It didn't take long for Dale Tallon to make his mark on the Florida Panthers. Over the course of two weeks fans of all teams were awed as Tallon and Mike Santos drafted 10 prospects and brought in 10 new roster players to completely reshape and reinvigorate the Panthers. The players drafted this year should all be considered long-term projects, but the trades and signings made were for real NHL players with real NHL contracts. Each player brought in has different qualities and concerns, but the objective as always is to make the Panthers a better team.
Time was of the essence on July 1st for many reasons, and when it became painfully clear that Tomas Vokoun was slipping away from the grasp of Dale Tallon, a replacement was needed quickly. Instead of keeping the lights on for Vokoun as he tested the waters of free agency and the inevitable disappointment when he signed with the Capitals, the ties of loyalty to Tomas were cut and Jose Theodore was signed as a replacement. The move resulted in groans and sighs around the fan base as many, including myself, hoped to see Vokoun return or at least find a goalie of more...well, allure than Theodore. But that ship has sailed and they don't hand out Vezinas for nothing, so at this point all we can do is hope Theodore can reignite his former magic in what looks to be a starting role.
Much more and a poll after the jump.
Make no mistake, Jose Theodore is not the goalie of the future, he is the goalie of the now. In two years when Jacob Markstrom is in a position to vie for the starting role and Theodore's contract expires, there may not be the need to re-up Jose unless his two years with the Panthers are flawless. The assessment that Theodore is simply a stopgap for Markstrom is completely true, and while this seems like an extreme lack of faith in your goaltender, one must realize that goaltending is a major question mark that the Panthers are not used to. After enjoying mostly solid performances out of Roberto Loungo and Vokoun for a decade, it's completely understandable to be wary of Theodore. It's not necessarily a knock on Theodore, he just has mighty large shoes to fill next season.
Look at it this way, the signing of Jose Theodore doesn't exactly have people jumping for joy, but what would you say if Mathieu Garon, Pascal Leclaire or Mike Smith were brought in instead? With Ilya Bryzgalov gone and Vokoun leaving, there wasn't much of a goaltending market, so at least Tallon was active in pursuing the best man out there. Theodore wanted to play in Florida, so the signing seems to have worked out for both parties.
After 11 full seasons in the NHL, Jose Theodore has proven he is no backup goalie and has the experience that Scott Clemmensen simply doesn't have. However, don't assume Theodore will just waltz into the starter role, Jose still needs to out preform a very good backup in Clemmensen and prove he can play 50+ games like he did in with the Canadiens, Avalanche and Capitals before being stuck behind Niklas Backstrom with the Wild. Doing so doesn't present a problem in Theodore's eyes, as he was quoted saying:
"I was put in a role last year that I don’t think I should have been in, I accepted the role because I am a good teammate."
"But last year I could have played 50-55 games. I want to return to playing at a high level. I’m just going to do my stuff, do my thing. If you want to play, you have to be the best guy. If Scott Clemmensen outplays me, I expect him to play. If I play better, I expect to play.’’
Theodore's stats over 11 full seasons:
*Won Vezina and Hart trophies **NHL All-Star ***Won Masterton Memorial Trophy
In all honesty, with the major improvement of the Panthers offense and galvanization of an already better than average defense, Theodore really doesn't have to go 40-10-0 for the team to contend for a playoff spot. If there is instant chemistry with the new forward lines and the defensive pairings continue to shine the Theodore-Clemmensen tandem really only needs to be mediocre for the Panthers to be a better team. Vokoun's Panthers couldn't offer much scoring support, but thankfully that should change to the benefit of Theodore. With scoring support and good defense, Theodore's time as a Panther might not be as ill-fated as some make it out to be.
Of course, the major advantage Jose Theodore has over Tomas Vokoun is playoff experience. Though doubters point to Theodore's poor performance with the Capitals, I watched Jose's 07-08 run with the Avalanche, where he stood on his head upsetting the Minnesota Wild in 6 games before bowing out to Detroit (the eventual champions). Theodore has seen plenty of time in the playoffs and is certainly the go-to guy in that scenario.
Theodore was never my first choice as a starter, but his two year contract doesn't have to seem like an eternity. With the improvement through free agency and excitement of the entry draft, don't forget that the Panthers are still in a rebuild. Though we all want to see a successful team iced this October, if Theodore can't carry the weight all is not lost. Theodore is a stopgap for Markstrom, and if it means two more painful seasons before greener pastures so be it.