With $30 million dollars to spend this summer in free agency, Florida Panther GM Dale Tallon has been given the go ahead by owner Vincent Viola to spend money on much needed talent. Talent that can hopefully turn the franchise around and produce a team that is capable of competing for the playoffs year after year, and soon can challenge for a Stanley Cup. Sounds easy right? Because Dale did it once before (in Chicago), he can certainly do it again. Can’t he?
Not so fast my little whippersnapper.
Despite the fact that the Panthers have money to spend, there needs to be a well thought out process of who they make offers to, for how much, and for how long. It’s been said that this years crop of unrestricted free agents isn’t the greatest. Well don’t get your hopes up for the summer of 2015 because that group looks about the same if not worse. Unless you think that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane won’t be resigned by the Blackhawks. Which if that’s what you are thinking stop reading now, move to Bora Bora, and we’ll come get you in a couple of years.
The top two names that come to mind for most people are Tomas Vanek and Marion Gaborik. Both players will command big dollars, and long-term deals. With likely a no movement clause built in as well. Vanek and Gaborik are proven goal scorers, yet seem to disappear at various times for various reasons. Rumor has it that Vanek would love to play in Minnesota where lately they seem to hand out fat contracts like my favorite Greek restaurant hands out it’s home cooked bread. Gaborik has endeared himself to the Kings, and seems to have adapted to coach Darryl Sutter’s two-way system. He’s also surrounded by many other skilled and talented players. Digest all these thoughts before you make the statement that these two players can make an immediate impact on the Panthers and that they should offer the world to them.
The Wild have approximately $22 million in cap space this summer, but will need to strategize carefully since they have 8 players that are UFA’s this summer, and only 7 players signed past this coming season as well. The Kings on the other hand can spend up to $13 million, and are rumored to be buying out center Mike Richards to free up more space, therefore keeping Gaborik is possible.
Vanek was traded three times this season alone after spending eight plus seasons withe the Buffalo Sabres. He has scored 40 or more goals twice, 30 or more goals twice, and surpassed the 20 goal mark 5 times including 27 this season while playing for the Sabres, Islanders and Canadiens. He has a wicked and very accurate wrist shot, has a nose for the net, and is a pure goal scorer who like most, scores in bunches. However he’s known for vanishing at times. Part of his name one supposes, yet his playoff performance this season with Montreal left many Canadian fans with a change of heart on his future. Scoring only 5 times in 17 playoff games, Vanek spent time stuck to the bench during long stretches of games, and was demoted to the fourth line for much of the series against the New York Rangers. He was criticised for his play, or lack of. And at times looked as though he couldn’t wait for the series to end. Is that the kind of player you want to throw $7-8 million per year or more at?
It’s a shame because this is the type of player that could be a game changer for Florida, however if there’s any question about his work ethic, which there seems to be, this is a player the Panthers should stay away from.
Marion Gaborik is a similar player to Vanek. A highly skilled forward who can play either wing, and when healthy and engaged can score timely goals. And lots of them. He’s bounced around in his 12 year career playing for Minnesota, the New York Rangers, Columbus, and now the Los Angeles Kings. He’s had 3 seasons of more than 40 goals, 3 seasons of 30 or more, and has scored 347 times in his dozen seasons. However (you knew the other shoe was going to drop), his problem has been injuries. Knee, shoulder, collarbone, and concussion symptoms have all afflicted Gaborik at various times. Yet, like Vanek he’s still a sought after player, and with his outstanding playoff run with the Kings this season, he’ll command a big salary as well.
Gaborik has completed the final year of a $7.5 million dollar deal that he signed with the New York Rangers, and will be looking for a raise, especially based on his output in this years post season. The down side to this is that Gaborik is at the end of a contract year, and has had other “flashes” of brilliance before. That combined with his injury history, and the fact that he’s 32, going on 33, which isn’t old, finds him on what could be the downside of his career.
The Florida Panthers can’t ill afford to lock up either of these players at the salary they’ll be demanding. They did that once in the Pavel Bure era, and all it did for them was improve attendance for a brief time, while crippling them financially. Bure’s knees were already a question mark prior to his arrival in Sunrise, and by the time he was traded, they were held together with duct tape.
Despite the fact that both Vanek and Gaborik are world-class players, the question marks surrounding them, and the salaries they will demand aren’t meant for South Florida. The smart thing for the organization to do is look elsewhere. Tallon has some holes to fill, and we all know the Panthers are in desperate need of goal scoring and a solid blue liner or two. They need a game changer offensively, however that player likely comes via trade, and should come via trade.
As far as “cheaper” UFA’s go, the Panthers could take a long look at Paul Statsny, yet he’s a center, and that would force either him or a player like Nick Bjugstad to move to the wing. Not a bad scenario, but one that neither player nor team is looking to do. You’re going to stay away from Dany Heatley cause, well, he’s Dany Heatley. You’re likely going to get more value from Matt Moulson who won’t command such a huge price. Moulson who didn’t have a great season is more affordable, and fits the price range as long as he’s not getting more than $5.5 million per season (at least he shouldn’t). I think the world of Jarome Iginla and if he was 32, I’d take him in a heart beat. He could be the heart and soul of your team, and instantly give you credibility. Unfortunately for Jarome, he isn’t what Barkov needs on his wing, he’s 36, and wants to win a Cup before he retires. His time is running out, which eliminates him from the list.
That leaves besides Moulson, a long list of players who aren’t elite, but still very good, who won’t cost an arm and a leg. Dale will have to outbid for some, like a Ryan Callahan, or a Milan Michalek. But what should happen first is a blockbuster trade that involves moving the number one draft pick for an established and proven NHL player that will signal that the Panthers mean business and are ready to compete. Thus making Florida an attractive destination.
The Panthers need a player, or players who are entering their prime, not in it, or past it. They need these players to be hungry to win, have a solid character and a winning and positive attitude. Difference makers.
Tallon’s decisions must be smart and they must be made as ruthlessly as possible. It’s warm and sunny with beaches and year round golf down here. Did I mention no state income tax? But as a former coach of this team once said, too many distractions like those will cause player’s who don’t have the mental capacity to stay focused to think they’re in a retirement home for hockey players.
Dale has to prove that stigma no longer exists.
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