During the dog days of summer, NHL news can be scarce but hockey fans are an insatiable breed so to fill up some of those empty summer spaces, we will be doing individual profiles of the Florida Panthers players. In these profiles, we will dish on the players’ previous season, what we can expect next year and also take a look back at their careers. We hope these little pieces help all you Panther fans retain your sanity while we hold on in anticipation of the new season this fall.
Scottie Upshall had another injury plagued season in the second year of a 4 year $14 million dollar contract with the Florida Panthers. He missed fourteen games in February with an ankle injury and then in his first game back on March 2nd, he suffered a lower body injury that kept him out for another eight games.
When he was healthy, Upshall, the sixth overall pick in the 2002 draft, struggle to produce. In 27 games he only managed four goals and one assist. This coming off a 2011-12 campaign where he only played in 26 games and scored just two goals and three assists. Over the first two years of his four year contract with the Panthers, Upshall has played in just 53 regular season games and scored only 10 points in that time frame. With Upshall making $7,000,000 over those two seasons, the Panthers are paying him about $700,000 per point. It goes without saying that the Panthers, a team that can only thrive is they are efficiently allocating their money, need to get more production out of Upshall over the final two years of his contract.
Scottie Upshall came into the league with high expectations. He was a prolific scorer for the Karmaloop Blazers in the WHL, enough so that the Predators selected him with the 6th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. It took Upshall a couple of years to find his place in the league but he eventually developed into a player who averaged about a half point per game. This would be a fine level of production if he could just stay healthy but unfortunately, the 29 year old has been snake bitten for most of his career. He has topped 70 games played only twice during his career and he has never scored more than 34 points in a season.
During the 2010-11 season, Upshall topped 20 goals for the first time in his career, scoring 22 while playing for the Coyotes and the Blue Jackets. This was enough to convince Dale Tallon and the Panthers to give him $14 million over four years hoping that with the amount of playing time he would receive in Florida, Upshall would be able to tap into some of the potential that made him a high first round draft pick. It was not inconceivable when they signed him, that Upshall would be a consistent 20 goal scorer with the Panthers.
That expectation could not have been further from what actually has happened. Not only has Upshall been decimated by injuries, but when he has been healthy, his production has been nonexistent. From 2005 to 2011 Upshall never averaged lower than .40 points per game no matter how many or how few games he played each season. In his two years with the Panthers, he has averaged only .19 points per game, not exactly the best return on investment. Here is a look at his career numbers:
Despite Upshall’s struggles, his effort on the ice cannot be questioned. When he has been healthy, he flies around the ice, never afraid to take the body and never shy about putting in hard work in the trenches. It is mainly because of this effort that Upshall keeps getting chances and 2013 should be no different. If he is healthy at the start of the season he should be a top six forward and will be given ample opportunity to prove that his struggles of the past two years have been flukes.
I take that back actually. There are two reasons Upshall keeps getting opportunities. His effort on the ice plays a role but his contract plays a huge role as well. The Panthers owe Upshall $7 million over the next two years and while they would probably jump at a chance to get out of the contract, the truth is, they really have their hands tied. They would not want to use a compliance buyout on a player that will only be on their books for two more years and they also would not want to buy him out traditionally, a la Filip Kuba, because the Panthers are not the type of franchise that has the money to pay a player $3.5 million each of the next two years to not play for them. A trade then would seem to be the Panthers best option but I doubt there are too many teams lining up to take on $7 million over the next two years for a player who has not been able to stay healthy and has scored only five points in each of the last two seasons. Thus the Panthers’ best option is to hold onto Upshall and hope that he can start to produce at a level that comes anywhere close to justifying his contract.
This may not be so far fetched. First and foremost Scottie Upshall has to remain healthy this season. If he can stay on the ice he has a chance to greatly improve his production. If you dig deeper into Upshall’s numbers they indicate that when he has been playing, he has suffered from a bit of bad luck. If we look at PDO, a stat that adds on ice save percentage and shot percentage, he was at 953 in 12-13 and 981 in 11-12. Typically over time every player’s PDO will regress to a mean of about 1000. A PDO below 1000 indicates a player has suffered from some bad luck while a PDO over 1000 indicates a player has been a bit lucky. Granted, Upshall’s sample size for the past two seasons has been small, his PDO below 1000 suggests that he may have been suffering from some bad luck and he could be due for a boost in production.
Looking at Upshall’s shooting percentage tells us the same thing. In 2012-13, Upshall had a 7.4% shooting percentage. The league average was 9.11%. In 11-12 he had a minuscule 3.8% shooting percentage well below the league average of 8.94%. This could just be telling us that Upshall consistently takes bad shots or it could be telling us that he just is not a particularly efficient shooter. The third option could be that Upshall has suffered from a measure of bad luck and he could see an uptick in his shooting percentage and therefore his production. Given that his career shooting percentage is 10.1% (a tick above the league averages during his career) I think the bad-luck theory is relevant and if his shooting percentages approach his career average we could see more production from Upshall in the near future.
All this is to say, the Panthers will definitely give Upshall the opportunity to prove his worth in the 2013-14 season, and they may not be crazy for doing so. If he can stay healthy and if he can regain his scoring touch, possibly with some better luck, Upshall may be a pleasant surprise for the Panthers this year.