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Appraising the new-look Florida Panthers after a busy free agent weekend

Jul 3, 2011, 10:08 PM EDT

Dale Tallon AP

There were more than a few teams who experienced dramatic makeovers in the last couple weeks or so. The Philadelphia Flyers baffled the hockey world by jettisoning Mike Richards and Jeff Carter then signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a risky, long-term contract. The Toronto Maple Leafs made some interesting moves, including stealing John Michael-Liles from the Colorado Avalanche and Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators.

We’ll get to some of those other interesting makeovers in the next few days, but it’s probably safe to say that the Florida Panthers will be the most dramatically different team when the 2011-12 season begins. (At least as of this moment.)

Let’s take a look at the new additions with their new (often ridiculous) contracts. We’ll also list their 2010-11 regular season point totals for a quick reference in how much the Panthers are counting on … potential.

Newly signed Forwards

Tomas Fleischmann: four-years, $18 million ($4.5M cap hit) – 31 points
Scottie Upshall: four years, $14M ($3.5M cap hit) – 34 pts
Tomas Kopecky: four years, $12M ($3M cap hit) – 42 pts
Sean Bergenheim: four years, $11M ($2.75M cap hit) – 29 pts
Marcel Goc: three years, $5.1M ($1.7M cap hit) – 24 pts

Combined cap hits for five new forwards in 2011-12: $15.45 million
Combined points for five new forwards from last season: 160 points

Forward acquired via trade: Kris Versteeg ($3.08M cap hit for one more year) – 46 pts

source: APCommentary: Well, I guess you couldn’t get much worse than the Panthers’ previous bunch of forwards, could you? That being said, GM Dale Tallon made gamble after gamble that disappointing or developing players will become difference-makers in Florida. Everyone in the hockey world knew that the Panthers needed to get to the salary cap floor (they’re pretty close to $48 million overall as of this writing), so they were expected to over-pay.

My problem is that it almost seemed like free agents held the Panthers hostage. Players didn’t just get more money than just about any other team would give them; they received three and four year deals in the process. Amusingly enough, the best addition might only be in Florida for one season because Versteeg’s deal expires after 2011-2. Tallon & Co. could experience some serious Chicago Blackhawks salary cap crisis deja vu if the team’s promising prospects breakthrough before most of these shaky deals expire.

Major defensive additions

Brian Campbell  – via trade ($7.14M cap hit through 2015-16) – 27 ptssource: AP
Ed Jovanovski: four-years, $16.5M ($4.125M cap hit) – 14 pts

Combined cap hits for two new D in 2011-12: $11.64 million
Combined points for two new D from last season: 41 points

Commentary: I’m not crazy about Florida’s forward and goaltending changes, but their two new defensemen rank as the two most difficult additions to stomach.

Campbell’s contract is one of the worst in recent NHL history. The price and term are so out of whack that he’s become a consistent punchline in hockey circles, but if nothing else, he can still play. “Soupy” makes a regrettable amount of mistakes in his own end and while his production has dipped lately, he still has some serious offensive skills. He wasn’t always on Chicago’s top power play unit but he should get the nod with Florida, so he should put up some points. Not enough to make him worth more than $7 million, naturally, but he might make the Panthers more dangerous on offense.

Signing “Jovocop” for that kind of term and price is basically just as bad. Jovanovski could retire at any time and Florida would still need to absorb his $4.125 million cap hit each year because it is a 35+ contract. Injuries have ruined a player who once brought an impressive combination of offensive skills and physicality to the table so his retirement should be a legitimate fear for Florida going forward. Tallon is high on Jovanovski’s potential to be a mentor, but school teachers could only dream of receiving such a cushy deal.

source: APNew starting goalie

Jose Theodore two years, $3M ($1.5M cap hit)
Theodore’s 2010-11 stats: 15-11-3 record, .916 save percentage and 2.69 GAA.

Commentary: Theodore did an admirable job of resurrecting his career during the last few seasons, but this guy has more lives than a cat. That’s my friendly way of saying that his Hart Trophy keeps buying him chances at top jobs even though he’s best suited as a backup goalie or a 1B.

Theo has been a contract year goalie at best during his recent years and while he put together some decent numbers with Minnesota last season, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers counting on him like they did with Tomas Vokoun. Don’t expect incumbent backup Scott Clemmensen to work any miracles, either.

***

After adding six forwards, two defensemen and a new starting goalie for about $31.67 million, the Panthers should be around the cap floor. Did they get that much closer to finally reaching the playoffs again in the process? Honestly, they didn’t upgrade their team enough to be much more than a bottom seed, especially after losing Vokoun (aka their safety net). The worst part is that their most questionable deals are also the lengthiest ones, making me wonder if their ugly postseason drought will start to enter Toronto Blue Jays territory.

I hate to say it, but the Panthers’ off-season could be the hockey equivalent of a person drowning in quicksand: the more moves they make, the grimmer their outlook becomes.

  1. ginnitti - Jul 4, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    Checking out a yearly salary breakdown of the new-look Panthers heading into 2011-2012 shows that these new acquisitions are not only proven veterans, but hold current contracts with 2-3 years remaining. This was a banner offseason for Florida to date.

    • djhobbesn2o - Jul 4, 2011 at 4:51 PM

      sounds a bit like blind homerism to me, unfortunately, ginnitti. I can’t speak on all those players, but as a die-hard caps fan trust me, tomas fleischmann and jose theodore are not upgrades to anything. Fleischmann is an able player but he’ll never be a legitimate top 6 forward although that looks to be where he’s figured. he’s also coming off blood clots in his lungs so it seems very risky. Jose Theodore is a has been and his Hart Trophy campaign was unworthy. He was a decent backstop behind some very good caps teams but I call him Jose three-or-more.

      Upshall is a good player.

      I’m also a die-hard Redskins fans and believe me I can attest that throwing huge money at veterans isn’t always the best idea. they should have locked up vokoun long term at money he couldnt refuse and they should have been spending money the last few years not all at once. it wont end well i promise you.

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