SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 15: Goaltender Mathieu Garon #32 of the Tampa Bay Lightning stops a shot by David Booth #10 of the Florida Panthers on October 15, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Welcome to Facing Off, our new weekly editorial in which two LBC staffers go head-to-head and voice their opinions on all things Panthers. We invite the community to give us their take as well, so once you've finished reading, feel free to post your comments. Please remember that we are simply voicing our opinions and asking our readers to do the same; therefore, keep the commenting civil and avoid any flame wars. Generating verbal jab scripts...
This week's topic: Which player will have the biggest impact on the Florida Panthers this season?
Our featured authors: John & Chris
With so many new faces wearing the Panthers sweater this season, it's hard to know after three or four games who is going to stand head and shoulders above the other guys on the team and help lead the Panthers to the postseason and beyond. Whether or not Florida makes it to the playoffs this year hinges on a lot of the new players, and this week we're going to engage in some witty banter to determine who John and Chris think will make the biggest positive impact on the team this season. Read on folks!
To say there has been a lot of fan discussion about the next Panthers captain is an understatement. While many are calling for long-time Panther Stephen Weiss or returned former Panther Ed Jovanovski to be the new captain, there has been a lot less discussion of another likely candidate: defenseman Brian Campbell. The press has had their fun sniping at Dale Tallon for giving Campbell his rather sizeable contract several years ago and for acquiring it again for his new team, but they conveniently forget that teams were lining up to overpay Campbell the summer after his contract with the Sabres expired. At the time, the Sabres had money problems and several of their best players had expiring contracts. Knowing they couldn't keep everyone, the Sabres traded Campbell to the Sharks and tried to re-sign co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. They lost out on all three as Briere and Drury went for the big payday elsewhere. The Flyers paid Briere almost as much as Tallon paid Campbell and, in an even more criticized move, the Rangers overpaid Drury. That contract was bought out this summer.
Although he missed several games the last two seasons and had his worst post-lockout season last year for the Blackhawks, Campbell is usually good for around 40 to 50 points and will fill both the offense and leadership hole left by the trade of Bryan McCabe. Since the lockout, the only Panthers defensemen to have 40 point seasons were Jay Bouwmeester (2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2008-2009) and McCabe (2009-2010). Campbell ably replaces the offensive output from the defense that we've been missing since Jay Bouwmeester left but without Bouw's defensive lapses.
Campbell is also a recognized leader. Tallon wanted Campbell on his team for the same reasons he signed him to the Blackhawks: talent, leadership and character. While the Canadian press were snickering about Tallon overpaying the guys lining up to sign with the Panthers this summer, almost every one of those players were saying that Campbell was a large part of the reason they were signing up. Players took notice of someone of Campbell's stature agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and come to a team like the Panthers, who have a long history of struggling. It's one thing for a respected GM like Tallon to say he has a plan to turn the team around. It's quite another to convince a high-profile player to be a part of that plan. While it's likely that not all of the players signed this summer will play out their deals here, expect that Campbell will, and not because of his high price tag. He will be a big part of the changing of this team's fortunes, both on the ice and off.
There has been some criticism of Tallon's "blueprint" as merely having a team that was bad enough that he was able to draft Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but this overlooks the other moves he made at the same time, including signing prized free agent Campbell and getting talented young players in trades, including Kris Versteeg from the Bruins and Patrick Sharp from the Flyers. Again, one of the first big moves that Tallon has made is acquiring Campbell. There are many reasons for the Blackhawks success in winning the Stanley Cup a few seasons ago, and Campbell is a big one of those reasons.
With the free agent moves drawing most of the attention this summer, it seems too little attention is given to the Panthers natural scorer, David Booth. Sure, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall and Versteeg all have put up similar numbers to Booth, but they all lack something Booth has: a 30 goal season. And while Booth was the talk of the town a few years ago, two concussions later you had to wonder if he was starting back from square one.
There were only a handful of positives to take from last year's disastrous finish, but of those few positives, Booth's "recovery" was certainly the most encouraging. Booth played in all 82 games for the first time in his career, and while only scoring a total of 23 goals, that was a notable feat on a bare-bones team playing a defensive system. At the end of the year it seemed Booth was scoring in bunches, and when asked about his concussions he said he was "over it". Given that a similar hit ruined Marc Savard's career, Booth should be thanking his lucky stars he didn't receive the same fate. And so should Panthers fans, since this year we need Booth to recapture his 30 goal mark of seasons past.
Three games in and only six goals to show for it, now is the time for the offense to come alive. Booth has been pushed back to the second line by virtue of his new talented teammates, but he can easily be promoted to the top line if he starts the scoring rush the team desperately needs. Of the big guns in the lineup, Booth is distinguished as perhaps the 'purest' scorer, meaning he can create his own chances as opposed to a guy like Versteeg who finishes plays. Last season scoring goals was like pulling teeth, but with the new talent in place for a 235-250 goal team, someone needs to step up to be the catalyst. Booth could very well be that player.
With so many character guys up and down the bench this season, it's difficult to pull for just one guy to be successful. But of all the players, few (Jose Theodore comes to mind) have had to face the sheer adversity Booth has. If one player is to stand out this season, let it be Booth; the guy drafted by the Panthers, the guy who doesn't want to leave Florida, the guy who had an entire season ruined by concussions and the guy who had (and still has) a lot of promise. Booth is still a huge part of his team's success; if he has a bad year it's likely the team will too. Booth isn't getting the kind press he should after his comeback season, he isn't part of the captain talk or anything of that sort, but he needs to come through in a big way this season for the Panthers to get back to their winning ways.