On Saturday, the Sun-Sentinel's Steve Gorten remarked in his blog that Florida coach Pete DeBoer has finally parted the Booth "will-he-or-won't-he" seas, amid yet another push-back in the prized winger's projected return to the lineup - now set for late January:
"...Obviously David Booth is a wild-card factor [to the club's success] whether or not he comes back."
- Coach DeBoer
Gorten then wisely made abundantly clear that the coach did not say #10 is out for the year, only observing the team is beginning a softening of their approach, perhaps more realistically, to the status of David Booth, at least publicly.
Does this pave the way for an announcement in the near future? I don't necessarily see it that way; time is on the organization's hands, as today represents the mid-point of the season. For the moment, I completely agree with the guesstimation offered up at On Frozen Pond:
I wouldn't be surprised to see them burn off the final two weeks of February and bring Booth back after the Olympic break in March -- if at all.
- Miami Herald's George Richards
Putting aside the sheer lousiness of the entire situation regarding Florida's leading goal scorer from a year ago, the question at some juncture must turn to the business aspect of the club: just what will GM Randy Sexton and his front office staff do to replace that lost offense for the remainder of a season which is by no means cooked?
The answer is in the details, and not so veiled. Once more, back to Pistol Pete via the Sun-Sentinel:
The group we have if we can remain healthy...I think we're really close to winning some games.
And there you have it. Of course, it's the coach's job to win with what he's given by management, and his comment is strictly party-line talking-point. But is it remotely factual?
Generally speaking, the club is healthy; only Booth, rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, and plugger Kenndal McArdle remain out. Cory Stillman has returned, which may reignite a second line which has been dreadfully AWOL since he was lost so many weeks ago. Nick Tarnasky taken his place on a formidable checking line with Victor Oreskovich and Gregory Campbell. However, Kamil Kreps and Campbell continue to literally shoot blanks (a combined 19 SOG, 1g-1a over their past five), backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen has suffered massive consistency issues, and Rostislav Olesz continues to impersonate Rostislav Olesz.
If that second line can pick up where it left off upon Stillman's inital absence - and the Horton-Weiss-Frolik triumvirate can keep their fire stoked - then DeBoer might have himself some substance to those words.
It's a mighty large "if", though. So many close games, so many "it's frustrating" comments seeping from the dressing room after another third period meltdown.
The Panthers were never going to win the conference simply because of David Booth's presence, much less squeak into the postseason, without a dedicated, talented core around him. But he's so much a part of the puzzle, what does management do to fill that hole?
Ransacking Rochester will only be effective for so long (if .500 hockey can be termed "effective").