Monday, February 15, 2010

Trying to Assess the Panthers Situation

If you didn't think that the trade deadline was going to be crazy enough with the rental players who have been noted as likely available, the Florida Panthers took to the e-mail around the roster freeze on Friday (Feb. 12th), alerting their season ticket fan base that there are going to be changes because the management and coaching staff are not pleased with how the season has gone for the team and they want to do something about it.

So, with this being said, the scuttlebutt surrounding the Panthers is definitely going to be the most interesting, because the Panthers are not quite out of the race, but if any change is to happen right away, it does sound like they will pull themselves out of the race to ensure they take advantage of the player movement that involves high returns in trades and likely some good shots at high draft picks for the summer.

Now, the letter didn't specify what the actual direction of the team will be or who they will want to build around, but that's certainly not going to stop the speculation of which way they are going to go, who they are going to target or how they are going about changing it up.

I have a feeling that looking at some of Pete Deboer's previous teams in junior, he'll want to be keeping some of that high end scoring talent to keep up with the other major scoring talent in the Southeast Division and he'll want to make sure that he's continuing to keep his top end goaltending talent. Now, the Panthers already have David Booth, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton, who are considered top end talent, while they have Michael Frolik and Michal Repik, who are still coming up through the ranks, but their time may be limited to make the team on a full-time basis.

It's hard to say who the Panthers will be targeting in terms of picking up new players or who they will want in return for players they want to deal from their roster, but of course, that just comes with the territory of speculation. The Panthers are likely toying with a owner-imposed salary cap, likely around the $51 million mark, so there will likely be a strategy to build their franchise, much like the Nashville Predators have, with quality hard-working veteran talent, a good young defense and finding some solid goaltending. The strategy has worked wonders in Nashville, so why couldn't it work for the Panthers?

That now leaves the questions, who do the Panthers have up for grabs and are possibly shopping? Now, let's go with some of the obvious ones first, as the unrestricted free agents will likely be the first ones to be shopped or at least added to some potential deals, since these players may not be back with the team and draft picks, no matter how low, would be better than losing these players for nothing. Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold are the only two active players scheduled to be come UFAs in July and both should carry some trade value. I would say at worst, these are guys that can get a team an extra third round pick, if they were given out as rentals.

The Panthers have hit the Rumour Mill page already this season, with the rumour that Nathan Horton may be heading out of town, so there is a return to those rumours as the first potential player headed out of town. But hold on! Will Horton be healthy enough to be dealt, he's got a broken leg? Well, the 4-week mark will hit about next week and the top end of six weeks, will come just around the end of the Olympics, so yes, he should be good to go and ready for a trade.

Eklund, from who I picked the letter from, suggests that both David Booth and Stephen Weiss are also not very safe or at least open for offers, to which a number of teams would have to look twice at these guys, because they do bring a solid amount of talent, especially to a team's top or second line, giving teams depth. Both players do have longer-term deals already in place and they are both reasonable cap hits. I think that point leads me to believe that the Panthers won't be too quick to part with them, because they have done such a good job negotiating cap-friendly deals with these two players and it makes the team more flexible down the line with good scoring.

Personally, I would have bets on guys like Cory Stillman, Steven Reinprecht, Rostislav Olesz, Radek Dvorak, Bryan Allen and Ville Koistinen becoming the guys on the block. None of which would be considered rentals, because they all have at least one more year on their deals, but none of them are terribly expensive when it comes to cap hits for what they bring, except for maybe Olesz, who is believed to have great top end talent and he might need a change of scenery in the end.

Salary CapThe Panthers have done well to stay around their self-imposed cap number, to whichever it may be, especially after dealing Dominic Moore before the break and dropping $1.1 million from their annual cap number. Their annual cap number, with the injured Horton, is $51.4 million for 22 players, but you can add a good portion of Moore's cap hit, minus Horton's missed time, minus Tarnasky's injury, Booth's injury, Matthias' time in the minors and there you should get their overall hit, which is likely around the flat $50 million mark.

For next season, they currently have 14 players signed on and expected to have a full-time role with the team for an annual cap hit of $43.5 million and since that includes their theoretical top six forwards, two top defensemen and starting goalie, that's a pretty impressive number, no matter what team you're looking at. If the team can improve their potential cap number, they should be able to improve their top six, in terms of skill and they should be in great shape for 2011.

When the roster freeze lifts and the gun goes off, I would imagine that the Panthers will have set-up all sorts of potential moves and will likely not wait for any dominoes to fall. I don't think its really going out on a limb to suggest that Booth, Weiss, Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Vokoun are safe, as that isn't a bad core of five players, taking care of each segment of the line-up. Since general managers are able to negotiate over these next couple weeks, this could drum up some real business for a lot of teams, including the Panthers.

Even if they move a large number of their major players for the end of the season, they can still be a winner at the deadline, in my opinion. It just has to be looked at with a patient eye.

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