It's a subtle strategy, but I see right through you Dale Tallon. Yes, you're spending lots of money. Yes, you're bringing in lots of free agents. Yes, the optics are that you have made yourself a competitive team. But I know what you're really doing. And might I say, sir - it's brilliant.
Tallon has already proven that he can build a winning hockey club. A Cup-winning hockey club. Is he doing it again? It's not that easy this time, because Chicago had a dormant fanbase that re-awakened at the first sign of winning. The Florida fanbase is just plain dying. But it's a four-year plan.
In the meantime, load up on some of the better free agents out there, get to the salary floor, and whichever player overachieves - trade him in February. For draft picks. He didn't overacheive? Well, that's fine too. Maybe next year he will. In which case trade him at that time - again, for draft picks. Or perhaps prospects? Even better.
If, in the off chance, a hidden gem is uncovered (the way Patrick Sharp was, in Chicago), then you add him to your rebuilding model. For this, I'm thinking Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann. You build your team around the hidden gem (the guess here is Flash), the high-priced veteran (Brian Campbell), the franchise goaltender (Jacob Markstrom), the potential star forward (Jonathan Huberdeau) and the stud defenseman (Erik Gudbranson). Fill in the rest of the holes from within. Four years from now, most of these contracts are up (or the players will be traded, as I noted above). The Panthers have another three drafts with which to add to the young core.
Markstrom, Huberdeau, Gudbranson, Campbell and the hidden gem (Fleischmann?).
The most promising youngsters (defensemen):
Colby Robak, Dimitry Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby, Alex Petrovic
The most promising youngsters (forwards):
Shawn Matthias, Evgeni Dadonov, Jack Skille, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden, Drew Shore, John McFarland, Michal Repik
If two of those defensemen and three of those forwards pan out, you have yourself a core of 10 players. Add four more thanks to the next three drafts, one or two free agents over the next three summers and voila! You have yourself a contender.
But how can the Panthers get a reasonable draft pick, considering they have just beefed up their team? That's the beauty of what Mr. Tallon has done. He has made this team competitive, but added a terrible goaltender! Hell, Scott Clemmensen with Markstrom as the backup make a better tandem than Jose Theodore starting 60 games! But at the same time, fans can't criticize him for it. After all - Theodore is a former Hart Trophy winner, right? So optically, it looks as though Tallon is icing the best team that he can. But realistically, the team will still get a Top 10 pick next year.
Prediction: Four of the free agents/recent trade acquisitions are traded before the deadline for picks and/or prospects.
Prediction II: The Panthers continue to struggle in their market. I can only hope that fans hang in there for three more years. If so, they will be rewarded.
Possible Line Combos:
Booth - Weiss - Fleischmann
Upshall - Matthias - Bergenheim
Kopecky - Santorelli - Versteeg
Dadonov - Goc - Skille
Bradley - Kennedy - Repik
It's unfortunate that, for the second year in a row, Kennedy doesn't get a real shot. He's already played a full NHL season, why would a simple arbitration ruling banish him from this league? Unfortunate. I also hope that Matthias does not get pushed down the depth chart. Fortunately, the team is high on him, but he needs to build on what he was doing before breaking his ankle in February. I'm also implying that they wait one year on Huberdeau. A struggling team would play him. But the Panthers have added enough depth that they can let him develop for another year. Besides, he may help them win, and we can't have that can we?
Possible d-man depth chart:
Campbell - Gudbranson
Jovanovski - Kulikov
Garrison - Ellerby