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Off-Season Game Plan: Panthers

Scott Cullen
5/9/2008 4:01:59 PM
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The Florida Panthers have now gone seven straight seasons without a playoff berth and major changes may be necessary to break that trend.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at the Panthers' roster and what could be done to improve enough to compete for the playoffs next season.

The first issue that needs to be solved in Florida is behind the bench.

Jacques Martin has been told to handle the general manager role and find a new full-time head coach. The Palm Beach Post has listed Pat Quinn, Perry Pearn, Pat Burns, Doug MacLean, Randy Cunneyworth and, now, Paul Maurice as names of interest for Martin.

No matter who gets the job, the Panthers need better performance on the ice.

There is reason to be hopeful that can happen, though. For one thing, the Panthers lost a lot of man-games to injury (reportedly 405), a number that should not be duplicated next season. At the same time, the Panthers didn't lose their big guns -- Olli Jokinen, Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Jay Bouwmeester, Tomas Vokoun -- to injuries, so that mitigates the overall man-games lost number.

With a decent young roster, the Panthers have some pieces around which they can build and have every reason to expect those young players to get better, but shaking up the roster in some spots would probably be wise in an effort to change the current team culture.

At the most extreme, the Panthers could shop captain Olli Jokinen or restricted free agent defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, each of whom would command a significant package in return.

Whatever decisions are made this summer, the Panthers had better show improvement next year, or it could very well be the end of Martin's regime in Florida and that kind of pressure should initiate significant moves this summer.

After seven years out of the playoffs, why not?

GM/COACH
Jacques Martin/Vacant

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Nathan Horton 78.54 $3.5M
Olli Jokinen 75.70 $5.25M
David Booth 75.52 $675K
Stephen Weiss 71.62 $2.5M
Richard Zednik 68.10 $1.75M
Brett McLean 67.26 $1.7M
Kamil Kreps 64.89 $682K
Chad Kilger 64.76 $700K
Ville Peltonen 63.42 $1.2M
Radek Dvorak 62.71 $1.6M
Jozef Stumpel 60.67 $2.25M
Tanner Glass 59.24 $530K
Wade Belak 53.52 $650K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Rostislav Olesz 69.61 RFA $984K
Greg Campbell 57.95 RFA $525K
Anthony Stewart 54.74 RFA $475K
Garth Murray 53.67 RFA $625K

Top Prospects: Michael Frolik, Shawn Matthias, Michal Repik

Olli Jokinen's numbers tailed off following the most productive season of his career in 2006-2007 and he's been dogged by trade rumours. Understandably, teams are interested in a big-bodies number one centre who has three straight seasons with more than 30 goals and is still under the terms of a reasonable contract for two more seasons.

The Panthers have resisted previous overtures to deal Jokinen so he could remain the centrepiece of the franchise, but he could always command a sizeable return if the Panthers do make him available and that may be the kind of deal necessary to change the make-up of the team.

Power forward Nathan Horton is a rising star and, even though the 22-year-old's production was virtually the same in 2007-2008 as it was the season before, there aren't many 22 year-old's with 100 career goals already on their resume. Now it's time for Horton to take the next step and be a game-breaking 40-goal marksman.

David Booth's first full season in the NHL resulted in more goals (22) than he scored in any of his junior or collegiate seasons. Given that history, it's hard to expect more from Booth, but if he can continue to produce 20-25 goals, that makes him valuable to the Panthers.

The man in the middle of Horton and Booth was often Stephen Weiss, a 25-year-old who is rounding into form as a solid two-way pivot.

Involved in a scary on-ice incident, when his throat was cut by Jokinen's skate blade, Richard Zednik had his season ended by the injury in February, just as he was playing his best hockey in what had been an inconsistent season. Zednik will be ready to go again next season, but he hasn't topped 30 points in any of the last three seasons so there's only so much that can be expected from him.

Free agent signing Brett McLean did very little early in the season (11 points in first 37 games), but finally got together with Jokinen and had the chemistry to fashion a nice complementary role, scoring 26 points in his final 30 games of the season. While McLean has been between 30-40 points in each of his four NHL seasons, a full season alongside Jokinen could bring more production.

Kamil Kreps was a revelation as a rookie, playing a responsible defensive game. While he doesn't have a lot of offensive upside, Kreps is a good fit on the third line.

Personal turmoil sabotaged Chad Kilger's season and he never played for the Panthers after arriving in a trade from Toronto. Assuming that Kilger's life is in order, he can be a useful checker; a big body who can bang and does so for a relatively inexpensive price.

Ville Peltonen only managed 20 points last season, a disappointment after a 37-point return to the NHL the year before, but he's still okay in a depth role.

Veteran checker Radek Dvorak plays a responsible game, but his 17-point season was the least productive of his career and he's paid more than a fourth-liner would warrant.

Jozef Stumpel was hampered by injuries and ended up with just 20 points in 52 games, his lowest point total since the 1994-1995 lockout season. Stumpel may have enough left in the tank to play a complementary role, but the Panthers shouldn't lean too heavily on him.

Though he hasn't been the most durable in his three NHL seasons, Rostislav Olesz is making progress and is still just 22. He handles a two-way role now, which is a nice base, but he should produce more than the 26 points he managed in 2007-2008.

Gregory Campbell is an ell-effort checker and shows up every night, but he has 14 goals in 226 career games, so he's set in a fourth-line role.

Energy winger Tanner Glass managed just two points in 41 games with the Panthers, and only 11 in 43 AHL games, so he probably fits better as a call-up who can be relied on in short bursts if need be.

Enforcer Wade Belak is a good team guy, capable enough in the muscle department and was signed to an affordable contract extension.

Anthony Stewart and Garth Murray can add a physical dimension, but are both replaceable because they offer so little offensively.

The Panthers have so many forwards already under contract that some sort of movement is inevitable. However, adding another scoring winger would help matters, whether it's one of the rising prospects or a veteran. Michael Ryder, Pavol Demitra and Miroslav Satan are veteran scorers coming off down seasons who may, therefore, come at a reasonable price.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Cory Murphy 68.63 $875K
Bryan Allen 68.17 $3.0M
Mike Van Ryn 61.24 $3.35M
Karlis Skrastins 59.76 $2.4M
Noah Welch 58.27 $750K

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Jay Bouwmeester 73.29 RFA $2.25M
Jassen Cullimore 70.94 UFA $535K
Steve Montador 69.15 UFA $800K
Magnus Johansson 64.67 UFA $700K
Branislav Mezei 59.27 UFA $850K

Top Prospects: Keaton Ellerby, Michael Caruso, Martin Lojek

30-year-old Cory Murphy got off to a good start in his first NHL season, but then a shoulder injury cost him more than 30 games and he couldn't get into a groove after that. Murphy is small, but mobile and handles the puck well so he should have a big role on the power play.

Big Bryan Allen is the opposite of Murphy, a defensive defenceman with good size. Allen can mix it up when necessary and is handy to have in order to match up with opposing power forwards.

Ongoing wrist problems limited Mike Van Ryn to just 20 games and he struggled even before deciding to undergo more surgery. When healthy, Van Ryn is a puck-moving defenceman who can handle top-four minutes, but expectations have to be cautious because of last year's injury woes.

Acquired at the trade deadline, Karlis Skrastins is a serviceable defensive defenceman who helps the penalty killing unit because of his willingness to block lanes.

Noah Welch, who was acquired when Gary Roberts was traded to Pittsburgh, is a promising defensive defenceman, but shoulder surgery limited him to just four games. The 25-year-old Harvard grad has only played 33 NHL games to this point, so he needs to establish his value as an NHLer this season.

While Jay Bouwmeester led all NHL blueliners in ice time, at 27:28 per game, his production was down slightly for the second straight season. Bouwmeester has had moments of living up to his lofty draft status, but he still needs to put it together for an entire season and he should just be heading into his prime.

The Panthers' back end could use an upgrade, and top prospect Keaton Ellerby may compete for a spot, but at least one veteran needs to join the fold. The Panthers are apparently looking for one more puck-moving defenceman, so the likes of Ron Hainsey, Brad Stuart, Mark Streit and Paul Mara would all figure to attract Panther interest.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating Salary
Craig Anderson 87.67 $575K
Tomas Vokoun 77.03 $5.5M

Top Prospects: Tyler Plante, David Shantz

Tomas Vokoun was brought in to stabilize the goaltending situation and, though his numbers went up and down during the season, overall he was reliable in 69 starts.

Vokoun's backup, Craig Anderson, didn't play a lot, but was outstanding when he did, indicating that he may be capable of a bigger role should Vokoun need more frequent breaks.

DRAFT
no first-round pick (traded to Nashville)

FREE AGENCY
The Panthers have approximately $39-million committed to salaries for next season.

 

Needs: One top six forward, one top pair defencemen, one depth defenceman

What I said the Panthers needed last year: Two top six forwards, two checking forwards, starting goaltender

Who did they add? Brett McLean, Richard Zednik, Radek Dvorak, Kamil Kreps, Tomas Vokoun

TRADE MARKET
Olli Jokinen, Mike Van Ryn, Jay Bouwmeester

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca 




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