Black Friday: The Florida Panthers Need to Start Shopping!

At 7-14-5, the Florida Panthers have had a troublesome season thus far, and turning things around seems unlikely at this point.   When comparing the Panthers’ roster to the other bottom-of-the-barrel teams at the moment, there are a few issues that become concerning.

For one, the experience on this team in comparison to the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres makes their record even harder to swallow. The Panthers have not been able to find the right chemistry up front, which has cost them games this season.

With that said, were the Panthers a one-hit wonder in 2011-12?

Even though Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss were a major part of that team, the rest of the roster is relatively intact. Furthermore, the younger players who were getting their feet wet are now more experienced, but have not shown it on the ice.  This was a big reason for general manager Dale Tallon’s faith in his current team, but they have not reciprocated this trust very well.

Tim Thomas, one of the few good things in Florida, was brought in to fill the shoes of Jose Theodore, and so far, he’s done just that.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

So, What’s the Problem?

The big question is, how successful did the Panthers expect to be this season with $20 million in cap space? In the age of “spend, spend, spend”, the Panthers are trying to win games with the lowest payroll in the NHL. While this is not the sole indication of a bad team, it represents how little the team is spending to stay competitive.

The second stingiest team in the NHL is the Colorado Avalanche, who have been able to acquire talented players without losing much, primarily as a result of the draft.

Judging by the players listed below and their current production, the draft has not been all that kind to the Panthers. Other than Jonathan Huberdeau’s Calder winning season, these highly-touted youths have been unable to generate consistent offensive production and defensive responsibility.

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Jacob Markstrom was a disappointment so far this season, getting beaten out by the ageless duo of Tim Thomas and Scott Clemmensen. Markstrom is now in the AHL refining his game, but remains the goalie of the future in Florida.

One bright spot is Aleksander Barkov, the Russian rookie has played well and maintained a role with the top-six unit in the process. Fellow rookie Nick Bjugstad is also starting to come into his own, but their production does not make up for the lack of consistency from the Panthers’ young players.

The time has come to let some go.

Nino Neiderreiter is a great example of a fresh start. After a horrendous start to his NHL career, sometimes for reasons out of his control, El Nino has been enjoying his time in Minnesota since being dealt by the New York Islanders. The Panthers were likely hoping for more production from their young players at this point, but a fresh start could be exactly what they need.

They’ve put a lot of faith in their prospects and tried to bring veteran help to get them going, but the fact is, it hasn’t worked. The veterans are currently carrying the load while the youngsters are still trying to find their place in the NHL.

Given their lack of consistency, the biggest issue is generating offense. The Panthers currently have 56 goals for and 82 against, one of the worst spreads in the NHL. Their powerplay is last in the league at 10.00%, converting just nine times in 90 opportunities. Their leading scorers, Brad Boyes and Scottie Upshall, have just 13 points in 25 and 23 games, respectively.

Judging by the team needs and resources, there are only a few ways to turn this season around.  The Panthers can forgo some of their young players and draft picks to bring some much needed offensive help.

The Answer: Free Agency Market

The Panthers have major concerns in their own end with 11 unrestricted and four restricted free agents on the NHL roster, most notably Dmitri Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. The Panthers only have two defensemen signed through the 2014-15 season in Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski.

Kulikov and Gudbranson are a combined minus-16 with just three and four points, respectively. With Boston College standout Michael Matheson in the pipeline, and the amount of readily-available players on the blueline, the time has come for the Panthers to use their vast resources  to acquire and lock-up some highly-paid, and highly-skilled forwards.

Kulikov has been buzzing around in trade rumors for a little while. The Russian defenseman has suffered multiple injuries but has shown flashes of great play throughout his career.

With that said, Kulikov and Gudbranson need to be split up to balance the lack of experience in their own zone.

The Panthers currently have Campbell, Mike Weaver, Tom Gilbert, Dylan Olsen and Mike Mottau ready to go, with Ryan Whitney waiting for a call-up in San Antonio.

The Panthers need to acquire some much needed help up front if they plan to turn this season around. Some notable upcoming UFAs include:

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Alexander Steen, Marion Gaborik, Jaromir Jagr, Radim Vrbata, Matt Moulson, Mikhail Grabovski, Paul Stastny, Derek Roy, Andrei Markov, Thomas Vanek, Mike Cammalleri and Dany Heatley.

These are all players who, at the right price, could be traded. They will likely ask for the big bucks next season which, sometimes, makes them more dispensable.

Luckily for the Panthers, they’re rolling in the dough.  The two most interesting cases are the Thornton-Marleau duo and Dany Heatley. The Sharks have the young talent to fall back on if the Panthers pay the right price, while Dany Heatley should be considered a low-risk, mid-reward player right now, though time is running out for the current bottom-six forward.

It would be surprising to see the Sharks give up major pieces of the team, and it remains to be seen how desperate Tallon feels to get some offensive talent. However, judging by the list of upcoming free agents, there’s no harm in excessive window shopping, maybe you’ll strike gold and find the perfect deal.

To conclude, you only chase players like Tim Thomas and Brad Boyes if you plan on being successful right now. The Florida Panthers’ problems are very clear, and if they want to turn things around, they must address their offensive inconsistencies. With so much money, resources and upcoming free agents in the league, the Panthers need to act fast. If they fail to do so, bringing in Thomas was nothing more than a hoax, and the Panthers’ organization should prepare themselves for a hard-fought but futile season.