Justin Ullestad: Jimmy Hayes Not Yet Worth Seven Figures

(Editor’s Note:) This article was written by Justin Ullestad, former intern of the Florida Panthers and founder to Bigplayz.com

Don’t get me wrong; I really like Florida Panther’s forward Jimmy Hayes. He’s a big (6’6”, 220), physical presence on the ice and is willing to do the dirty work in front of the net. But with fewer than 100 games played in the NHL over 3 seasons, it’s hard to make a case for Hayes deserving seven figures in arbitration.

Hayes, who was traded from Chicago to Florida in mid-November, saw his first 50+ game NHL season last year in a Panthers uniform, and managed to record 18 points. However, with a closer look at his production, over half of the points came in the month of February (6-4-10) after both Shawn Matthias and Marcel Goc were traded, and injuries to Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tomas Kopecky, Jesse Winchester moved Hayes into a larger role in coach Horachek’s system. But keep in mind, he spent most of the season on the 4th line with limited power play minutes, and was passed over by AHL call ups Quinton Howden and Brandon Pirri late in the year. 18 points in 53 games is hardly enough to garner “budding star” bridge deal money, but there are other factors aside from his on-ice production that should drive down the price the Panthers are willing to pay Hayes.

With the addition of veterans Derek MacKenzie, Jussi Jokinen, Dave Bolland, and Shawn Thornton, Hayes’ ice time is likely to be cut down from last season when the Panthers needed him to play out of necessity through stretches of the schedule. With theses quality players coming in (ok…that may be a stretch for Thornton at this point), Hayes’ opportunities to sit in front of the goalie offensively, his spot of value for the Panthers, may be diminished greatly. That coupled with the likelihood that Pirri will be playing a prominent role for Florida this season, Hayes could be seeing his fair share of healthy scratches again in 2014 (was a healthy scratch 6 times last season).

Speaking of Pirri, his recent contract extension may be the most devastating to Hayes’ case for a high dollar contract. Pirri, who was too previously in Chicago with Hayes, recorded 14 (7-7-14) in just 21 games with the Panthers, including seven points in the final seven games. And yet, Pirri signed a bridge deal that will pay him $1.85M over the next two seasons ($925K AAV). It doesn’t take a hockey expert to know that Pirri is worth more at this point than Hayes. Pirri is projecting be a top six winger at some point THIS SEASON. Certainly can’t say the same about Hayes.

But just for fun, lets compare the two even more.

 

2014 Stats w/ Panthers Brandon Pirri Jimmy Hayes
Games Played w/ Panthers 21 53
Point Total w/ Panthers 14 18
Corsi % for the year 51.7% 47.5%
Goals For% 5vs5 for the year 57.8% 48.9%

Unknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Pirri being more productive, and flat-out a more important young player for the Panthers moving forward, there is no way that Hayes should/will be getting a higher dollar contract than Pirri.

The other underlying issue with Hayes getting a six digit/year contract is that it sets precedent for future signings down the road. Just imagine the money that the agents that fellow 1st round picks Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad would be asking for if Hayes got a $1M+ contract for 18 points in 53 games. Sure the Panthers have the money right now, but there’s always a limit. And with a number prospect contracts ending after the upcoming season, the Panthers need to make sure they are paying fairly according to production across the board.

Again, I like what Jimmy Hayes brings to the Panthers. But realistically, he is a 4th line player and will likely play 4th line minutes next season, while spending a few nights in the press box.

Bottom line, Pirri got a two-year deal, $925K AAV; Dylan Olsen got a two-year deal, $775K AAV; Hayes should be valued somewhere between those numbers.

For a player who still has a lot to prove at the NHL level, and will have to earn playing time on a much better roster than in 2013, that’s an adequate dollar figure. If he out plays that contract – Fantastic. He’ll get paid in one/two years. But until he proves his full worth to the Panthers and fans, he needs to be paid accordingly.

 

(Usage Chart courtesy of ExtraSkater.com)

How can the Panthers fill their rink?

With single game tickets going on sale early Friday morning, I spurned a debate on the Twitter by suggesting that ticket sales would be on the rise for the upcoming 2014-2015 season. Aside from the usual scoffs at the notion that the Panthers can get people in the building, there were some good points made about the slow but sure culture change that is going on in Pantherland.

It is no secret that I have professed my belief in the “Hockey is the business” model for the Panthers and from what I have seen, the ownership and front office seem to agree. The Panthers have spent big on free agent day and are poised to ice a line-up that they believe to be a competitive one. The Panthers spent big in 2011 and went into the year with a Frankenstein team that ended up winning the Southeast Division. This year the Panthers spent their money filling out a roster with a young and rising core with key and complementary players that will each contribute in their own way.

This orchestra conducted by Dale Tallon and backed by his ownership team all lead up to two variables that directly correlate to one another: Fans in the stands and wins on the score sheets.

Over the last 5 years you can see a shift in capacity percentage at the BB&T Center

Year Capacity Percentage Record
2008-2009 78.7 32-37-13
2010-2011 81.5 30-40-12
2011-2012 86.4 38-26-18
2012-2013 88.3 15-27-6
2013-2014 75.5 29-45-8

Source: http://www.hockeyattendance.com/team/florida-panthers/

A lot goes in to the attendance of an NHL team but the common denominator is always the on ice product. Fans will watch a team that they think can win games. That’s sports fans 101, nothing new. You can see a steady increase in attendance from 2008-2012 that culminates in the season following the Southeast Division Championship and subsequent first round elimination. Unfortunately that momentum was met with the team’s worst finish in 5 years leading up to their worst attendance in the same span.

If the fans don’t expect wins then the team shouldn’t expect the fans.

So what makes this year different? Is this year even going to be different? I’ll spare you the optimistic rant but Tallon’s rebuild is in full swing. The core is there, the complimentary parts have been acquired and the team is poised to ice the most competitive version of themselves that the league has seen in a long while.

The marketing side has done its job to set the tone for the upcoming season. They have started to build fan pride and unity with their “One Under The Sun” slogan. They have created and upheld the buzz of the youth movement with the “Be Here to Witness” campaign. In addition to the posters and social media efforts, Tallon was also fairly blunt about the acquisition of Roberto Luongo being as much of a marketing move as it was a hockey move. Tallon was right to do it; Luongo’s presence has not only excited the fans but brought a media relevance that the Panthers have lacked in recent years.

These actions appear to have the market ready to go for the 2013-2014 season but it ultimately comes down to the on-ice product. The Panthers on ice play will dictate if the initial surge of season-opening attendance will linger or taper off.

When a fan base is used to a losing team and starving for a winning one, the sheer notion of competitive hockey can be enough to bring fans in. I think that this will be the driving force behind the resurgence of the attendance at the BB&T Center. The fans will slowly realize that this team is V.2 of a rebuilt squad that is slowly coming into its own. They will see the dynamic youth, the scoring veterans, the entertaining goaltending and be drawn in as they have in the past.

The Panthers have a tough task ahead of them, but they are primed to surprise and with that the seats will be filled.

Panthers Re-Sign Defenseman Erik Gudbranson

On Thursday afternoon, the Florida Panthers announced the re-signing of RFA Erik Gudbranson to a 2-year deal.

From the Panthers press release:

“Erik is an important part of our young core of talented players who we are pleased to have signed,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the team’s website. “He is a big, strong and physical defenseman who is one of the building blocks for our team. We look forward to his continued development and his contributions to the South Florida community.”

Gudbranson, 22, is a former 3rd overall draft pick in the 2010 draft and kicked off Dale Tallon’s tenure as the general manager of the Panthers. The Orleans, Ontario native is coming off of a career-high 9 points (3G-6A-9P) and 114 penalty minutes.

The 6’5, 216lb Gudbranson, known for his efforts within the South Florida community, was recently awarded the Panthers Community Ambassador of the Year.

 

We welcome your comments and feedback!

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2014 Draft Profile: Nikolaj Ehlers

If there is any player in this year’s draft class that can easily sneak his way into the top five at the draft on Friday, it’s Nikolaj Ehlers of the Halifax Mooseheads. Ranked at 13 by NHL Central Scouting, Ehlers is the top prospect from the QMJHL in a class that is dominated by the OHL and WHL. At the midterm rankings, central scouting had Ehlers ranked at 22. The left winger skyrocketed his way into consideration to be one of the elite prospects in this years draft pool. The 2013-14 season was Ehlers first season of North American hockey and the transition was one that was done with ease. Ehlers was phenomenal, posting 104 points (49-55-104) in 63 games and 28 points (11-17-28) in 16 playoff games earning him the title of QMJHL Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year and Best Professional Prospect.

Born in Denmark, Ehlers’ was grew up around hockey with his father Heinz Ehlers being a professional player himself. The elder Ehlers’ was a ninth round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 1984. Despite never suiting up for an NHL game he played pro hockey around Europe in the top leagues in Sweden and Germany, before becoming a coach and moving his family to Switzerland. At age 11, Nikolaj began his new life in Switzerland and started developing the skills that make him the standout player he is today. In the 2012-13 season, Ehlers got the chance to play for Biel as a 16-year old in the Swiss-A league, the same team that locked out NHL stars, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Kane played on while they awaited their regular jobs to resume back in North America. After playing a few games of pro hockey with men, Ehlers was drafted sixth overall in the CHL Import Draft by Halifax.

The word that seems to follow Ehlers around is “dynamic”. He has incredible speed, soft hands and the ability to open a game up offensively for his team. Halifax looked to fill the void that Nathan MacKinnon left in the Mooseheads lineup when he left for the Colorado Avalanche, and Ehlers did just that. The 104 points that Ehlers scored this season ranked him fourth in QMJHL scoring, right behind his teammate and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Jonathan Drouin‘s 108 point (29-79-108) campaign. Many scouts originally thought that Ehlers’ play was made responsible by Drouin’s top-end playmaking skills, but once Ehlers was moved off of Drouin’s line, he still excelled. Scouts began changing their tune pretty quickly and although Central Scouting has him ranked outside of the top ten, many including ESPN‘s Corey Pronman and TSN‘s Craig Button have Ehlers ranked fifth and sixth overall respectively.

The team that walks away with Nikolaj Ehlers at the draft could be strolling away with one of the biggest steals of the class if developed properly. It’s no secret among scouts that Ehlers needs to put on weight. His 5’11” 163 lbs. frame may help him be a dominant force among teenagers and young men, but will not help him against grown men. It would be criminal to rush Ehlers into the NHL next season. The Danish forward will need to get bigger and stronger, not to mention prove he can carry a Halifax team without Drouin and even their top defenseman, Florida Panthers prospect, Mackenzie Weegar. It may take a year or two for Ehlers to be NHL ready, but the wait will be well worth it.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon made it no secret during his scouting trip in Halifax that Ehlers was on the Panthers radar in some capacity, even comparing him to the draft selection he made in Chicago in 2007, another year where it was looked at as a “weak draft”. That pick was Patrick Kane. The possibility of the Panthers trading down to get a winger wouldn’t come as a shock considering the offers for that number one pick could be of good value and could add a dynamic scorer to the depth chart for Florida. The Panthers lack a true goal scoring threat and the speedy forward might be the right choice for the team if they trade down. Aside from just being a goal scorer, Ehlers reads plays well, is not afraid to go into the corners and is responsible defensively as well, as he saw time on the penalty kill and also led the league with a highly impressive plus-65 rating.

A clip of Tallon talking Weegar and Ehlers (starts at 2:32)

No matter who chooses Ehlers at the draft, he is bound to find himself in the top ten. His ability to dance through defensemen and pile on points will not be ignored. Keep an eye on this prospect for a few years, even if he isn’t NHL ready just yet, when he’s ready he could explode onto the scene. The flashy Dane brings what Tallon described as “an entertainment value” and teams have to put people in the seats. Many factors contribute to a prospect’s successful transition into the NHL but if Ehler’s transition to major junior from Europe is any indication of his potential, then Ehlers very well might have a solid career in the NHL.

NIKOLAJ EHLERS
POSITION:LW
HEIGHT: 5’11″
WEIGHT: 163 lbs.
SHOOTS: LEFT
TEAM: HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS (QMJHL)
UNIFORM NUMBER: 24
NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING RANK: #13 NORTH AMERICA

 

2012-2013 Biel U20 Elite Jr. A 32 26 23 49 34 | Relegation 2 4 0 4 2
Biel NLA 11 1 1 2 0 | Playoffs 7 0 3 3 0
Denmark U18 WJC-18 D1A 5 3 8 11 2 |
Denmark U18 (all) International-Jr 13 7 14 21 8 |
Denmark U20 (all) International-Jr 3 1 1 2 2 |
 2013-2014 Halifax Mooseheads QMJHL 63 49 55 104 51 | Playoffs 16 11 17 28 18
Denmark U20 WJC-20 D1A 5 2 4 6 4 |
Denmark U20 (all) International-Jr 5 2 4 6 4 |

 

 

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Why Gerard Gallant Makes Sense As The Florida Panthers Head Coach

After nearly two months of speculation, and countless interviews with potential candidates, Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers announced on Saturday that Gerard Gallant will be the next head coach of the club. Gallant was among a long list of suitors wishing to become the 13th coach in 21 seasons for Florida, and according to Dale Tallon, Gallant is exactly who he wanted.  This quote from the blog post of Panthers beat writer George Richards describes briefly why this was Tallon’s choice:

“This was a very extensive search,” Tallon said on Saturday afternoon.

“It was a very informative and very successful search. We’re all very excited about this. He has a reputation for integrity and his passion for the game is beyond reproach. Ownership feels the same way I do.”

Gallant played in 615 games during his NHL career, most with the Detroit Red Wings, except for fifty-two games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  For those of you who watched him play, you’ll remember the type of player he was.  Hard working, strong skating, a nose for the net, and never afraid to mix it up.  Gallant played for the Red Wings during a time when Detroit was in a fiercely competitive division with teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues.  Those Norris division matchups required teams to play tough, and Gallant was certainly no exception to that rule, as this video will attest to.  Adding to his toughness, Gallant could score goals as well, putting up five consecutive seasons of 20 or more goals, including four consecutive seasons of more than 30.  If Gallant can infuse this work ethic, and determination into the Florida Panthers roster, the Panthers will no longer be a pushover.
Gallant has also been highly praised for his work with younger players.  The Panthers are loaded with youth, some of whom are taking their first steps in the NHL, and some who will be up and coming over the next couple seasons.  Jonathan Huberdeau will likely be the first Panther player to welcome Gallant with open arms.  Huberdeau had 105 points in 67 games playing for Gallant as a member of the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2010-2011.  As we all know, Huberdeau suffered the definition of a sophomore slump last season, and Gallant’s hiring should have a positive affect on the budding star player.
While many would determine that Gallant didn’t accomplish much while he was the head coach in Columbus, you’d likely be correct in saying that.  However if you take a look at the rosters he was forced to deal with, it’s very unlikely that even a Scotty Bowman in his prime could have done much better.  Everyone deserves a second chance, and Gallant after coaching the Blue Jackets for 142 games over parts of three seasons, and serving as an assistant with two NHL teams, sandwiched around is stint in the QMJHL, has surely paid his dues.  He comes to the Panthers hungry to win, wiser because of his experience, and ready to change the “country club” atmosphere that has plagued this organization on and off for the past dozen seasons if not more.
People in Montreal were quick to express their well wishes for Gallant, and have made many comments that were not only appreciative, but positive, as it appears that Gallant will be sorely missed.  Gallant was known for his solid communication skills, his passion for the game which he was able to translate as a motivator and teacher.  In addition to those attributes his tactical skills were a major reason for the success that Montreal enjoyed this season.  Hats off to Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin for allowing Dale Tallon to speak with Gallant, giving him another chance as a head coach.
The Panthers are in need of everything that Gallant brings to the table.  During his career Gallant accumulated over 1600 minutes in penalties, and despite his smaller size (only 5′-10″), he insisted on stepping up for his team, and never back down from some heavyweights such as Marty McSorely, and Brad May.  Gallant’s nickname is Turk.  You may use that at your own risk.
With the proper mixture of veterans that hopefully will be acquired this offseason, Gallant seems to be a solid choice to raise the level of play here in South Florida, and have a team that works for 60 minutes each and every game.

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Three Free Agents The Florida Panthers Should Consider

We all know that the Florida Panthers have money to burn this summer in free agency, and the hope is that Dale Tallon will be able to land one, if not two marque players in an effort to bring not only scoring, but respectability to South Florida.  It’s a tall order, and there will be much competition for some of the bigger names out there.  Hopefully the Panthers won’t have to over pay too much for any of the players that they’ve targeted.  Besides making an effort to attract a couple of big names to help fill out the top 6 at forward, and a defenceman or two, there are a few players that are flying below the radar that could instantly help this team.

Mayson Raymond is a player that this site has long been a fan of, and is someone that can make the Panthers better immediately. Raymond who last year was ignored by all 30 NHL teams until the Toronto Maple Leafs scooped him up in September, signing him to a one year deal, could fit in very nicely on either the second, or third line for Florida.  Raymond who tallied 25 goals while playing for the Vancouver Canucks in 2009-2010, and scored 19 for the Leafs last season has obviously shown a goal scoring touch.  His speed makes him a dangerous threat, and his ability to play solid two way hockey makes him useful on special teams.

Raymond earned a paltry million dollars last season, and would likely be looking for a 3 or even 4 year deal at this point in his career. He’ll be 29 in September and is still young enough to fit in with the youth movement here, and also brings some playoff experience as well after seeing post season action with the Canucks.  Dale wouldn’t have to offer the moon, yet if Raymond would consider a deal in the $2.5-$3 million dollar range, he’d be a perfect fit.

Devin Setoguchi is a former 30 goal scorer for the San Jose Sharks who has somehow seen his production dwindle.  Playing with the Sharks, “Gooch” scored 84 goals in three plus seasons, and added 14 more in the playoffs.  Devin isn’t big by any means, but can play a power forward type game, as has to ability to play physical when needed.  He had 143 hits last season in 75 games for the Winnipeg Jets while scoring only 11 goals, but wasn’t seeing much time on the top two lines.  Still, he’s a player who we know can score when given the opportunity, and will add a much needed physical element to a Panther team that has been known to be soft.

I don’t think that Setoguchi would be able to command the $3 million he was paid last season, and should come in at about a million less, still has some game in him at 27 years old, which is when most hockey players are hitting their prime.  He won’t be highly sought after either, and could be another “bargain” for Florida.  His physical presence could be something that’s been missing on the anemic power play, as he could plant himself in the crease.  An attribute that’s been missing since the days of Gary Roberts. 

Willie Mitchell is a 37 year old defenceman, coming off of his 2nd Stanley Cup. Though he doesn’t show a lot of flash, Mitchell has been a key part to the LA Kings success over the past 3 seasons. And on the Panther’s blueline, that’s something that’s sorely needed.  Mitchell has also been very durable throughout most of his career, and would provide fantastic veteran presence to help young defencemen like Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen. He won’t pile up a ton of points, but his physicality and shut-down defensive style is something to be desired in the Panthers dressing room.

While the Panthers wait for players like Ian McCoshen and Joshua Brown to become NHL ready, Mitchell could be around long enough to fill the middle pairing till the kids are NHL ready.

The Panthers will enter the free agent market in July with a lot of work to do, and while many want the “big” name player(s) signed, they’ll also have to fill in the roster with “needs”. Any one or even two of these three players can step in immediately and be significant contributors to the club.

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

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2014 Draft Profile: Sam Reinhart

Welcome one and all to the Sam Reinhart prospect preview. /thunderous applause/. This is a continuation of Panther Parkway’s 2014 Draft Profile Series. Considering this piece will be profiling the Kootenay Ice phenom Sam Reinhart I took the liberty of seeking out the sage wisdom of Cody Nickolet. Cody, formerly @WHLfromabove and now @avs_tweets on twitter, is an expert on Canadian Major Junior hockey with a specific focus on the Western Hockey League.

Cody was great enough to partake in an interview centering around top prospect Sam Reinhart, so here we go:

Mike Obrand: For our readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your familiarity with the Western Hockey League (WHL)?

Cody Nickolet:  I’ve worked in the league for the past 4 years, doing a little bit of everything including radio color commentary, managing the communications and community relations departments for the Saskatoon Blades.  Along with that I’ve worked as a scout of WHL talent for a pair of different draft publications, while also maintaining a blog and personal set of NHL Draft rankings featuring WHL players.  This year I also did a bit of bantam scouting for the Blades, which is nice as I get a more hands-on feel for all the players who will be entering the league over the next couple of years.

So now that you all know who we’re dealing with here, let’s get to the topic at hand.

Standing tall at 6’1 and weighing in at 183 lbs, Sam Reinhart has been hailed as one of the top prospects heading into the 2014 NHL draft. Through 4 seasons playing for Kootenay in the WHL he has amassed 101 goals and 153 assists for 254 points in 203 games, including an astounding 105 points in 60 games this past season. Through 29 playoff games he has tallied 26 points including his 23 points in 13 games in 2014.

Reinhart ranks 2nd overall among Bob McKenzie’s April 15th pre-draft rankings, 3rd overall among North American skaters in the NHLs CSS final rankings and 1st overall on the ISSs rankings as of June 3rd.

While opinion on his draft stock differs it is needless to say that Reinhart is a top 3 talent in this upcoming draft.

You know that the Panthers have the first overall selection. Will they use it on Reinhart? Should they? Well…

MO: First off, to be blunt: do you think that Sam Reinhart should go 1st overall in the 2014 entry draft?

CN:  Unfortunately, I don’t think he should.  And that’s not because I don’t like him as a player, I do.  I think he’s just in a bit of a tough spot this year, mostly because of the class of 2014.  It’s not a super strong crop at the top and unfortunately that leaves him in a somewhat bad light.  As for the rest of his competition at the top in 2014, the guy for me is Aaron Ekblad.  Not only is he a do-it-all defender with size, but I’m usually a guy that wants to ensure my team has a solid core of defenceman going forward.  Is Aaron Ekblad a legit 1st overall type of guy in another draft year?  I would probably say no to that too, so it’s not only a guy like Reinhart who might take some undue criticism in a few years when looking back at this class.

Cody blames the overall talent of this class for the lack of a clean cut number one pick, which I agree with. Teams will look at need over flat out ability. The Panthers have a solid crop of young forwards with skill so the time may come to go for the top flight defenseman, as Cody suggests.

Nevertheless, Sam Reinhart is a player that would help any team including the Panthers. Let’s take a closer look.

MO: Can you speak about the play style of the Kootenay Ice and how Reinhart fits in with that style?

CN: This is an interesting question, just because Reinhart has had two different coaches during his time with the Ice.  When he first entered the league he played under Kris Knoblauch.  He was a young coach who played an extremely disciplined system.  They could lock it down as good as any team in the CHL, and they won a WHL title with him at the helm in 2011.  Reinhart was a 15 year old on the team at that time and wow was he ever impressive then.  He was so smart and fit in well as a 3rd line center with a cage on, due to his age.  It’s pretty unbelievable thinking back to those early games of his WHL career.  Since then they’ve hired Ryan McGill, who really lets the offensive guys be creative and likes to play with much more tempo than the previous staff did.  They’ve had an extremely small top 6 in the last couple of seasons and like to play with speed.  That speed has forced other teams to back off when trying to defend, and Reinhart has used his vision, hockey sense and passing ability to shred teams apart.  He’s a great fit for how they play and in the end it’s likely an offensive style that was molded to make a player like him succeed by using his best talents.

This seems like a very good fit from a Panthers perspective. Dale Tallon has preached that he wants an offensive coach who knows how to utilize the talents at his disposal. There is no doubt in my mind that Sam Reinhart would flourish in such a system as he has with Kootenay.

MO: What would you say are Reinhart’s most attractive assets as an NHL prospect?

CN:  First things first, his hockey sense.  In my several years following the WHL and hockey prospects closely, I don’t think I’ve seen a player as smart as Sam Reinhart.  He processes the game at such a high level, really approaches his offensive attack like a game of chess.  He knows where to go to and where to put pucks in order to generate offensive chances.  To go along with that, his passing ability and vision are both phenomenal.  You mix in a shot that’s steadily improved over the last few years and you have a guy that can beat you in a variety of ways, and often does.

I don’t think there’s much more that you want from a prospect. A lot of the time you see that a player has the skills but lacks the sense. In Reinhart’s case you can see that first and foremost his hockey sense is his best asset. The ability for a player to see two steps ahead and act instead of react is something that makes a star NHL player.

MO: What would you say are Reinhart’sleast attractive assets as an NHL prospect?

CN: His skating has always been an area that I looked to as an area that needs to improve.  He’s a fine skater at the junior level, but he’s not an overly dynamic player.  There aren’t too many games where I’ve seen him blow by defenders or catch guys flat-footed.  I think his stride is ok, I just think it will take some time for him to get a stronger lower body and to work on his explosiveness and footwork.  If he can ever get that part of his game to an “above-NHL-average” level, he could be an extremely dangerous weapon to have.

Strength comes with time and Reinhart has just that. As he continues to grow and train with NHL players with NHL regimens you’ll see that leg strength come into play. Chances are he won’t reach the elite level in terms of his skating but I don’t think that will hamper his career as an NHLer.

MO: How high is Reinhart’s ceiling? What role do you project him to fill when he reaches his prime?

CN: I think he has the ability to be a middle of the pack 1st line center. That might sound harsh, but I think he could end up being a guy that’s not quite a top 10 center in the NHL, but is more of a guy who is ranked 10-15 in that area of the league.  I don’t see him as a true franchise cornerstone guy, even though I’m sure some scouts do.  Ideally for me he would be a guy that is one day a fantastic second line center on a championship-caliber team.  I think he’ll be a captain of an NHL team one day and a guy that can play first line powerplay minutes and also someone who can kill penalties if you need him to.

Obviously if you’re picking somebody first overall you want them to be a franchise player. The perceived weakness of the draft class may be hurting Reinhart here but I think it would be perfectly acceptable for a team to select this type of potential 1st overall should the team need these services and talents.

MO: Is Reinhart NHL ready?

CN:  This is a tough one.  I think it really depends on the team and situation he ends up in.  If you just analyze his game, he’s very close.  He’s so smart and can think his way around the ice.  But, can he get around the ice well enough as an 18 year old?  That’s debatable, but probable.  Can he match up physical against grown men as an 18 year old?  That’s also debatable, but less likely to be probable.  I think if Reinhart was going to an established team that could insulate him effectively and protect his minutes, it would be an easy yes for me.  But, if he ends up with a team like Florida or Buffalo or Edmonton, teams who lack some size, depth and experience up front, things get more tricky.  In the end, with a gun to my head, I say Reinhart plays in the NHL in 2014-15. 

Slotting a player in based on need isn’t necessarily the best way to go when it comes to developing prospects but if a player is going to help you win then it shouldn’t be a question. As a winger, Reinhart can slot into the Panthers lineup immediately and make a difference but I don’t think he is best suited there as Cody indicated above.

It might be a blessing in disguise for Reinhart as the Panthers’ do have great depth down the middle. Another year in Kootenay could help his strength and stock before cracking the NHL down the middle later on his career.

Is a center what the Panthers need most with the top pick? I don’t believe so, but a player of Reinhart’s caliber is something that no team can afford to pass on.

Luckily, or unfortunately, for the Panthers it is their choice to make.

A big thank you to Cody Nickolet for the interview.

Two Free Agents Who Don’t Make Sense For The Florida Panthers

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.

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

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Who Is The Right Coach For The Florida Panthers?

Good things come to those who wait.  Haste makes waste.  One of those two phrases will come into play here with the Florida Panthers as their search for a head coach continues. As of Friday, we learned that general manager Dale Tallon has interviewed as many as 10 candidates for the head coaching position with Gerard Gallant and Ron Wilson being the most recent. Now that Dan Bylsma has been let go by the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is believed that Dale is, or has already reached out to him. Adding Bylsma and Wilson to an already long list of candidates shows that Tallon is doing his due diligence in his search for the right man to lead this team. Even assistant coach John Madden has a remote chance for the opening. That being said, who really is the right man for the job?  And will this extensive and thorough search prove to be a valid one?

Without naming names at this juncture we can all state our wishes for the type of coach we think is a good fit.  Everyone knows that the previous three coaches had no NHL experience.  Peter DeBoer, Kevin Dineen and Peter Horachek all had some success at levels below the NHL, but unfortunately that success never really translated to the big league.  The last Panther head coach who had experience was Jacques Martin who did so well as a head coach he was fired, only then to be hired as the GM.  All that manuever did was prolong the tailspin the organization was in.  That ownership group is long gone, and new owner Vincent Viola is here now to right all those wrongs and put a winner together.

Yet South Florida hasn’t been a great market to attract coaches recently, and many of the one’s available seem to have some skeletons in the closet, which isn’t uncommon.  That includes Marc Crawford, Ron Wilson, Gerard Gallant, and even Bylsma. However as we all know, most coaches have a short shelf life, unless your name is Barry Trotz, who was apparently the only choice for the Washington Capitals.  While each of the aforementioned names, as well as some others have done well at various levels, the next choice must be the right choice.

We can give a Gallant a second chance, or a Bill Peters a first chance.  These are two names who’ve been successful in the minors, but not at the NHL level, or haven’t had an opportunity yet.  No offence to either candidate, but haven’t the Panthers done enough of that? Men like Crawford and Bylsma have won Stanley Cups and have experience, but one is well-traveled (Crawford), and the other has kinks in his armour (Bylsma). Ron Wilson has won over 600 games, but doesn’t trust young players, and has a very acerbic personality.  And let’s face it, after all is said and done, the one you want, may not want you…….

As we head into what is likely the home stretch in the decision making process it’s important to choose a coach that has the ability to take this team to the next level.  There can be no middle ground in this whatsoever.  This coach needs to be good with rookies, and young players since we have so many. He must also have the respect of the veterans who may sometimes need to be the buffer for the younger players.  This next coach must know how to win, be hungry to win again, and be able to get his players to go to the wall for him and each other, game after game.  The best examples of that are Darryl Sutter with Los Angeles and Joel Quenneville with Chicago.  They hold their players accountable, are respected, and know how to win.  They are capable of making in-game adjustments that lead to success.  Their players believe in them, and the system that they bring.  You think it’s easy to coach a team of superstars?  It’s not as easy as rolling four lines.  It takes much more than that and both Darryl and Joel have demonstrated they are more than capable of stirring the drink.

The occasional fan likes to see someone given a chance, and see a fresh face.  That’s nice and is a popular choice many times.  While the dedicated, or diehard fan wants a more stern approach with someone who will crack the whip when needed.  The Florida Panthers future is riding on this decision.  While South Florida has a lot to offer anyone as far as its weather and no state income tax, those aren’t necessarily trade offs if the team can’t produce a winner.

The team needs a leader behind the bench who offers guidance, and has experience at all levels and in all situations.

The list is short.  The margin for error is thin.  The future rides on this choice.

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

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Florida Panthers Coaching List Getting Slimmer

With the 2014 NHL draft less than 30 days from now, the list of candidates for the head coaching position for the Florida Panthers has grown slimmer. When this writer posted this article on April 30th, the list of potential candidates was fairly long, and the choices seemed fairly reasonable. Since that article was posted there were 13 candidates, and that list is now down to 9. And I’m not so sure that I like 50% of the names.

Barry Trotz was just hired by the Washington Capitals, with rumors that Claude Noel (never really a candidate) will come on board as an assistant. Peter Laviolette was hired earlier this month by the Nashville Predators, in hopes to revive their offensive game. Randy Carlyle was thankfully extended by the Toronto Maple Leafs. (We appreciate that very much!). Larry Robinson was named director of player development in San Jose, so he’s not going anywhere either. And finally, Ken Hitchcock was given an extension in St. Louis, which is a good thing since there aren’t nearly enough Shake Shacks in South Florida to keep him happy.

That leaves us with Guy Boucher, John Stephens, Dan Bylsma (pending new GM’s decision), Terry Murray, Ron Wilson, Marc Crawford, Jeff Blashill and Mike Keenan. Keenan just won a championship in his first season behind the bench in Russia, and he’s likely not leaving, so don’t get nervous, fans. Two other names who weren’t on that list who became available are John Tortorella, who was relieved of his duties after just one season with the Vancouver Canucks, and Kirk Muller, who was just hired by the St Louis Blues as an assistant coach.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said earlier that he’d like to hire an experienced and offensive minded coach. That almost rules out Guy Boucher, who isn’t necessarily all that experienced, and is a touch defensive minded. However he brings a no-nonsense attitude, which is something I believe this organEYEzation needs.  Hab fans were clamoring for Boucher to take over for Jacques Martin and with good reason.  Boucher does have many good qualities, and deserves another chance after a short-lived run in Tampa Bay with the Lightning.

The Panthers decision on the next coach is more important than what they do with the upcoming first round pick. Rumors are that Tallon is listening to offers, and he should, as long as it gets the team a proven NHL ready player. That said, the next coach should be the coach that is expected to take the team to the next level and not be a bridge till the youngsters grow up.

Tallon has also indicated he’d like to have John Madden stick around as an assistant, and will hopefully be able to influence the coach that he hires to do so. However, that may or may not be a condition of hiring, you’d have to think that a coach is going to want to name his own assistants.  But it’s not entirely out of the question.

The Panthers as we know need help with special teams, as last year’s roster failed miserably in both power play scoring, and penalty killing efficiency. The defense when playing 5 on 5 was below average, and the team struggled to score goals, and was consistently taking the first 20 to 25 minutes of each game to find their legs. All that said, this choice, and the person(s) who comes in will have their work cut out for them. The staff will have to be detailed, be able to motivate, and prepare a youthful roster that is expected to mix in some veteran leadership, and get this team to play a full 60 minutes.

The two names I keep hearing the most are Ron Wilson and Marc Crawford. They are both experienced, tough, and offensive minded. Although in the dressing room, Wilson can be a bit more “offensive” than Crawford, if you get my drift.

For my money, I wouldn’t mind seeing Crawford get the job with John Madden as one of the assistants. If Madden is able to stay on, I think that makes an interesting combination. Crawford has won before, and would be a respected coach. Madden is well liked, intelligent, and can help instill the work ethic needed to build a winning culture.

The answer to whom gets the job should be coming soon, and while it might be a waiting game to see what happens in Pittsburgh with Bylsma, it would be nice to know the fate of the Panthers sooner rather than later. You want your input from your coaching staff on the draft, and how you want to build your roster, and which free agents to go after that fit the coaching style.

There hasn’t been an offseason with this many important decisions that need to be made in quite some time.  Making the right one’s and not the popular one’s will move this team forward.

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankRekas

For All Your Florida Panthers’ Updates Follow Panther Parkway on Facebook

Follow Panther Parkway on Instagram @ PantherParkway

 

 

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