I talked about before free agency began the importance of building a strong fourth line when the signing period did begin. If you look at teams that succeed, you will notice that having four strong lines is a common theme with them all.
The Florida Panthers took a big step in building that line, adding Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton on day one of free agency. Both players are players that are coming into Florida knowing their role and what is expected of them.
For MacKenzie, last year was a breakout year of sorts starring on the up-and-coming Columbus Blue Jackets bottom-6. Breaking out during the playoffs, the 33-year old center won 57.5% of his face-offs and average 3:27 of ice-time during the penalty kill. He also led the team in hits during the regular season with 241.
For Thornton, signing in Florida comes as a second chance for the 36-year old. One of the more respected players in the league, Thornton put a permanent stain on his career in an ugly incident involving former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
What he can bring to the table goes far behind any set of stats can show you. A winner of the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins, Thornton has experience that can allow new coach Gerard Gallant to be comfortable rolling out four lines throughout the season.
Throw in Scottie Upshall – who can now move back to left wing – and the Panthers can have a fourth line that will be very difficult to play against. The three combined for 486-hits last season, and those three giving max effort for about 8-10 minutes a night is going to help the players playing 18-20+.