One of my friends that I have met in the world of hockey asked me if he could be a guest and write about the future of the Florida Panthers as we approach the trade deadline. I said sure, it’s always good to see what someone else’s opinion is of our team. Known as Coach K, Kosta writes for Allhabs.net, and is a hockey coach as well. He and I have had some great chats about hockey in general as well as the fates of our teams.
Here’s his observation of the Florida Panthers:
SAINT-LAZARE, QC – While I spend the majority of my time dissecting the Montreal Canadiens, I pay closer attention than most to the teams in the Sunbelt. Although they don’t have any bearing on the Canadiens’ division, their conference rivals from the South always seem to cause them fits.
When I look at the Florida Panthers, one thing is for certain. They are in very good hands. General Manager Dale Tallon is among the most respected executives in the NHL. Although he made a huge mistake that cost him job with the Chicago Blackhawks, he was instrumental in building the team that eventually won the Stanley Cup last season.
As far as Head Coach Pete DeBoer is concerned, he has done an excellent job with the limited resources at his disposal. While he doesn’t have the size or the firepower that some of the other teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals have, he has kept his Panthers in striking distance of the playoffs. More after the jump.
Now, let’s look at the roster. With only 8 players under contract through next season, the Cats can make some major changes to both the active roster and their overall philosophy.
With David Booth, Stephen Weiss and Evgeny Dadonov being the only forwards signed through 2011-2012, these positions are to focal point of the Panthers’ woes. The lack of offense has often hurt them, although no one can question their heart and desire.
There are plenty of players who will be available come July 1st, 2011, that can help the Panthers. It’s always been my belief that when a franchise decides to restructure through the draft, they need to have a good group of veterans on their roster. This is key in the development of young players.
Players like Milan Hedjuk of the Colorado Avalanche and Jamie Langenbrunner of the Dallas Stars can fit this role. While both are in the twilight of their careers, their invaluable experience can be beneficial. Both have Stanley Cup rings, and know what it’s like to play in a winning system.
Also, with a couple of signing here and there, the Panthers can really impress. Adding forwards like Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis can push the offense up. And since he is still proving himself, Nikolai Zherdev of the Philadelphia Flyers won’t command a huge salary, while his offensive upside is still developing.
On defense, the Panthers have 5 players signed through 2011. Captain Bryan McCabe and his hefty $5.75M contract will no longer be a crutch, although it is no fault of McCabe’s. With Dennis Wideman and Bryan Allen holding up the back end, the Panthers can easily create a very solid D-core for the season’s to come.
And easy fix is to attempt to sign Chris Philips of the Ottawa Senators, or at least attempt to get him at the trade deadline. Of course, if I were Tallon, I’d ask for a conditional pick should Philips decide to sign elsewhere on July 1st. If it couldn’t be done, then I’d try my best to sign him at season’s end with the money saved on the McCabe contract. Philips is a stallworth on defense, and has the physical presence the current Panthers’ D are missing.
Meanwhile, defenseman Colby Robak, currently with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, has impressed. He posted absolutely huge numbers in his three seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, arguably the best junior league in the world. In 207 regular season WHL games, he had 35 goals and 103 assists. In his last junior year, he has an astonishing +56 plus/minus rating. While in his AHL rookie season, he has posted only 16 points (3-13) in 46 games and is minus-11, he has the potential to be a great one on the Panthers’ defense.
Everyone has been in a daze as far as goaltending he been concerned. With the pending departure of Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers will be looking for an upgrade in goal. Scott Clemmenson has been good at times, but inconsistent.
In my opinion, although up there in age, Dwayne Roloson would be a huge acquisition. While currently with the Tampa Bay Lightening, he will also be an unrestricted free agent. He will not demand a big salary, and his experience and blue collar attitude would be beneficial in developing a young goalie.
That young goalie is Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom has been great for the Amerks this season, posting a 2.98 GAA and .907 save percentage in 36 games. While he has lost more than won, he is definitely not the reason for it. In his only two full seasons with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, he posted a 2.50 GAA and .911 save percentage. He’s also been a mainstay of the Swedish World Junior team.
It sounds simple, but with 29 other teams looking to improve next season as well, some of the aforementioned players may not be available. However, this example is just to prove that the Florida Panthers aren’t as far gone as some would think. With plenty of space under the cap, they are in a prime position to become a contender in a very short period of time.
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