After a season in which the Panthers often struggled to score goals, many observers wondered if GM Dale Tallon would work the phones this offseason to acquire some premier offensive talent to alleviate those scoring woes. Here we sit in late August, on the precipice of a lockout and with the trade winds barely blowing up dust from the ground, and the Panthers haven't done that (yet). It seems management is entrusting the upcoming youth and existing veterans to put together the pieces offensively, passing on some proven scorers such as Alex Semin, Jaromir Jagr, and Olli Jokinen and never seemingly in the race for a player like Zach Parise.
The only truly notable signing by the Cats was the one-year deal given to former Colorado Avalanche left wing Peter Mueller. Mueller isn't much of a known quantity at this point in his career, having a brilliant rookie season with the Phoenix Coyotes but falling off the map in recent years due to some troubling injury history, especially concussions. The Avalanche, clearly concerned by Mueller's health concerns, let him walk and the Panthers, as they did with another Colorado cast-off in Tomas Fleischmann, felt he was worth the risk. Except that this time, Florida's on the hook for a lot less dough, only committing to Mueller for one year and around $1.7m against the cap.
Knowing the value of the deal and the talent level that Mueller possesses, can the Panthers strike gold twice in a row despite the inherent risks?
Any one year contract at less than $2m in cap space on a team that is still below the salary cap floor shouldn't be cause for concern, even if the player involved is an injury risk. There's a chance Mueller could suffer yet another serious head injury next season and play less than half of the games, and he'd still be a better value than Scottie Upshall was for the Cats last season. Knowing the potential Mueller has when he's not hurt, the Cats are taking a very calculated gamble that has far more upside than downside.
So let's ignore the supposed "risk" involved with the deal, and instead focus on what Mueller brings to the table for the Panthers. A former 54-point scorer, Mueller is at least a proven commodity in regards to offensive capability when healthy and should give the Cats a bit more depth up front where they need it most. He's played at left wing and center in the past, and with the supposed depth Florida will have at left wing next year with Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, it's looking like Mueller will line up in the middle. With Stephen Weiss likely centering the top line, Mueller will battle Marcel Goc for the right to anchor the second line and should win out based on offensive production. Goc is a far better defensive center, so certain situations will warrant a shift in linemates, but with Huberdeau and Upshall likely skating on the wings of the second line, Mueller should find himself playing with those two most of the year if his performance warrants it.
Another area Mueller can help the Panthers is on the man advantage. With the departures of Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson, Florida lost two very solid point-men on the powerplay, and are looking to fill that void. Mueller has some experience manning the blueline, possessing a pretty solid shot from the point and a quick and accurate one-timer. His vision of the ice is similar to Samuelsson's, so it wouldn't be a shock to see Mueller either replacing Garrison on the first unit, or replacing Sammy on the second.
There's a lot to like about this signing and even with the potential risks, Tallon is showing that he's not afraid to gamble when the talent is there and the price is right. If Mueller can have a renaissance season with the Panthers and return to his rookie season form, the Cats have managed to acquire a top-flight second line center for very little capital. If not, the Cats let him walk and look elsewhere. Either way it was worth the risk, both for the Panthers and Mueller.