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|Panthers poised for a move?|
|Written by Erika Schnure|
|Monday, 06 August 2012 00:56|
Last summer, the Florida Panthers were the talk of the hockey world with their flurry of big free agent signings that let everyone know they were serious about contending. With a new Southeast Division Champions title under their belt, the Panthers have stayed quiet this offseason. Are the Panthers content with this stability or is it just the calm before the storm?What is typically called "free agent frenzy" certainly was in Sunrise, Fla. last June.
Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, and Scottie Upshall were the key components in an off-season spending spree to convince fans and players to buy in to what the Panthers were selling.
"My agent had a lot of calls, but Florida just made a lot of sense...I really believe in what [the Panthers are] doing," Upshall said at the time.
In total, ten players were signed to new contracts with Florida last summer. It was a risky move for general manager Dale Tallon that paid off. The Panthers won the Southeast Division despite a minus-24 goal differential and just 2.40 average goals for per game -- fourth worst in the NHL.
The scoring deficiency is troublesome, though most of the men who scored those goals for Florida are locked up for a few years (particularly after Versteeg's four-year contract extension this summer). However, the team lost a huge piece of their scoring after Jason Garrison signed a huge contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Garrison enjoyed a career-best season in terms of goals and points with the Panthers last year, scoring 16 goals (a franchise record for goals by a defenseman) and nearly doubling last year's point total. He finished fifth in goals and points on the team while nine of those goals were on the power play, courtesy of a booming slap shot.
Unfortunately for Florida, Garrison has departed, leaving a big hole in the Panthers' defense and offensive production.
"We know we need to get more scoring and if that's available, we'll get it," assistant general manager Mike Santos told reporters of the Panthers' need for scoring. "If we can't, we could probably be bigger and more physical up front and we'll go that way."
Tallon signed Filip Kuba this summer in an attempt to replace Garrison, but Kuba doesn't bring nearly as much offense as Garrison did last year. Kuba scored just six goals last season with Ottawa, where he was partnered with Erik Karlsson.
Kuba will not be the answer to the Florida's goal differential problem, but a new goaltender could be. The Panthers still have Jose Theodore under contract and recently re-signed Scott Clemmensen, but rumors continue to swirl that Roberto Luongo may be on his way back to Florida.
Vancouver is shopping Luongo and it has been rumored that the one team for which he would have no problem waiving his no-trade clause is Florida. Luongo played for the Panthers 2000-2006, and has fond memories of the organization.
It would be a great grab for Florida, as both Theodore and Clemmensen had injury absences last season, and landing an elite goaltender would be very beneficial for a team in a strengthened Eastern Conference. However, should the Panthers land Luongo, it could cause some problems down the pipeline. The Panthers would likely have to give up some key prospects in exchange for Luongo, and the player most likely to suffer from the possibility of Luongo's acquisition is Jacob Markstrom.
Markstrom is ready for the NHL -- his handful of appearances at the NHL level last season were primarily good. He earned two wins in seven games and had a .923 save percentage. He's already kept from an NHL job this season by the current contracts of Theodore and Clemmensen, and if Luongo were to come to the Panthers, his status would be even further clouded.
At this point, Markstrom runs the danger of marinating too long in the AHL. Having faced players of the same caliber for a few years, the Panthers must be mindful that Markstrom doesn't get too comfortable with the AHL pace. There is always the concern that minor league players will get so used to the AHL that they will not be able to adjust properly to the NHL. It's a fate that befalls many in the AHL, who become "career AHLers," and one that Florida must avoid with a talent like Markstrom.
Despite the danger of miring Markstrom in San Antonio too long, Mike Santos told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that they would like Markstrom to spend another season in the AHL regardless, due to the fact that injuries have kept him from a complete AHL season in the past. Markstrom was limited by injuries during the past two seasons, and he has yet to play a full season in any North American league.
If Santos and Tallon believe that Markstrom will not lose any value in the AHL this season, then they're certainly able to go after Luongo. But they do so knowing that Markstrom's progress may be impeded by staying out of the NHL. Of course, no trade has yet occurred, and in goaltending, everything depends on training camp.
"We signed Clemmensen yesterday; we have Theodore, Markstrom and they're all battling for the No. 1 spot as of now,'' Tallon told the Sun-Sentinel in July, speaking of the possibility of a Luongo trade. "I'm open to any suggestions that makes us better. It's obvious that Vancouver is in the driver's seat and I'm willing to listen to anything they have to offer.''
Photos by Getty Images
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 16:38|