Sunday, April 29, 2012

Panther's Roster: Stay or Go, Prospects and Free Agents to Look at

With all the hoop-la of the playoffs continuing without the Panthers, it is time to focus on next year's run. And what better way to do this than to go up and down the Panther's roster and give our assessment on if Tallon should keep or boot a player, what prospects can make the squad next year, and what Free Agents should be considered?

To get you in the mood, here is some "Spring Cleaning" music....

Krys Barch 21 RW
   Barch was a serviceable pickup during the middle of the regular season. However, I don't see Tallon re-signing him for next year. He just isn't good enough.

Sean Bergenheim 20 LW
    Bergenheim had a career high 17 goals this year. Even better, he was the most consistent forward in the post season. He settled in nicely as a Panther this year and earned every penny of his contract. He will be back.

Matt Bradley 22 RW
     Didn't think Bradley was overly effective when he wasn't hurt this year. With a year left of his just south of $1m cap hit, Bradley will either be an extra forward or relegated to the AHL. With an influx of prospects looking to make the jump, players like Bradley need to leave.

Brian Campbell 51 D
    Soupy was inspiring this season. What more needs to be said? Played every game, quarterbacked the PP and made everyone on the ice better. Leader.

Scott Clemmensen 30 G
   Clemmensen was average in his starts for Florida this year, despite his high number of wins. His contract is done, and with Markstrom clearly ready for NHL duty, Clemmer will be out of here.

Keaton Ellerby 4 D
   Ellerby is an RFA this offseason. While his progress has slowed, if not stopped (most likely because of DeBoer's handling) he still has potential. I would hope Tallon uses his RFA status and potential to move him for assets this offseason, whether letting him get an offer sheet and taking compensation or moving him on Draft Day for a pick. I just don't see Ellerby in the plans for the Cats. For his development, he may need a change of scenery.

Tomas Fleischmann 14 RW
   The most talented forward on the team, Flash played as I knew he could. Tallon was one of the only GMs that was confident in his abilities with his rare medical condition. However, there was really nothing to worry about as Flash played all 82 regular season games, putting up 61 points. He'll be back.

Jason Garrison 52 D
  The trickiest one. Garrison was a beast for the Panthers this season. But with his impending UFA status and the crazy market for Dmen, the Panthers may lose Garrison or be forced to part with him due to dollars and cents. Garrison could make upwards of $4.5m a year, an amount he might just not be worth (flash in the pan?) if he hits the UFA market. Expect the Panthers to really explore every avenue with Garrison. If they feel the Cannon is pricing himself out of their range, they may look to trade his rights at the draft to get back some return.
     Garrison would be welcomed back, but only at the right price. This could be another Ville Leino.

Marcel Goc 57 C
    OMGoc was excellent this year, and really surpassed all expectations. He has great puck control, and knows how to play D and win draws. He has come up big when they have needed him to. He is a good 3rd line option for Panthers next season. Keep.

Erik Gudbranson 44 D
    The best defensemen in the playoffs for the Cats. He really became a stud in front of our eyes. Ken Daneyko said similar words after Game 7, and he knows good D. I see Gudbranson having a similar career to Chris Pronger. He might not be as good, but he will fit that style. Easy keep.

Ed Jovanovski 55 D
    While his skill has gone down, he still is a great 3rd pairing D, and ol' greybeard is a great mentor for Gudbranson and every young Panther. Vets like him are much needed. Keep.

Tomas Kopecky 82 RW
   Kopecky was the whipping boy for us at Zele this year. His year was average for him, but unacceptable for his cap hit. He makes unbelievably stupid plays. However, the Panthers game announcers and Twitter love the guy. He is a hard worker, but he really just is not good enough warrant his current deal. Not close.
    However, in the playoffs he was real good. He played smart and fast, finally using his strengths.  Kopecky will most likely be back next year. I just hope he plays how he did in the playoffs, and not like the regular season.

Dmitry Kulikov 7 D
    Kulikov's contract is up. But don't fret, he will be back. The young Russian is going to be a force in this league once he figures out how to balance offense and defense. This year he really solidified his defensive game, and I feel next year he will tack on more offense to it. He will be a stud in no time flat.

John Madden 10 C
    If Madden decides to return, I believe he will be welcomed back. He is a good 13th forward, 4th line center. He is a playoff performer and gave the Panthers a real chance. He is a leader and a guy you want teaching the newer guys. His gutsy performance in Game 7 speaks volumes about his character. I hope he stays around for one more year.

Jacob Markstrom 25 G
   He will see a lot of starts next year. If he can build on his excellent play in the AHL and NHL this year, he may be looking at the starter role next playoffs. He's a beast- 6'7'' and quick. He needs to improve rebound control but will be a vital assest to the team's success next year.

Shawn Matthias 18 C
     Matthias has the talent, and he has the size. He just hasn't been able to find consistency in the league yet. I really don't know what to do with him. I have a feeling he will have next year as a final season to prove himself to the organization, that he can take the next step. His contract is done after next year and he will be an RFA. Hopefully he brings it all together and has a break out year.

Mikael Samuelsson 26 RW
    UFA to be. Sammy was a great addition to this squad. However, I think resigning him may be a last priority for the Panthers. They need roster space for their young guys, and I think the reason he came back in the Booth trade was to create that space at year's end. Good year from him though.

Mike Santorelli 13 C
    Had trouble staying in the lineup, it is clear that Santorelli had a bad year. I am a big advocate of trying to move him as part of a package or for a prospect or something. Panthers could use his roster spot and cap hit more appropriately. Santorelli may need a new organization for him to find his game again, much like Ellerby.

Jack Skille 12 RW
   Skille had injury problems all year. Skille was finally coming into his own, but couldn't continue it this season. Skille is Tallon's big draft pick from his CHI days, and I doubt Tallon moves Skille. However, I think it is safe to say he doesn't fit here in Sunrise. I have long been a pro-Skille guy but the writing is on the wall. He should go.

Jerred Smithson 25 LW
    Smithson was a good pickup at the deadline, and he came in handy this playoffs. He has one more year on his deal, but think his future won't be decided until after training camp. If he doesn't appear to be in position to make the squad they will then decide what to do with him.

Marco Sturm 16 LW
    Sturm was a body this year. He started off solid but faded quickly and became an iffy 4th liner. He did nothing for me. He shouldn't be resigned.

Jose Theodore 60 G
    Theodore was good and he was bad. He played a heck of a lot better than I thought he would. He is a big reason they were able to win the division. With one more year on his contract, Jose will split with Markstrom next year. He will be good in this role.

Scottie Upshall 19 RW
   Upshall was brought in to be a top 6 winger with a scoring punch. Too bad he fought through injuries all year. Once he got healthy in the playoffs he earned his way onto the top 6, and by the end of the playoff series was one of the best forwards for the Panthers. Tallon and company are hoping Upshall can stay healthy this summer and next year. He will be back.

Kris Versteeg 32 RW
    The Panthers are very happy Versteeg was able to be the scoring threat he was all year. They went a little off the plan trading draft picks for him but he made the risk worth it. He was one of the most dominant Panthers in the offensive zone. Hopefully the Panthers can re-sign him close to what he made this year. Fan favorite and a must-have to keep this offense potent.

Mike Weaver 43 D
   Weaver is a blue collar D. He is undersized but makes up for it with grit and heart. He blocks a ton of shots and has a high compete level. Weaver just signed a new deal and will be back with the club as a 6th or 7th Dman next year.

Stephen Weiss 9 C
   Oh Captain, my captain. It is pretty clear that Weiss will be getting the "C" next year as he led by example all year. He is good for about 60 points a year, and with a better team next year may get close to 70.

Wojtek Wolski 8 LW
   Polski was a solid pick up at the end of the year. He came in and gave a spark. His shootout expertise was the only reason the Panthers were able to grab a few extra points down the stretch. It is unclear what Tallon will do with him as his contract is up, but I don't foresee him coming back unless he is willing to take a huge pay cut.

Based on my assumptions this looks to be the returning core for the Panthers:
Weiss, Versteeg, Upshall,  Matthais, Madden, Kopecky, Goc, Flash, Bergenheim
Campbell, Gudbranson, Garrison, Jovo, Weaver, Kulikov
Theodore and Markstrom

That leaves 3-4 forward spots and a D spot open for prospects and UFAs. That is a good balance to have room to improve the team and bring in younger guys, while keeping a good core.

Prospects that will be looked at to fill the void:

Jonathan Huberdeau 11 C
   He is a lock to make the squad next year. His scoring was sorely missed at the end of the year. His domination in the Q and World Jrs. this year despite his broken foot shows he will be an immediate impact player in Sunrise next year.

Quinton Howden LW
  Howden was unable to compete for a spot this year due to concussion issues. That shouldn't stop him this year. The power forward put up over a point-per-game in the WHL this year and should make the squad next year. Depending on roster size, he may get a few games in the AHL while Tallon decides on who to move/showcasing a player for trade.

Drew Shore  C
   Shore signed a contract and joined the Rampage for their playoff run once his Denver Univ was eliminated in the Frozen Four. He has 5 points in 13 games in the AHL, which shows he is getting adjusted to pro play fairly well. He might not be NHL ready next year, but he could be a call up next year and produce in that role. By 2013-2014 season he should be a full timer.

Alex Petrovic D
  The 20 year old Defensemen has shown the ability to put up points and stop the other team from doing so. Assistant GM Santos says Petrovic is the most complete Dman in the Panthers organization. He may fight for that 6th Dman spot with Weaver, but if he cant beat Weaver out, outright he should be back in the AHL. Petrovic will not gain much from a spot duty 7th Dman role. My guess is he matures another year before he joins the Cats. But you never know.

Colby Robak D
  The freshly turned 22 year old may be another guy who can overtake Weaver for the 6th spot. He has played well for the Rampage and was an All-star. He has potential to become a big minute eater in the NHL if he reaches his potential. Much like Petrovic, he may not be on the squad if it is only for the 7th spot, as he needs a lot of ice time to keep him on his developmental track.

In all likelihood, Huberdeau and Howden will be the only ones to make the team right out of training camp. The Panthers have a full well to pull from if they need be, but should look to fill the rest of the openings via Free Agency.

Big name Free Agents this year may not find their way to Sunrise, especially the likes of Parise, Weber and Suter. These guys will be highly coveted and may be looking to get into a more traditional hockey market. Suter is rumored to be a favorite in Detroit if ageless wonder Lidstrom hangs up the skates.

Unfortunately the Free Agent pool is weak this offseason, and there are not too many awesome options.

Here are a list of some potential and (realistic) Free Agent signings:

Brad Boyes F
   It was rumored that the Panthers had interest in Boyes at the trade deadline. Boyes would give them a good 3rd line scoring option. If they can get him for a little less than he was making this year and on a short term contract, Boyes has potential to be a good pick up. He had 23 points in 65 games for the struggling Sabres this year, but 54pts in 83 games last year for the Blues and Sabres.

Zenon Konopka C
  Konopka is a 4th line center. He's a grinder. No doubt about it. But he brings the ability to play a lot of penalty kill minutes and win a lot of draws. His snarl is another thing the Panthers could use if they lose Madden and Smithson. He won't get you many points, but he is a character guy every team could use.

Jarret Stoll C
   Stoll has an underrated wrister that packs a lot of boom. He wins draws and until the Kings went and got a few centers, was good for 40 points in the 3rd (sometimes 2nd) center spot. He is more known for his defense than his offense, but given the right wingers could get you 45-50 points.

Matt Carle D
  Carle has been a great puck mover in Philly. When he was paired with Pronger, the two of them were possibly the best pairing in the league. His shot leaves something to be desired for, and he isn't overly physical. He could be expensive in the market since teams that don't win the Suter sweepstakes may over pay for Carle. But if he could be brought to Sunrise for about 4-4.5 million a year, the Panthers would be better for it. This would push Weaver to 7th and give the Cats two smooth puck movers. And if Garrison does not stay, Carle will be needed to pick up the blueline offense. Carle had 38 points in 82 games this year and skated in all 82 games for the second straight year.

Sami Salo D
   Salo has a helluva shot. He has plenty of playoff games under his belt and isn't afraid to take the body. He would be a solid addition to the bottom pairing with Weaver and Salo splitting time as the 6th. He had 25 points in 69 games for the Canucks this past year. His age will help keep his cap hit and years down, making this a good move to solidify the blueline until Petrovic and Robak are ready.

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