Jan 20, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss (9) during the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Chicago won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Giglio-US PRESSWIRE

Panthers Need To Get Stronger Up The Middle


I am full aware of the criticism that this title brings, however when looking at the position of center, we must be honest with ourselves and admit that there’s room for improvement as we hunt for a playoff spot.  For the first part of this season the Florida Panthers relied heavily on their top line centered by Stephen Weiss, with Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg as his wingers.  The trio began the season on fire, and was dubbed the FlashMob Line on this site thanks to a loyal reader for their electrifying play, and consistent scoring.  Since December the line has cooled off, and while showing intermittent nights of dominance since then, they are still counted on to produce at the same clip that they had earlier in the year.  A task that is difficult to continue when you only have one scoring consistently.

Stephen Weiss a nine year veteran of this team and former first round pick has been the team’s top center for the past four seasons, and mostly by default.  While he has put up decent numbers, they unfortunately don’t equate to what one might call “playoff caliber”.  With his size (only 5′ 11″, and 186 lbs.) Weiss on many nights is going up against many of the bigger centre’s of the league, and often is mismatched.  He’s also logging hard minutes, playing at crucial times furing the game, as well as on both special teams. That’s not his fault, however the the task he’s responsible for seems to take it’s toll every season around the All-Star break.   To this and  some other observers it seems that as each season reaches this point in the year, Weiss’s production seems to tail off considerably.  Don’t believe it? Look at this glaring statistic for this season: since December 20th when the Panthers played Phoenix, Weiss has appeared in 22 games.  He has two goals and seven assists for nine points.

Prior to that he appeared in 33 games and had 11 goals and 21 assists for 33 points.  Has the grind of playing top line minutes caught up to the long time Panther?  When players get too much ice time there are a few obvious things that begin to happen, and none of them are ever positive.  Bad penalties at inopportune times, poor passes that result in turnovers, which lead to goals, and mental mistakes that have happened as part of the “hard” minutes.  As the season enters the final quarter, the Panthers need Weiss among others to get back to their pace that we enjoyed earlier in the season.  Unfortunately he could be worn down.  The Panthers need help sooner rather than later.

Marcel Goc who missed 22 games with an upper body injury has been teamed up with Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson on the second line, and they have responded very well.  However, Goc for all the great things he has done so far is not a true second line center, but has played extremely well in this position regardless.  Shawn Matthias who is about to have his best season yet, has been on both the second and third line as the pivotman.  Matthias who has appeared in 56 games has 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points, is on pace for a 31 point year, can also play the wing.  Thus showing his verstility.  His bigger body is slightly better equipped for the grinder line position, but in a pinch you could give Shawn top six minutes if needed.

The fourth line till recently had John Madden as the center for the past 15 games, but the veteran is out for two weeks with a lower body injury.  Madden has no points to date, however wasn’t brought here for scoring, but for his leadership, defense and faceoff ability.  In his place will be Mike Santorelli, who is clearly struggling this season with only seven goals and two assists after scoring 20 times last year.  Santo won’t get many opportunities to score playing on an energy line, but it’s  the position he’s put himself into this year.

With the trade deadline approaching and the Panthers general manager Dale Tallon clearly indicating that the Panthers are buyers and not sellers, what do we do?  Dale mentioned that we need scoring, and he’ll look to improve the roster by adding that element.  Question is will he acquire a winger, or as this article is hinting at, a center?

Jeff Carter has all but played hiumself off the Columbus Blue Jackets roster in a situation that just hasn’t panned out.  He’s missed 21 games this season with a fractured foot and a separated shoulder, and hasn’t had a chance to click with Rick Nash.  I watched the Blue Jackets get blown out by the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon, and Carter seemed to be interested in anything but the game of hockey. It is believed that Carter is being shopped and you wonder if he’s a good fit in Florida.  While he’s not known for being a passer, but more of a shooter, that and his size (6′-4″  199 lbs.) make him an attractive piece to look at in the middle.  Carter is signed to a contract that has 10 more years on it at a cap hit of 5.273 million.  That sounds like a lot right now, but in a couple years will be a bargain, especially if he returns to his previous form.  Getting a player like Carter allows Weiss to be moved down to the second line, a more fitting slot.  However, the one big question mark with Carter is going to be his demeanor in the dressing room, and if his character has been tainted with this horrible season in Columbus.

I’m not going to discuss getting Rick Nash simply because I don’t feel it’s very realistic, so let’s move on.  Plus I’m talking about a center.  Next on my list would be Zach Parise.  A pending UFA with the New Jersey Devils.  This is a player that instantly makes you better up the middle, adds character, and potentially is your captain.  There’s money trouble in New Jersey, and Parise is going to command $6 million or more on the open market.  He’s worth every penny, and then some.   At 27 he’s going into his prime, and could be the player to build your team around for the next several seasons.  Whether or not New Jersey can sign him is one issue, the other issue is, does Parise want to hit the open market as a free agent and go for the highest bidder?

Ryan Getzlaf.  You’ll get a real good look at him this evening as the Anaheim Ducks roll into town.  The problem is that a few weeks ago, almost anyone on that Ducks team was available.  Now that they have turned themselves around, their picture has changed.  Getzlaf is another player entering his prime at 26, and with another year left on his contract this could be a perfect fit.  He has the size, the hands and the character to be your number one guy, and is captain material as well.  Moving him at this point may be out of the question for the Ducks.  The package would have to be very sweet, and I’m not sure the Panthers would give up what it would take to get a player like Getzlaf.

If the Panthers are going to make a serious improvement and be a consistent playoff challenger, then a player similar to the one’s that I’ve mentioned will have to be acquired.  The players that we have playing in the middle are fine, but each one of them is playing in a spot that is one line above where they should be.  For Weiss it’s about durability.  For Goc, he’s not an offensive player.  For Matthias and Santorelli, it’s about finding consistency.  After tonight, the Panthers don’t play again till Thursday when they host Minnesota, and then have two more games before Monday’s deadline.  I’m certain that Dale will be extremely busy this week looking at his options.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome comments and opinions.

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Tags: Jeff Carter Rick Nash Ryan Getzlaf Stephen Weiss

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