While many teams around the NHL have had their fair share of hardships, it’s difficult to say that any team is more universally associated with losing than the Florida Panthers. In the midst of their 20th anniversary season, the hapless Panthers have only managed to reach the playoffs four times since their conception. However, even though they lack a winning tradition, the Panthers still have the potential to change their image – possibly sooner than expected.
Even though they are currently blessed with one of the most talented group of prospects in the entire NHL, it’s no longer acceptable for the team to sell the idea that these young players will lead the Panthers to the promise land in the near future. While prospects like Rocco Grimaldi, Vincent Trocheck, and Mike Matheson are all individually gifted, the Panthers have proven to be anything but effective at cultivating young talent throughout their history.
Of the 23 first-round picks in the team’s history, none have come close to reaching the levels of stardom that were expected of them. While part of this developmental hindrance can be attributed to draft day blunders, it’s hard to believe that a team simply could have swung and missed on that many first round picks.
It’s in looking at this list of formerly budding talents that it becomes evident that perhaps the problem doesn’t lie with the players, but rather the atmosphere of the organization, and the veterans that surround them.
Currently, young skaters such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson, and Dmitry Kulikov all find themselves seemingly treading water in South Florida as they try to develop into star players while being surrounded by less than desirable talent. Rather than being worked into established systems alongside productive veterans, Panthers’ rookies continually find themselves in a vicious cycle of expecting to save the franchise upon their arrival to the team. From Stephen Weiss to Michael Frolik and now Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers have once again placed their future in the hands of talented, but unproven sources.
After years of trying to build a team on the backs of underdeveloped talent, the time may have come for the Panthers to implement a new strategy.
With new owner Vincent Viola ready to pump money into the club and General Manager Dale Tallon’s hands no longer tied due to budget restrictions, the time has come for the team to alter the course of the franchise.
Nestled comfortably toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings nearly a quarter of the way through the 2013-2014 season, the Panthers are faced with two potential options when it comes to the future of the team for this season and beyond.
Continue down their current path toward last place with hopes that a high draft pick and potential free agents can get the team on the right track, or make a trade big enough to have a significant affect on the team’s fortunes for the next few seasons to come.
While the first option is without a doubt the safest option, it doesn’t necessarily make it the best one.
Although another losing season would result in the continued bolstering of their already stellar prospect pool, the team would still be left without the veterans that are necessary to nurture these young talents. And even though the team would now have the cap space to sign free-agents, the aura of losing and incompetence that surrounds the team would most likely only attract grossly overpaid mercenaries rather than the kind of talent that franchises are built upon.
With another losing season bound to do more harm than good, the team’s other alternative, although risky and controversial, is to turn to the volatile NHL trade market.
Much like they did prior to the new millennium, the time may have come for the Panthers to once again make a blockbuster trade. On January 17th 1999, the Panthers completed a mega-deal that sent a 1st round draft pick, beloved defenseman Ed Jovanovski, and several other skaters to the Vancouver Canucks for a package that included future Hall-of-Famer and scoring machine, Pavel Bure.
Although Bure’s tenure with the club only resulted in one playoff appearance, his scoring abilities and superstar status brought an element of fear and respect to the Panthers that has been missing ever since.
As the New York Islanders proved last month when they acquired Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres, the cost of a superstar in today’s NHL market is indeed very steep. For Vanek’s services – only guaranteed through the the remainder of this season – the Islanders had to not only part with perennial 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson, but 1st and 2nd round draft selections as well. While it may be too early to tell whether the Isles acquisition of Vanek will result in major success this season, it did set the bar for what kind of return a team can get for an elite player in today’s NHL trade market.
If the Panthers hope to acquire an established scoring talent of their own they would most likely need to part with a coveted draft pick as well as one of their gifted prospects OR current roster player. However, even though both the risk and price may be high, it is only in making moves like these that the Panthers can hope to make an immediate change to the makeup of their franchise.
The Panthers must begin to establish a winning tradition for their promising prospects to come in and help build upon, rather than expecting these inexperienced skaters to create the tradition themselves. Perhaps it is time that the Panthers take a blind step towards the unknown and traverse the road less traveled.
Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!