season.
Of all of Tallon's moves at the deadline, this one seems the oddest, tossing away a solid second or third line player for an ECHL defenseman and a third round pick in a draft two years away. On the other hand, Tallon brought in several players in the off-season who can fill his role and replace his scoring on the team. Maybe he was targeting Scotty Upshall all along when he made this deal. Or maybe he knew there were a lot of second line guys out there and he wasn't losing anything in the big picture with this deal. Higgins was a good player on a bad Panthers team, but ultimately is just one more guy who passed through this franchise when it was at the bottom of a long slide.