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

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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.

Duchene trade talks quiet, but Avs will ‘listen to offers’

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To little surprise, not much is going on in the trade market. Just ask Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers did just that, and Sakic revealed that he would still consider trading the likes of Matt Duchene … although he didn’t mention him by name.

“I will be listening to offers. Right now it’s quiet on all fronts,” Sakic said. “But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go, with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Considering that it’s mid-August, it’s not too surprising that little is happening. One can imagine that several GMs are more interested in finding drinks with umbrellas in them than trying to land Duchene, at least since the Avalanche don’t seem interested in giving him up without some serious haggling.

(And, really, the Avs would be wise to pump up Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog‘s respective trade values, anyway.)

That Denver Post story features a semi-update on Nikita Zadorov. Sakic told Chambers that the two sides agreed that a two-year deal would be best, but the “numbers” aren’t there yet. He didn’t tip his hand about how big the gap was. For what it’s worth, Sakic didn’t sound too worried about the lure of the 2018 Winter Olympics swaying Zadorov to head overseas.

While a lot of the activity circles around what hasn’t happened, the Avalanche did realize that Will Butcher officially won’t sign with them, while Colorado added a college free agent (and former Maple Leafs prospect) Dominic Toninato to their own mix.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem like something big is brewing regarding Duchene and other prominent Avs, but at least Sakic isn’t slamming the door shut on such a possibility.

Logan Couture’s teeth are still sore from horrifying mouth injury

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Still jarring and gross: the image of Logan Couture‘s mouth after taking a puck to the mouth about five months ago.

Still sore: Couture’s mouth.

Yep, the San Jose Sharks star hasn’t totally gotten over that injury, which forced him to have false teeth up top and some painfully sore ones on his bottom row. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz transcribed the unfortunate details Couture shared with NHL Network this week:

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

As someone who’s endured more than a few unpleasant trips to the dentist, stories like these always lead to queasiness. This classic PHT post about Keith Tkachuk’s agony always comes to mind in situations like these.

Speaking of queasy, this is footage of when things were really bad for Couture. That link is provided because some will inevitably want to look, but treat this like the other gross things on the Internet that you wish you never saw and just move on.

(Seriously, the healing process continues on this end.)

Anyway, about the only bit of good news is that Couture can still train more or less as usual. He endured that injury late in the regular season (March 25), and while he suited up for the Sharks’ first-round series, it sure seemed like both Couture and Joe Thornton were limited in those six games against the Edmonton Oilers.

As much as dental agony seems like a uniquely “hockey” problem, this situation sounds especially rough for Couture.

Sidney Crosby at 30

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Much like with Lebron James, Sidney Crosby is at the point in his career where the question is no longer “Will he be one of the all-time greats?” After back-to-back Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe wins, the discussion is shifting to where he ranks among the best of all-time.

And, like, with Lebron, there are a number of factors – including era, which is probably an even tougher nut to crack in hockey – that can twist and turn the debate.

Mere moments after Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated as champs, Mike Sullivan made the case for number 87’s greatness.

” … You know, he’s arguably the best player of his generation, and he’s a guy that just knows how to win,” Sullivan said. “And so he’s done it in all different venues, whether it be the NHL and Stanley Cups to the World Cup to the Olympics. And he’s a player that — and I believe this, what separates him from others is his work ethic and his willingness to do what it takes to be the very best.”

It’s mind-blowing to consider the very real possibility that Crosby will be viewed as the best player to skate for the Penguins, edging Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, and even Mario Lemieux.

It’s also mind-blowing that he just turned 30 on Aug. 7.

When it comes to the Mario vs. Sid debate that may eventually pick up steam, Crosby has some advantages. He matched “The Magnificent One” by getting those back-to-back titles and playoff MVP nods, while he already has three Stanley Cup rings to Lemieux’s two (and four Stanley Cup Final appearances to two).

Crosby already has an iconic moment to his name. Along with Paul Henderson’s goal and “Gretzky to Lemieux,” Crosby’s golden goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics will endear him to Canadian hockey fans for ages.

This list of accolades is honestly dizzying:

But, again, things get tougher when you try to really drill down to Crosby vs. The Greats. Most obviously since he’s far from done right now.

Circling back to the debate that might divide Penguins fans in particular, Crosby might also edge Lemieux if you correct for our modern era, which is so tough on scoring. NHL.com’s Rob Vollman explains Crosby’s place among the most impressive runs before 30:

From this perspective, Crosby is no longer in a block of a dozen players but in more select company. He ranks third at age 30 with an era-adjusted 998 points (377 goals, 622 assists), well ahead of Lemieux, who is in fourth with 899 points (365 goals, 534 assists). Gretzky is in first with 1,479 points (495 goals, 984 assists) in 896 games, followed by Jagr with 1,018 points (414 goals, 604 assists) in 858 games. (Adding to the distinction of being in the top four with Gretzky, Jagr and Lemieux: Those are the only three players to win the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s top scorer in the 21 seasons from 1980-81 to 2000-01.)  

Interesting. (This quick document has a bit more to chew on.)

Vollman also makes the point that even the all-timers tend to stop locking down the biggest awards once they turn 30. There’s an obvious barrier in Connor McDavid (just check the Hart Trophy odds) and possibly some other bright young players, so for all we know, most of our peak memories of Crosby may already be in the past.

That said, much like Lemieux, injuries have limited some of the stats Crosby’s been able to put up.

Crosby’s concussion history could conceivably prompt him to retire agonizingly early, but what if he instead gets better luck? We’ve seen cases, such as Patrice Bergeron, in which such issues become less of a concern over time. For all we know, Crosby might defy expectations and actually play until he’s 40.

(Hey, he already emulates Jaromir Jagr in being an inanely good puck protector.)

It’s been a special run already for Crosby, who’s already a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s about padding that resume.

Though, to Crosby’s credit, it’s still probably all about winning.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons: two years, $3.2M

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The Buffalo Sabres basically wrapped up their mandatory summer moves by signing RFA Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year, $3.2 million contract on Thursday.

That translates to a cap hit of $1.6M per year; the team confirmed those terms.

The 23-year-old was selected 14th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres. He went two picks after the Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko, whose claim to fame is being part of the package that helped them nab Ryan O'Reilly. (Feel free to cringe at who went next, though hindsight seems especially convenient considering how long it takes to get to some of the whoppers.)

In Girgensons’ case, it’s still been a work in progress. His best years actually came early, particularly a sophomore season where he posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (30) despite being limited to 61 games. He enjoyed significantly higher ice time (19:05 per game) during that 2014-15, then came right back down.

If nothing else, Girgensons already has ample NHL experience, as he’s already played in 277 regular-season games.

Buffalo has about $7 million in cap space left, according to Cap Friendly, so there’s theoretically room to make more moves. Girgensons was their last remaining loose end of note, however.