Panthers gamble on Peter Mueller with one-year deal

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Considering how shallow (and risk-heavy) the NHL free agent market is, Peter Mueller struck me as one of the most interesting gambles of all the unrestricted guys below the “obvious star” level. Renaud P. Lavoie reports that the Florida Panthers decided to roll the dice with the promising-but-concussion-plagued winger, handing him a one-year contract worth $1.725 million.

GM Dale Tallon hit the jackpot with one of his injury risks last summer as Tomas Fleischmann set career-highs with 27 goals and 61 points. Naturally, concussion and blood clot issues aren’t the same thing, yet the Panthers aren’t making anywhere near the investment in term or dollars for Mueller.

As of this moment, Mueller’s salary would make him the sixth-highest paid forward, which probably makes sense since the Panthers probably envision him – ideally – as a top-six guy.

Still, there is some risk involved. Mueller’s concussion issues limited him to 32 games last season and wiped out his 2010-11 campaign completely. Wasted money would still be wasted money if he can’t play a game.

Even so, Mueller’s potential is tantalizing. He was the eighth overall pick of the 2006 draft and while his foot speed is lacking, he has nice size and a useful right-handed shot. If he can be reasonably healthy, he could provide Florida with some of the depth offense they needed last season. (The team struggled to score beyond the big first line that usually featured Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg.)

Speaking of Versteeg, re-signing him likely remains the highest priority on Florida’s off-season to-do list. Unless you count trading for Roberto Luongo, that is.