The Florida Panthers underwent an extreme makeover during this off-season, but it remains to be seen if the results will echo a cliched nerd-turned-babe transformation from teen dramas or if they’ll look like Mimi from the Drew Carey show. Whether the experiment turns out to be a success or a failure, let there be no doubt that the Panthers took plenty of wild gambles this summer.
One of the biggest ones involved handing former Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche winger Tomas Fleischmann a hefty four-year, $18 million contract.
The biggest risk of a summer full of risks?
If anything, that signing is the poster child for the Panthers off-season risks: a significant overpayment – something lesser teams occasionally need to do – with a less-understandably risky term for a player whose potential vastly outweighs his resume.
Aside from wildly injury prone defenseman Ed Jovanovski, Fleischmann poses the biggest injury risks of any newly signed player. He might even be a bigger risk in the eyes of some considering his struggles with blood clots (in his lungs) last season and that he also missed 11 games after dealing with deep vein thrombosis in 2009-10. The Panthers are confident that those worries are behind him – citing departed goalie Tomas Vokoun’s rebound from blood clots for one thing – but there’s no denying the worrisome reality that the Czech-born winger will spend the rest of his career on blood thinners.*
Despite those obvious worries, Panthers GM Dale Tallon is clearly tantalized by What Could Be. Fleischmann showed flashes of brilliance with the Capitals and then nearly produced a point per game rate in his brief time with the Avs (eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points in 22 games) before those blood clot issues shut his season down. Tallon named Fleischmann as the most exciting signing of a summer of reckless spending.
When asked which player he was most excited about signing this summer, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon’s eyes lit up as he pointed across the room.
“Tomas Fleischmann,” Tallon said with a smile, “is going to be something special.”
Snarky aside: I wonder if Tallon’s eyes will light up when he provides injury report updates next season? Anyway, moving on …
After missing so much time last season — Fleischmann had averaged 72 games over the previous three seasons before appearing in just 45 last year — Fleischmann said he cannot wait to jump back onto the ice. Fleischmann is going to be asked to carry a big part of the Panthers’ offensive load, but he said with talented forwards such as Booth, Stephen Weiss, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg around him, he doesn’t think he’s going to be overburdened.
“He hasn’t reached his peak yet,” Tallon said, “and his numbers are just going to go up. He’s a very skilled guy who makes other players better. With [defenseman] Brian Campbell on the back end, he’ll score or make plays if they focus on [Fleischmann]. We have a lot more weapons, a lot more options on this team than we’ve had in the past.”
The Panthers will need his scoring to progress next season
I have some serious reservations about calling the Panthers a vastly improved team because their defense – while more explosive – might be just as leaky as last season and they faced a dramatic drop in goaltending talent from Vokoun to Jose Theodore. But even if it’s by sheer numbers, the Panthers’ offense should be far more dangerous. Campbell gets a lot of flack for his absurd contract, but he’s a legitimate offensive talent who should be a serious catalyst for scoring chances (especially since he should receive the top power play time in Florida after Duncan Keith took those top minutes in Chicago).
The ultimate question is if they’ll be able to score enough to mask their problems in their own end. The Panthers would require a lot of positive reactions to a lot of “if” scenarios and Fleischmann ranks as possibly the biggest wild card of them all. If nothing else, the Panthers will have one thing they severely lacked during the last few seasons: intrigue.
* – Let’s hope that paragraph is the most depressing one that appears in PHT today.
(H/T to Rotoworld.)