For the first time in quite awhile the Florida Panthers are having a sniff at a playoff berth that would end their drought which goes all the way back to the Clinton Administration. That certainly was a great time wasn’t it? The country was going well, and our hockey team was playing some very good hockey. We know how things have gone since, and when Dale Tallon was brought in as general manager, he was and still is determined to get this Panthers team to challenge for the Stanley Cup. It’s a process that takes time, but one that he’s been through before, and with what he’s done so far in Florida, has been almost perfect.
It started last season at the trade deadline when Tallon unloaded big contracts as players like Bryan Allen, Bryan McCabe, Cory Stillman were moved, and he continued his purging of the old regime when he unloaded Rostislav Olesz over the summer, and Steven Reinprecht and David Booth early in the season. By shedding all the contracts last deadline and this summer, what Dale did was allow himself and the team to start from scratch so that he could acquire his kind of players and he did a tremendous job, as Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Jose Theodore (prior to his injury) having the most impact so far.
However as we sit right now, still first in the Southeastern Conference with 31 games remaining, the Florida Panthers have a decision to make come February 27th. Buy, or sell. If the thought process is to make the playoffs which I am sure that it is, then the Panthers definitely have to strengthen the roster for the final push. The opportunity to make the post season is there for the taking and we’ll be kidding ourselves if we think that sitting on our hands and doing nothing will get us a playoff berth. The team deserves a chance to make a good run, and by adding a player or two to bolster the lineup, will give everyone some extra jump.
The fan base as patient and loyal as they have been, need to know that their dedication will be rewarded……finally. While that is not the sole reason to make a push for the post season and make trades, let’s face it, happy fans spend money, go to games, and encourage other fans to do the same thing. A playoff berth means a number of things. Two home playoff games at least. Additional revenue for the team through tickets sold, merchandise bought, and concession sales. Who doesn’t need that? It also will give the organization a boost in trying to attract future free agents, showing that yes, we do have a plan, and we are sticking to it, and it’s working. And with so many players now having no trade and no movement clauses it will be much easier to ask them to waive it for a trade to Florida much like Brian Campbell did this summer.
As the trade deadline approaches, I’m sure that the organization is looking at all the possibilities for who is available, what the asking price is, and who is willing to part with who. To make a trade you have to have a partner. A general manager just can’t call a fellow GM and say “Hey Vinny Boom Botts is a guy I want. Let’s make a deal.” It has to make sense for both sides, and both sides have to feel that they have “won”. You also need to look at how the player you’re acquiring will fit not only on the ice, but in the dressing room. Spoiling what you’ve worked so hard to build up by adding a “bad seed” can ruin all your momentum.
With nothing against any player that’s currently on our roster, making a trade to improve the team and contribute to the playoff push I believe is necessary. While I’m not looking at mortgaging the future, I am looking at players who can make an impact in some way. There are a number of names that are said to be on the block, and we need to take a look at those players. As a team we currently sit towards the bottom of the conference in goals scored with 131. In contrast the New York Rangers who have only scored 136, have also only let in 100, which is 35 less than us. An obvious addition is scoring, and we all have been saying that for years. While Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann have carried us this season so far, we need some players to pick up the slack as well as be consistent contributors. Help on defence with injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov wouldn’t hurt either.
I’ve developed a wish list so to speak, and while it constantly changes, the following names and brief description of what they offer and why is where I’m at. Not in any particular order my targets are:
* Ryan Getzlaf. Having an awful year in Anaheim with only eight goals, this player needs a change of scenery badly and there’s no way he won’t rebound from that. He makes 5.3 million, but is a free agent after next season. Get him back on track and guess what kiddies? You have your number one center who can keep up with the opposition every night. He’s big, has great hands, and is heading into his prime.
* Jeff Carter. Burdoned with injuries and the punishment of playing on a bad Columbus team, this is another player that can be a number one center. His contract is extremely friendly at $5.272 million for the next nine years, it will be a bargain for the production you’ll get from him. Another player headed into his prime.
* Tuomo Ruutu. A player that is certainly on the block and at the end of a contract year. Plays the game hard. Has just enough grit and sandpaper to go along with a goal scoring touch. Again, heading into his prime. He was drafted 9th overall by Chicago at the draft held here in Florida. Nice kid as I got to meet him briefly that day.
* Max Pacioretty. l have no reason to believe that he’s on the block, but with Montreal’s season in such turmoil, they might be willing to listen to offers. At $1.625 million, he’ll be a RFA after next season.
* Hal Gill. The big hulking defenceman has had a rebirth of his career since he left Toronto. In the past Gill was a turnover machine and prone to mistakes. Now, he’s settled in quite nicely as a solid stay at home defenceman. Great at blocking shots, big at 6′ 7″, and a great guy in the room. He’s a UFA at the end of this season.
* Niklas Grossman. Another big defenceman who may not be in the Dallas Stars future. Only 27, he’s a stay at home type, and shoots left. He’s a UFA after this season, and currently makes $1.6 million. We need size in front of the net. Imagine him, Big G and Ellerby who are all at 6′ 4′ on defence?
Dream players, but players that could significantly impact our future:
* Zach Parise. Instantly you have your captain, and your centerpiece for the franchise for years to come. Can play the wing and center, so versatility is nice to have. Comes from good genes as his father J.P was a former NHLer. A player much like Getzlaff, except not as big, and has a goal scoring touch, while Getzlaff is a great set up man. This will cost us, but if we can lock him up, it would be the sweetest forward we’ve had in years.
* Ryan Suter. I don’t know how Nashville keeps both him and Shea Weber, but if Mike Santos has any influence at all, this is another player that you could build around. His uncle Gary was top defencemen in the league for years, and Ryan is following those footsteps. Won’t score too much but is a good assist man, and eats up a lot of minutes. 27 years old. Getting him now would be perfect for our defence.
Obviously to get any one of these players would be a huge step in the right direction, but it will cost us something. If one or more of these players are acquired, we’ll have to give back. Like the David Booth deal, we can’t worry about that. Trades are not made to win a popularity contest, and I don’t feel they should be. One of these players could be viewed as a little tweak to improve, while a couple of these players would mean we are going for the gusto. We have a solid future and a number of up and coming players in our system, however we are on the cusp of what would be a tremendous accomplishment from where we were last season. The draft this summer isn’t very deep, and a pick along with a player or two could be the right combination that’s needed to close a deal.
It’s going to be a fun month leading up to the 27th. If you haven’t requested the day off, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Nobody does anything on that day. It would be nice if the Panthers were one of the one’s that did.
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