The Florida Panthers organization made headlines before the Olympic break when a letter from co-owners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel to season ticket holders called out the team and promised big changes. One change was made before the break, sending Dominic Moore to Montreal in exchange for a 2nd round draft pick in 2011.
Well, the freeze was lifted last night, and the Panthers got right to work. Defenseman Jordan Leopold was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a 2nd round draft pick in this summer’s draft. Leopold (or at least his rights) was acquired last offseason in exchange for Jay Bouwmeester rights and a 3rd round draft pick in the 2009 draft.
Whether GM Randy Sexton is acquiring draft picks in the hopes of being able to deal them for actual players this summer remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. He has promised that there won’t be a “fire sale” at the deadline, but this won’t be the last move the Panthers make between now and 3:00 pm Wednesday. Rumors have been swirling around the Panthers all through the break, and Sexton himself has said that no one is untouchable. Realistically speaking, one would think there are at least 3 guys off limits; David Booth, who signed a 6-year deal last summer and was being marketed as the face of this franchise before an October concussion knocked him out for 40+games, Michael Frolik, who has struggled a bit lately after an impressive rookie campaign, but due to the fact that he’s only 22, he figures to be in the long-term plans, and Dmitry Kulikov, the first round selection in 2009 who made the team out of training camp and has put together a solid rookie season on the blue line. Other than that… if an offer too good to pass up comes along, Sexton may just pull the trigger.
Of those rumors that circulated, there are a few that probably hold water. Dominic Moore and Jordan Leopold were both upcoming unrestricted free agents, so dealing them now was somewhat a given. That would lead some to assume Dennis Seidenberg is next to go. It’s once you get past there that things get interesting. Tomas Vokoun may bring back the greatest return, but he’s the only reason the Panthers remain (somewhat) in the playoff picture. He also has a no-trade clause, but has come out and said that he would waive it if the right situation presented itself. While the February climate in south Florida certainly beats that in, say, Chicago, it’s hard to imagine much reason for Vokoun to want to stay. The Panthers have been among the league leaders in shots against since Vokoun arrived, and with a restructuring on the way, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t going to trend down. And with Jakob Markstrom tearing up the Swedish Elite League and presumably heading state-side next season, the Panthers might be able to afford giving up the Czech netminders.
Another “big name” that might go is Nathan Horton. While it’s hard to call him a disappointment since he was the Panthers’ 1st round, 3rd overall choice in 2003, you always get the feeling that he’s not giving you everything on a consistent basis. While he possesses a lethal wrist shot, he often looks to make the extra pass first, and then shoot. There is no denying his talent, which may be able to bring a nice return from a team looking to add that extra half goal a game going into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Horton suffered a broken leg January 23rd and just started skating again during the Olympic break practice sessions. It would be a semi-major move if the Panthers traded Horton, as he’s been one of the front men for the Cats since he was drafted. Then again, this is a band that hasn’t made the playoffs since he was drafted, either.
Other Panthers on the block could include veterans Cory Stillman and Steven Reinprecht. Rostislav Olesz and Greg Campbell have also been through the rumor mill. The problem with this duo is that they are all having down years and might be hard to get someone to give up a draft pick in exchange. The only thing that is certain is that Randy Sexton’s phone will be chewing up minutes over the next 48 hours. It’s up to him how much he swallows.