The Future of John Madden: End of the Line or a New Beginning?

Feb 28, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Florida Panthers center John Madden (10) warms up before playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The Panthers beat the Maple Leafs 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

When John Madden was signed by the Florida Panthers during a mid-season run that saw gaping holes form in the forward lines due to injuries, it seemed the move was another shrewd way to gain a roster player without giving one up. Similar moves had been made four times in the entirety of the Panthers' season, along with Madden came Krys Barch, Jerred Smithson and Wojtek Wolski for little cost down the stretch, and all seemed to fill their spots quite well until more flashy players bumped them out of the lineup. Each of these players saw their fair share of the pressbox and owned different strengths and weaknesses that had them shuffled at random into the lineup on any given night; but with a bulging collection of healthy scratches will come the tough decisions on who to throw out and who to keep.

For some of these players, the decision is easy--for others the choice is more complex. For Mike Santorelli it's a matter of giving a second chance to a young player a year removed from a breakout season, for Krys Barch it's whether he brings more to the lineup than Matt Bradley. There is only one player for which the choice lies solely in his own hands. Madden needs to make the decision whether he wants to go all in for another season or call it a career as he almost had before Florida grabbed him.

I never expected John Madden to make the impact he did in the 31 games he played in a Panthers uniform and the 7 game series against his former team. While the other "5th line" extras each had their shortcomings, the veteran Madden did exactly what was asked, and when playoffs rolled into Sunrise the Panthers' most experienced player slapped on another pair of wings and elevated his game and intensity. Madden was by no means flashy, his three points(all goals) were a nice bit of extra credit, but his penalty killing and faceoff prowess was what scored him a solid A in my book. For a now 40(!) year old forward, he packed a sneaky amount of speed and created more than his fair share of breakaways and odd man opportunities. Madden was the perfect utility player, something the 4th line needed to succeed.

Understandably, it took a while for Madden to reach his old form; after a few bad games he was benched but returned with a vengeance when it perhaps dawned on him that he was probably facing his last season as a professional hockey player. Fortunately for him, if he wants to give it another shot I believe Dale Tallon will gladly bring him back. So the choice for him is easy; retire or play in that 13th season.

Had this been told to me in mid-Febuary when Madden was still rusty, I would have ground my teeth a bit. The takeaway from this season was that scoring is an issue, and potentially dressing Madden in favor of a more established scorer like Santorelli or even Bradley would have rubbed many in the wrong direction. It took a while to realize early on(it became apparent in the playoffs) that Madden brings characteristics to the Panthers that don't necessarily show up on the scoreboard. Madden isn't a one-trick pony like some of his benched teammates have been, Madden doesn't score but he drives play on his line to open up chances. Madden is defensively responsible, he's an important cog in the penalty kill and brings perhaps the most valuable asset head coach Kevin Dineen needs; extra leadership to unite his team. Madden may have helped re-establish the old brand of Panthers hockey(the resilient one, not the stumble down the stretch kind that nearly cost them their date with the Devils) during the most important time of the season, the playoffs. And we all witnessed the encouraging results.

When lovable but incredibly clumsy teammate Tomas Kopecky collided with Madden in a dreadful first period of Game Seven, you could almost point to that as Madden's final shift in the NHL. But even at the ripe old hockey age of 39, Madden would step back onto the bench with gashes stretching from the bridge of his nose to under his left eye and play another 11 minutes over 3 periods as the Panthers ultimately lost in double overtime. He gave his teammates something to rally behind and eventually force overtime in a game that could have ended horribly. Madden is a leader by nature, a well liked teammate and like Smithson; a coach's dream player.

There really aren't any downsides to keeping Madden around for another year; he has indeed earned another contract in his short time in Florida and he brings all of the skills the Panthers need more of, save scoring. The fact is, the Panthers aren't simply going to explode into a scoring powerhouse because Bradley or Sturm are in rather than Madden. Likewise, the Panthers aren't going to slump because Madden is eating his 10 minutes a night on the grinding line. Scoring will be the most important factor to the Panthers success next year, but whether Madden is kept or not will be all but inconsequential to that figure. What could be affected by that loss is the little things and lockerroom leadership the captain-less Panthers need.

It all comes down to whether Madden wishes to stay, but from the drive he exhibited in the playoffs, I see no signs of him wanting out. If he does wish to come back, there are almost no reasons Dale Tallon would not pull the trigger on another contract for the battle-hardened veteran.

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