Friday, July 17, 2009

Still Here, Still Waiting...

Have no fear, I'm still around. It's been a couple weeks since my last post, and that's mainly because nothing has really happened. Yes, there was that odd Drew Rosenhaus shtick. We were able to sign Leopold, which was nice. The schedule came out yesterday, which isn't really newsworthy beyond the fact that I find out when I make my trips to Tampa (once in the first week of the season, October 12th. Then in January, and then the final road game of the season, which will hopefully have some sort of meaning). For a full report of the past weeks since my last post, check out my Hockey Writers article here.

For now, though, we are patiently waiting a confirmation of a leaked rumor yesterday that had Alex Tanguay coming to the Panthers. Normally, rumors with so few facts behind them would go unnoticed, but then I came across this from's rumor page; "The Panthers denied signing Alex Tanguay yesterday, but what about today? The Sun-Sentinel reported that the internet rumors of a Tanguay signing were false. But spoke to three teams, not including the Panthers, that were interested in Tanguay, and all three said they're no longer pursuing him. That leaves the Panthers, who have shown significant interest and might lock up the winger today."

Certainly worth paying attention to. Tanguay managed 41 points in just 50 games last season, and if the Panthers can get him to come down from his 2008-2009 salary, he would be a much needed breath of hope to the Cats. Imagining a top 2 lines consisting of Weiss\Horton\Booth and Reinprecht\Tanguay\Frolik puts just a touch of optimism back into my outlook. We'll see...

The defence could still use a touch up, as well though, and there aren't many tangible options left. As of now, it looks like this in my mind; Ballard\Leopold, Allen\McCabe, ???\???. There will probably be 3 or 4 guys fighting for that bottom pairing. Ville Koistinen is the only one with NHL blue line experience. I know the organization is hoping for BIG things from Keaton Ellerby, so as of now, he's probably the best option for the last spot. Jason Garrison and 2009 draft choice Dmitri Kulikov will be pushing for ice time, should Koistinen or Ellerby fall off. But wouldn't one more, bona fide NHL defenceman make you breath just a little easier?

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Look Back

The past few days have taken quite a toll on this Panther fan. I've waited a couple days since the first day of the "free agent frenzy" came to close, hoping and praying that there would be some good news developments to get excited about. I'm still waiting, although I feel much better today than I did 24 hours ago.

First, the moves the Panthers did make were all solid. GM-for-now Randy Sexton has done everything that could be expected of him. Re-signed David Booth to a 6-year deal. Re-signed Radek Dvorak for 2 more years. Almost instant reaction by losing backup netminder Craig Anderson by signing Scott Clemmensen. Signing much needed defense in Ville Koistinen and Jordan Leopold, who Sexton claimed to have very little hope of signing just 24 hours before the deal was announced. In fact, Leopold's signing might have been one of the most impressive moves by any GM. Trading Bouwmeester's rights for a 3rd round pick and Leopold, after Bo and his agent publicly announced they were waiting until free agency regardless, is incredible. Everything he did needs to be commended. Imagine trying to convince a player to come to the Panthers, a team that has missed the playoffs for 8 straight seasons. A team that's ownership is in flux and has no full-time general manager. Dreams of signing a Gaborik or Hossa were just that, dreams. What Sexton was able to accomplish was superb. Kudos.

But then there's that painful nuisance... reality. The Washington Capitals, who have dominated the division in recent history, got better by adding perpetual 25 goal scorer Mike Knuble. Tampa Bay now has a vastly improved defense after drafting Victor Hedman, then adding Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker. Even the Thrashers look better, after signing Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina. All this happening while Florida took a step back, losing Jay Bouwmeester, Karlis Skrastins, and Richard Zednik. As it stands now, the Panthers defence is made up of Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, and Jordan Leopold. After that, you have Brian Allen, who missed virtually the entire '08-'09 season. Rounding out the top 6 could be rookies Keaton Ellerby or Jason Garrison. Or free agent signing Ville Koistinen, who despite an impressive Finnish Elite League resume, played only half a season in his first 2 NHL years, and some of those games were as a 4th line winger. For a team who's greatest depth just 3 months ago was defence, it now looks like it could be its greatest weakness. Throw in an offense who will be led by the still-waiting-to-breakout-line of Weiss, Booth, and Horton, and it could be a long year.

There are still free agents out there who could provide an instant boost to my morale. Randy Sexton claims to still be pulling some strings. Steve Reinprecht was a nice addition, and he could be just enough to show the kids-no-more what it means, exactly, to work and earn goals. Booth grew into that last season. Horton showed flashes late in the season he may still have another level. Michael Frolik had a nice rookie season and could be a 25-30 goal scorer. Keaton Ellerby could prove to be the monster on the blue line that the scouts think he will be. There is just so much uncertainty and so many unfilled expectations on this team that it is hard to feel optimistic. I'm praying I am wrong. I do believe there is a strong core. Pete DeBoer showed he might just be the guy that can get these guys to overachieve. I just have that sinking, stomach enveloping feeling that this team is still a couple pieces away from being competitive next season.

The best news of the last week is that we only turned the calendar to July. October's season opening trip to Finland is still a few months away. Months that could see the Panthers fit the puzzle together. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm not quite ready to exhale just yet...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

...And They're Off!

8:28 pm - So it looks as though Florida might be done, at least for tonight. This from Steve Gorten's blog regarding signing a top tier scoring forward. "Sexton said, "I'm not sure you ever have enough scoring, but we're real comfortable with our top three lines. Our top six of Booth, Weiss, Frolik, Stillman, Reinprecht, Horton, we think those guys can score. ...We're very comfortable offensively with those top six. I don't know that you can ever have enough, but I don't think it is the issue it was last year, at least in some people's minds."

So I guess we're going to count on a bunch of 20-25 goal scorers to have career years... again... next season. One would have thought that saving $9 million by not re-signing Jay Bouwmeester and Nick Boynton, there would have been room to sign a top tier guy. But we did sign David Booth long term. Found a quick, and possibly better, replacement for Craig Anderson. Signed a kid in Koistinen that is supposedly an offensive defenseman (who played half a season in his first 2 years in the NHL...). And... oh yea, Dvorak resigned. So I guess it's not an awful day. Then again, we have 4, FOUR, signed defensemen for next season, including Koistinen. Karlis Skrastins remains unsigned. Jordan Leopold remains unsigned. Get those 2 on the roster, and I'll feel a lot better about getting no help for our forwards. Until then... it could be a giant step back from the progress made last season.
5:43 pm - Apologies, I had to make an unexpected return trip to work and apparently missed out on some happenings. First, a replacement for Craig Anderson has been signed; Scott Clemmensen, who made a name for himself last season when Martin Brodeur went down for a lengthy stretch. Clemmensen will reportedly make $1.2 mil for the next 3 years as a Panther. While I have no doubt Clemmy(?) will serve his purpose, the money makes me nervous. We now have nearly $7.5 million in our two netminders. Only one can play at a time... Add to the fact that Clemmensen will no doubt be given a chance to earn the #1 spot, as Anderson was last season. "Play the winning hand," I believe is how Pete DeBoer phrased it. So what happens if Clemmensen continues where he left off last season? We have a $6 million man as a backup, with a no-trade clause? Yikes... Add to the fact that we drafted Swedish phenom Jakob Markstrom last summer, and he is expected to be in the Panthers' fold next season, and it's a scary situation. Although to be fair, not quite as scary as having a backup with zero experience, so I guess I'm happy with the lesser of the two evils. Kudos to Randy Sexton for getting one of the more sought after UFA goalies.

Also, Florida has signed Ville Koistinen, who played parts of the last 2 seasons in Nashville. Koistinen is...well...a defenceman, which brings Florida's tally up to 4 signed d-men for next season. Double yikes. Koistinen played just 38 games last season, and 48 his rookie year in '07-'08. I can only hope that he is being brought in as insurance, in case Jordan Leopold, Karlis Skrastins, and\or Steve Eminger do not return next season. Or if Keaton Ellerby and\or Jason Garrison are not quite ready come October.

More as it occurs...
1:49 pm - hearing reports now that Craig Anderson has signed with the Colorado Avalanche. Should that be true, the Cats are suddenly in the market for a #2 goalie. The Avs have 2 guys who were starters at some points, Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft. Does Sexton try to snag one of them for backup duty? Or do we just sit on our hands and do our anti-injury dance for Vokoun, hope that he stays healthy, use one of our AHL guys next season, and hope last summer's first draft pick, Jakob Markstrom, is ready for NHL duty next season? I would have to think that Sexton will be making phone calls this afternoon... nothing against Chris Beckford-Tseu or Tyler Plante...
1:39 pm - via Panthers twitter page: BREAKING NEWS: The Panthers have signed David Booth to a 6-yr contract extension. Booth led the team with 31 goals last season. More to come...

It seemed just a matter of time before this was announced, probably just hashing out the final money figure and length of contract. Booth had a breakout year last season and Florida looks like they are expecting more of the same from Booth. More 30 goal seasons and a couple playoff appearances and Booth could become the Panther.
12:46 pm - The Panthers have resigned Radek Dvorak to a 3 year deal, according to TSN. Does this mean Ville Peltonen is out? Dvorak was the younger of the two, and most productive. A good sign by Sexton.
12:01 pm - Happy Canada Day! Oh yea, and the "free agent frenzy" is officially underway. Any rumors or actual news that is relevant and\or interesting will be talked about here as soon as I hear about it. Stay tuned...