Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free Agency Just Hours Away

The countdown is on for Free Agency 2009, and the Panthers may actually be an active participant this year. According to GM-for-now Randy Sexton, it will depend on what they can get accomplished with current players before the market opens. With Jay Bouwmeester's rights shipped to Calgary, Richard Zednik having already packed his bags for Russia, and Nick Boynton, Brett Mclean, Anthony Stewart, and Jassen Cullimore basically being told they aren't being welcomed back, that leaves Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Karlis Skrastins, Jordan Leopold, Steve Eminger, and Craig Anderson to deal with. All could be\would be unrestricted free agents tomorrow.

Of those UFA's who were Panthers last year, I could see bringing back Dvorak OR Pelts, but not both. They are both in their mid-30's, and bring the same characteristics. Last year showed that you can have a roster full of good heart\good character players, but if they aren't putting the puck in the net, someone who can needs to be found.

Skrastins would be a nice hold over, but not for the $2.4 mil a year he was making. Leopold and Eminger are younger and cheaper, and personally, I think Skrastins benefited enormously by playing with Bouwmeester. Besides, Keaton Ellerby and Jason Garrison are just waiting for a chance to prove they can play at the NHL level.

As for Craig Anderson... this is the most interesting case for Sexton. Andy feels he is good enough to be a starter. Agreed. He's going to want a raise. Fair enough. The only problem with that is that our current #1, Tomas Vokoun, is the highest paid player on the roster. Spending almost $9 mil on goaltending alone (considering only one can play at a time...) seems ludicrous. So, can Sexton convince Mr. Anderson to ride the pine another year for a minimal raise? The Panthers drafted Swedish phenom Jakob Markstrom last summer for a reason. But Markstrom is still at least a season away, and it would be folly to simply hire a mediocre to poor backup as a holdover. One twist of the knee to Vokoun, and ________ would be our starter. Andy is a solid backup, and if we can keep him for one more year (again, for the right price) then kudos. If not... it wouldn't be a bad thing to go after a castoff starter\backup from the UFA market. A few that pop into mind...Peter Budaj, Brian Boucher\Antero Niitymaki, Martin Biron, Yann Denis all performed well in stints last year. If any of these could be signed for backup money, it would be a nice move.

Of the big names that are out there, there are a couple that make actually make it into the Panthers' locker room. If Randy Sexton wants to make a big splash and gain some big browine points, maybe he'll take a look at these;

Mike Cammilleri - A center (check #1-obvious need), and while he will probably make around $4 mil next season, he provides an instant and clear cut #1 center\scorer. If the Flames are able to sign that Bouwmeester kid, they will have to dump salary somewhere.

Brian Gionta - It's been a few years since he nearly eclipsed the 50 goal plateau, but he has made it known he's looking to become the focal point of a team's offense, and he would certainly be that in south Florida. Again, at around $4 mil, the price could be right.

Mike Knuble - Like Calgary, the Flyers are in salary cap hell. A victim of roster cuts could be Knuble. As close to a sure-thing 20 goal\50 point guy, I think he could also slide in very comfortably to Pete DeBoer's high tempo, aggressive offense.

Be sure to stay locked in tomorrow through the day for any moves the Panthers do make. For a full list of free agents, check out ESPN.com's FA tracker. Until something happens...

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