When the news came off the wire that the Florida Panthers dealt David Booth to the Vancouver Canucks, it raised a lot of questions about how GM Dale Tallon was going forward with the team’s rebuild as he was dealing away a potential 30-to-40 goal scorer. Since Tallon was hired by the club to help rebuild the team (May 2010), he has been taking a very calculated approach at making sure that he has the players that he wants on his side. Also, he wants to make sure that the team is somewhat competitive in the Southeast Division; since they are in a market that hasn’t been hockey friendly since the Panthers were last in the Stanley Cup Finals… back in 1996.
If we learned anything about Tallon’s talent for building a team from his days in Chicago, he likes to build through the draft and his patience is second to none. In five years with the Blackhawks, watched his team go from last place to the Stanley Cup champions, thanks to some great drafting while sitting at the bottom of the standings and making some shrewd moves, picking up some great supporting cast talent.
The real unfortunate part about today’s game (and the culture that surrounds it) is that there is very little patience and every little move is put under the microscope to be analysed to its fullest extent. Every deal is under the assumption that both teams involved will improve greatly right away and that the future is right now. Yet sometimes, the trade should be looked at a few years down the road when the big picture implications can be analyzed.
The Panthers receive a pair of veteran players with the acquisition of both Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm from the Canucks. Although their early season numbers may not suggest it, both guys are known as being offensive players. They should be able to bounce back and become valuable members of a team that is still looking to entertain a crowd every night and they’ll provide some flexibility down the road. The flexibility should come in handy either at the trade deadline (if the Panthers are not in playoff contention) or on July 1st when both players become unrestricted free agents.
David Booth was not playing so well when he was dealt out of town on Saturday. Already a team-worst in the plus/minus department at a -6 rating, he only one assist in six games. That was quite a ways from the days when he would light the lamp on a regular basis in 2009, making himself into a household name. Of course, when Mike Richards got the best of him in an open-ice collision (one of the main hits that led to some of the rule changes that took place this season) a concussion and a long time away from the game took its toll on Booth. Sure, he was still a household name, but for the wrong reasons as the victim of a massive blind side hit. This season, he was a player that wasn’t living up to his expectations on a team that is being closely monitored after a very busy off-season. The Panthers were able to shift a contract that still had 3+ seasons on it at $4.25 million per season against the cap when they found a team that was looking to change up their top six.
Don’t think I forgot about Steven Reinprecht or the 2013 3rd round draft pick that the Canucks dealt to the Panthers in the deal that brought Chris Higgins to Vancouver last season. Reinprecht, the 35-year old veteran, was not a part of the Panthers’ plan going forward and had been in the minors since the quarter-pole of the 2011 season and the pick was likely a thank you for taking Reinprecht off the team’s books, since they were still paying him his full salary in the minors, despite him not counting against the cap.
Now, there is a fine balancing act that needs to be done in Florida. The Panthers are one of those teams that need to prove to the rest of the league that they can be a hockey market. That means they have to win some games and interest some people that will put their butts in the seats. On the other side, the Panthers are still a number of pieces away from being a contending team in the playoffs and a certain amount of patience should be exercised when the team likely falls off in the back half of the season. They’ll likely miss the playoffs and have themselves in a position for a lottery pick for this Summer’s entry draft. You have to believe that a good run to finish 9th or 10th in the East might excite some people for the coming years, but they are under the disadvantage of not being in a traditional hockey market like Chicago. It’ll have to be a very exciting run.
With Jose Theodore getting off to a decent start, Kris Versteeg leading the way offensively, Brian Campbell and Stephen Weiss providing ample support, the team already has given enough reason to start getting excited. Or at least a reason to keep an eye on them in the early going. Three out of those four players were added in the off-season (either by free agent signing or via trade) which looks good on the work done by the GM. But it is still early and we wouldn’t want to put the cart before the horse here. There is certainly some potential, which should start building some excitement.
In two entry drafts under Tallon’s watchful eye, his four (count them, four)1st round picks have been of great quality. But quality that is being nurtured slowly, making sure that they are not pushed too quickly. Erik Gudbranson leads the way after being the 3rd overall pick in 2010. He’s now a regular member of the blueline after an extra year in junior. Gudbranson is the cornerstone of the franchise, carving a path for himself that looks a lot like Chris Pronger. The 3rd overall pick in 2011, Jonathan Huberdeau, is a known as a born leader with some great offensive talent. He’s spending another year in junior this season looking to mature his body into something that looks a lot more like an NHL’er. Plus another year in junior can only help his confidence going forward. The two headline picks over the last couple of years look like winners and if Nick Bjugstad and/or Quinton Howden (the other two picks from 2010′s 1st round) become every day pros, they immediately have a great foundation to build from.
If the Panthers can make good with another 1st round pick in Pittsburgh, we could see a team that could give division rivals in Washington and Tampa Bay a reasonable run for their money.
They’ll hope for a player that could jump into the line-up within a couple of seasons, possibly taking advantage of a more interesting unrestricted free agent field in July (pending a season’s worth of contract extensions and such) and also shifting some more talent around via trades and waivers.
Again, this is something that Tallon has seen before. The Central Division was no walk in the park to build a team in when he did it with the Blackhawks, but patience will need to be exercised. It must be acknowledged that this is likely going to be another 5-year process. They’re only now entering its second full year.
Any of the successes that may happen in the 2012 season will be counted as bonuses for this rebuilding franchise. With the deal going down over the weekend, you know that winning now and maintaining flexibility will go a long way in helping to build this franchise from the ground up. If the team’s record drops down into the lottery picks and out of the playoffs, there are a lot of positives that can be looked upon by those fans looking for a championship (or a reasonable shot) down the road. Let’s say four years from now. The rebuilding process is long and there are a lot of losses on the path, but if a solid core can be maintained, then those losses can be turned into lessons. All the much better to grow from.