Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pool Outlook for Florida

The Panthers were so close... so close... to making the playoffs in 2009. The only thing between them and the playoffs was their season series with the Montreal Canadiens. Of course, that really shouldn't make the season of 2009 a complete disaster, as they came away with plenty of hope and potential realized. Sure, it's been a long time coming, but the Panthers of the late-90's doesn't seem like it's far-fetched anymore.

Tomas Vokoun had his work cut out for him and that was just within the confines of his own team. Vokoun was challenged by his goaltending partner, Craig Anderson, all year, but Vokoun still made it into the line-up enough to win 26 games, 6 by shutout and a single assist. Anderson still managed to get in the crease for 15 wins, 3 shutouts and an assist. That's a pretty solid goaltending tandem, but it was just one shutout loss away from a playoff berth.

Up front, the Panthers saw some ups and downs, not to mention some new faces arriving on the scene. Stephen Weiss and David Booth came into their own in 2009, both jumping into the top 100 of the pool rankings, while Cory Stillman and Nathan Horton fell out due to injuries. Weiss and Booth now have a good recommendation for your pool team next season, although, I would be weary of taking them too high, as the balance of the team may not be the same, come the beginning of the 2010 season. A new face to look forward to next season will be Michael Frolik, who had 45 points in 79 GP in his rookie season. Frolik quietly went about his business in Miami and could surprise a few people next season.

On defense, it was a decent year offensively for Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe, who finished with 42 and 39 points, respectively. Bouwmeester played his heart out this season, despite the looming cloud of being traded at the deadline and his new contract negotiations. McCabe took the change of pace in Florida well, but ran into some injury trouble again, limiting his season to 69 games. If McCabe can stay healthy, he can remain a decent pick on your pool team. Other new additions in 2009, Keith Ballard, Steve Eminger and Nick Boynton have all given the team some valuable minutes and may be good mid-season additions to your team in 2010, if injuries arise.

2010 Season Outlook
So far, the Panthers have a good looking core of players to build from, but some of their youth is still unsigned heading into the summer, but they look like they can sign those and try and add some new skill to help amplify their talent already in the dressing room. The Panthers can also look to their minor league system to help them out filling out some gaps.

Stephen WeissBryan McCabeTomas Vokoun
Nathan HortonKeith Ballard
Cory StillmanBryan Allen
Michael Frolik
Gregory Campbell
Kamil Kreps
Brett McLean
Rostislav Olesz
Nick Tarnasky
Shawn Matthias
Wade Belak

The 15 players listed above come at a cap hit of about $38.1 million, which would be underneath the cap floor this year, but would be close to the floor in the coming season. The team will need to sign eight more players to get to the 23-man roster, but they have plenty of room to move to get there.

First things first, when it comes to filling gaps, is to get their restricted free agents signed. Their key RFA's this summer include, David Booth, Steve Eminger and Anthony Stewart. Booth will likely command a fair value with his new deal, which could be in the $3 - $3.5 million range.

The UFA's on the team look a little more interesting this summer, as Jay Bouwmeester, Craig Anderson, Radek Dvorak, Richard Zednik, Ville Peltonen, Nick Boynton, Karlis Skrastins and Jassen Cullimore are all free to negotiate with other teams on July 1st. Bouwmeester will undoubtedly will be the top prize of that pool of talent, especially if the Panthers can't get a signature from him on a new contract. Anderson will also field some solid offers, as some teams will likely chase some goaltending this summer.

It will hopefully be time for Shawn Matthias to show his stuff on a full-time basis for the Panthers, as I thought he would have been ready for a run in 2009. Matthas drew into 16 games for Florida in 2009, but only managed a pair of assists, likely in limited time. Keaton Ellerby, the big defender, may figure into the Panthers' plans in 2010, as they will have plenty of holes to fill on the blueline. He has yet to make an appearance for Florida in his career.

I like the promise that the Panthers showed in 2009 and the management team seems to finally have a positive direction for this team. If they can convey that idea to Jay Bouwmeester in the next couple months, they might be able to re-sign him and keep that little bit of credibility with their team for another season or more. Nathan Horton will need to finally take the reins of the team and be the leader that a young club requires and then lead by example on the scoresheet. I am curious to see how free agency treats the Panthers, but they should be okay, thanks to plenty of cap space.

No comments: