Florida Panthers at the deadline

Personally, I thought it was apparent before the season started that the Florida Panthers would be a team that would be selling at the deadline. In fact, I saw them being destined for a lottery pick and having the worst record in the Eastern Conference. While they haven’t been as bad as I expected them to be, they aren’t exactly a good team and will probably end up with one of the bottom-five spots. Especially with the upswings the Islanders and Devils are on. With a roster full of impending free agents that might work well on other teams, GM Dale Tallon has already started dealing by shipping off Michael Frolik, Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman, all for much lower costs than they probably should have gone for.
The organization made a statement last year that they would start rebuilding for the future and you would have to think that they would continue that with the potential free agents they have and the fact that they aren’t a team that spends to the cap. However, I felt that Florida sold really low on a couple of trades they made so far and the biggest one was with the Blackhawks that sent Michael Frolik and goalie prospect Alexander Salak away in exchange for Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman and David Pacan. Frolik is a former first round pick and has scored 21 goals in two straight seasons with Florida. This year, his numbers are way down (8 goals, 29 points) and they figured it would be a better idea to sell low. Who did they get in return? A forward who has only scored 12 goals in 81 games and rarely plays more than 10 minutes a night, a former highly touted defensive prospect who has yet to play an NHL game and a forward who the Hawks drafted in the 6th round two years ago. The fact that they traded Salak indicates two things to me; 1. They will call up Jacob Markstrom next season or 2. They intend to re-sign Tomas Vokoun for at least next season because Scott Clemmensen is still under contract through 2011-12. Either way, I do not like this trade at all for Florida. The McCabe trade wasn’t as bad but I was kind of surprised that they didn’t get at least a 2nd round pick for him. Instead, they got a 3rd rounder and Tim Kennedy. I know that McCabe is basically a rental for the Rangers but he’s still a very capable powerplay quarterback and I thought Florida could have gotten a little more from him. The return they got for Stillman wasn’t bad (5th rounder + Ryan Carter) since I don’t think Stillman’s value is that high even though he’s a good penalty killer.
As I noted earlier, Florida has quite a few expiring contracts on their roster and a couple of them are decent trade bait but there’s a lot of others who are signed for longer that could be dealt. Let’s take a look at how they are set up for next year.
Big Picture:

Top 3 Forwards: Booth, Olesz, Weiss $10,475,000

Middle 6 Forwards: Reinprecht, Dadonov, ???, ???, ???, ???$3,375,000

Top 4 Defensemen: Wideman, Allen, Kulikov, Weaver $9,062,500

Goaltending: Clemmensen, ??? $1,200,000

Bottom 8 Players: Timmins, Garrison, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? $1,426,667

RFA: Bernier, Repik, Matthias, Bitz, Santorelli, Skiille

UFA: Dvorak, Higgins, Reasoner, Hordichuk, Carter, Thomas, Sulzer, Callahan, Vokoun

Florida has quite a bit of money invested in their top three forwards and one of them (Olesz) is grossly overpaid. Stephen Weiss’ name has been in trade rumors for the past couple seasons and it’s sounding like it’s very possible he could be moved but there’s a few things standing in the way of that. The biggest thing is that he has a NTC and the Panthers have reportedly not asked him to waive it unless they get an offer they can’t turn down. He’s also signed at a fairly decent contract ($3.1 mil for 2 more years), which is what makes him a great target at the deadline. Tallon’s done some confusing things ever since joining the Panthers so I don’t know what an “offer he can’t turn down is” considering he traded a 20+ goal scorer and a solid goalie prospect for two draft busts and the equivalent of a late round pick. My first thought is that Tallon is planning to keep a few players around for the team to build around (Booth, Weiss, Allen and possibly Vokoun come to mind) and he will try to get what he can from the rest of his players. The holes in the roster will be filled with cheap, one-year contracts. They will probably want to re-sign Mike Santorelli, Michal Repik and possibly Chris Higgins or Jack Skille. I think that they will only trade Vokoun if they can get a first rounder or a great prospect back but we’ll see what happens. He’s actually having a down year for his standards so who knows if a team will be willing to give up that much for him. Marty Reasoner and Radek Dvroak should be able to fetch a mid-round pick to a team looking for a penalty killer.

Depth Chart

Higgins-Weiss-Repik

Booth-Santorelli-Dvorak

Olesz-Reasoner-Bernier

Hordichuk-Timmins-Thomas

Skille (inj), Dadonov (inj), Matthias (inj.)
Wideman-Allen

Sulzer-Kulikov

Garrison-Weaver/Callahan
Vokoun

Clemmensen

Markstrom (AHL)

For the rest of the year, Florida’s not exactly looking like they’ll be making a playoff push. Their roster is injury depleted (Olesz and Higgins were recently put on the IR yesterday) and this just doesn’t look like an impressive crop of forwards and it will look even worse if someone is traded. They do have some great prospects waiting in the wings with Erik Gudbransson and Nik Bjugstad but I don’t know when the latter will be with the big club. Gudbransson was supposed to be with the Panthers this year but they couldn’t agree on a contract, which kind of says something about how much they can/are willing to spend. I’m not expecting Florida to contend next year but maybe they’ll be a little more fun to watch once Evengey Dadonov has another year in the NHL under his belt and when Gudbransson is on the team. Panthers fans should be thankful that the worst thing that Tallon’s done so far this season is the Frolik trade. Imagine if he sent Weiss or Vokoun off for that package. Yeesh. Anyway, you can probably expect a few more moves from the Cats this deadline and knowing Tallon, you should probably expect the unexpected.

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