At the Florida Panthers’ official website, you’ll see the team’s new slogan: New Players. New Passion. New Panthers. We See Red.
Along with the new slogan and the new red motif are the pictures of the Panthers’ new players: Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Jose Theodore, and Matt Bradley. The number of new players on this team gives it the look and feel of an expansion team following a dispersal draft, just like when the Panthers joined the league back in 1994 and added the likes of John Vanbiesbrouck, Scott Mellanby, and Paul Laus. After all, GM Dale Tallon was forced to become the league’s busiest general manager so that the Panthers would reach the newly lifted cap floor, a policy enacted to ensure that a team like the Panthers didn’t end up with the same number of points as the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques.
Will these signings and trades make the Panthers a legitimate Eastern Conference playoff team, or will they turn out to be merely stopgap solutions to keep the team in a similar state where they were several years ago: Not good enough to make the playoffs, yet not bad enough to compete for the first overall pick. Remember that this is a Panthers team that now has third overall picks from the last two drafts – forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Eric Gudbranson – waiting in the wings. Quinton Howden and Nick Bjugstad, who were later first-round picks in 2010, are also an important part of the Panthers’ future.
How will all these moves affect the players moving onto the Panthers? None of these players should be considered elite fantasy options, and I know I’m stating the obvious in saying that no one on the Panthers last season was even remotely close to being elite. In other words, I won’t be writing about how LeBron James and Chris Bosh will affect the fantasy value of Dwyane Wade and the rest of the basketball cousins of the Panthers, metaphorically speaking. Still, the Panthers have been one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason, which is why I feel so inclined to report on the offseason developments in South Florida.
Let’s start in net, where the Panthers clearly took a step back with the loss of the team’s best player for the past few seasons, Tomas Vokoun. Theodore has to be considered the favorite to start the Panthers’ opening night game, but he definitely won’t start as many games as Vokoun during his time with the Panthers (minimum 57 games started per season over four seasons). In fact, Scott Clemmensen may have more of a say in the goaltending situation than he has in his two seasons with the Panthers. Don’t forget about Clemmer’s play two seasons ago filling in for Martin Brodeur (25-13-1, 2.39 GAA). This could be a true goaltending battle throughout the season, meaning that fantasy owners shouldn’t touch a Panthers goalie until most of the other starting options are gone. Don’t forget that both Theodore and Clemmensen are keeping the seat warm for goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom, who could be the starter as early as 2012.
On defense, Campbell could see even more minutes than the 22:59 that he averaged with Chicago last season. The Panthers are a team that seem to ride their top defenseman good, as both Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe saw monster minutes during their time in Florida. Campbell’s 27 points were a massive disappointment last season, given his $7.1 million contract, but he should still hold some solid value as a defenseman to pick in the second half of your draft. Jovanovski returns to the team that made him the first overall pick back in 1994. His season was even worse than Campbell’s last season (14 points in 50 games), and Jovo-Cop is too banged up at this stage of his career to be the scorer and hard-hitting d-man that he was in his first Florida stint. He will likely see plenty of minutes as well, but it’s best to stay away given his current situation. Dmitry Kulikov’s value as a power-play force could fall short-term, especially with the addition of Campbell.
How the new forwards shake out on the forward lines with the returning Stephen Weiss and David Booth is anyone’s guess. You can’t say that any one of these forwards is a true NHL first-liner. Having said that, the forward with the best opportunity is Fleischmann, who was smoking hot during his time in Colorado (21 points in 22 games) before a blood clot in his lungs ended his season. The possible downside to Fleisch is that he won’t have the quality of linemates in Florida that he did in Colorado, meaning that we shouldn’t expect point-per-game totals this coming season. Besides the three previously mentioned forwards in this paragraph, Versteeg and Upshall are likely worth considering in the late rounds of fantasy drafts. Bergenheim is the playoff hero, but Chris Kontos and John Druce will tell you that has nothing to do with future success. Kopecky had flashes of brilliance during his time in Chicago, but he has never been able to be a sustained reliable fantasy option. The forward whose fantasy value likely suffers the most is Mike Santorelli, an unlikely 20-goal scorer from last season who was primed for a more significant role before the bucketload of signings. But then again, it’s anyone’s guess as to who goes where on these forward lines.
The best case scenario for the Panthers would be for the club to sneak into the playoffs as the number 7 or 8 seed. After all, they are missing that marquee player or two that the successful teams have, plus chemistry can be difficult to find when the pieces are literally thrown together. A playoff berth would be a good thing for the Bettman market of Florida, where they are desperate to get butts in the seats and host a playoff game for the first time in a decade. But let’s be honest: The Panthers seem to be covering up the inevitable rebuild by signing all these free agents, while perhaps denying the kids a chance to prove themselves right away. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the way to win the Stanley Cup is to build through the draft, not through free agency. The Panthers will be going about it all wrong if this new group of players leads to more years of 20th-place finishes.
Have your team’s offseason moves made you pumped for the upcoming season? Are you thinking that you should be your team’s GM instead of the goofball that currently holds that spot? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and he may just hook you up on writing about your team. Or he may just do it himself, if you prefer.