First, a personal note. This is my 100th post, and I'd like to thank everyone that's read and commented. I never really thought I'd stick this out, but I'm glad I have. It's led me other avenues and opportunities I would not have had otherwise. One of those being a contributor for The Hockey Writers. If you haven't yet, please head over and check out thehockeywriters.com. Good site, good features, good writers. The following article was originally posted there....
Jay Bouwmeester; 25 year old defenseman for the Florida Panthers. 6′4″, 212 lbs. Florida’s first round draft pick, 3rd overall, in the 2002 NHL draft. This season; 12 goals. 18 assists. +6.
So that’s what Florida Panthers general manager Jacques Martin has to deal with. The decision he has to make, however, is far more complex then simple stats. His team is on the verge of its first postseason appearance since 2000. Jay Bouwmeester has been an integral part of the Panthers’ success this season. He not only leads the Panthers, but the entire NHL in ice time. A solid defenseman, great 1 on 1 skill, and the speed to create counter attacks in the blink of an eye. So trading the Panthers lone All-Star might seem a bit odd. Unfortunately, it might be the only choice left.
Clearly, Jacques Martin would love to sign J-Bo long term. The latest reports have GM JM offering Bouwmeester $6.5 million a season. But Bouwmeester has continued to rebuke all offers from the Panthers. He would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, free to go wherever he wished, and all signs are pointing away from Florida. So with the fear of losing one of the league’s top defensemen and getting nothing in return, Martin is forced to consider a trade. The Panthers could dearly use a top line scorer. While the Panthers do get contributions from all four lines, they only have one player at the 20 goal mark, David Booth. There is no “go-to” guy. Booth is having a breakout year, no question. But other players that were being counted on to step up into the scoring role have come up short. Nathan Horton has 16 tallies on the year, on pace with his career numbers, but not what the Panthers were hoping for. Cory Stillman has just 11 marks, Richard Zednik also has 11, Radek Dvorak only 8. What has kept this team in the thick of the playoff race has been the balanced scoring and offense from the blue line. A bona fide scorer, a hard working, lunch pail carrying, get the puck in the net in any way possible kind of guy could go a long way for this team. What if Florida can attain a Milan Hedjuk? Jordan Staal? Scottie Upshall? All rumored to be on the Panthers’ radar. Someone that would provide an instant upgrade to the offense? It would obviously have to be something more then a 3rd line guy and a couple draft picks, but is it worth giving up Bouwmeester for the rest of the season?
The other option for the Panthers is to hold on to Bouwmeester, see how far this team can go this season, prove to the All-Star that this team has a bright future, with many more winning seasons to come, and hope, pray, that they can get him re-signed in the offseason. Clearly, this involves much more risk for Florida. Bouwmeester has been the consummate professional, deflecting all talk of his future with the “Anything is possible” answers, not committing to the Panthers, not talking about teams he would like to play for. If he walks, the Panthers will have lost its most important cog in the machine for nothing. But is that a risk worth taking if it means immediate success in the current season? Jacques Martin has kept relatively quiet regarding the situation, although it has become known that teams have begun pitching offers. Martin is listening. If the right deal comes along, he’ll pull the trigger. If he does not see anything he likes, Martin will hold on and do everything he can before July 1st to retain Bouwmeester’s services.
Martin will have a busy offseason, regardless. 5 other current starters for the Panthers will be UFA’s this offseason (Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Richard Zednik, Nick Boynton, Karlis Skratsins, and backup goalie Craig Anderson). Will Jay Bouwmeester be on that list? Or will he already be enjoying his summer elsewhere, looking forward to being a big fish in a big frozen pond. With only 15 shopping days left until Christmas, so to speak, all hockey eyes will be focused on Sunrise, FLA. And when was the last time you could say that?