2011 NHL Free Agency Pool, Part 2 of 3: How Will Tallon Dive In?

Check out part one here to see the list of forwards!

In part two of our Free Agency investigations, we’re taking a look at some of the bigger-name free agent defensive players that will be available this summer. With a solid maturing core of youth at the blue line, Florida will likely try to supplement the defensive roster with some veteran leadership at a reasonable price. We’ve seen how much guys like Mike Weaver and Bryan McCabe can bring to the table, and it’s likely Florida will pursue one or more veterans to help add to the organizational depth at the positon.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential acquisitions the Cats could make this summer. Feel free to comment on any players you wish to see the Panthers pursue, or post some other defensive free agents that weren’t mentioned in this article. Read on!

Ed Jovanovski: Jovo was a fan favorite in his time with the Panthers and has been a pretty solid defensive player since he left the Sunshine State. He still has a booming point shot and was a solid contributor offensively with the Coyotes for the last five seasons (when healthy). At age 34, Jovanovski is entering the twilight of his career and his durability concerns will be a factor for teams looking to sign him. However, a one or two-year deal wouldn’t be out of the question if Tallon and company wanted to bring Jovo back to South Florida.

Will he become a Panther?
Possibly. Durability issues aside, he’s still a very serviceable player that would help out on the power play and eat up some big minutes. He could be wearing the red sweater next season if the price and terms are agreeable, as the Cats would likely not be willing to agree to a long-term deal.

Joni Pitkanen: Panther fans are very familiar with Pitkanen’s play after watching him suit up for the rival Hurricanes the last three seasons. He’s a very talented offensive defenseman who will be looking for roughly $5 million a year in his next contract. Although he is a very solid player and is only 27 years old, his asking price may be slightly too high for what the Cats are looking for. That being said, Pitkanen is a very appealing player who could bring a solid presence to a very young blue line in Florida.

Will he become a Panther?
Not likely. Tallon has cap room, and Pitkanen is one of the best offensive defensemen on the market this summer. If the Cats are looking to add some offensive punch to their defensive corps, Pitkanen will likely be the first player they will talk to come July. However, remember that Tallon moved Keith Ballard and Bryan Allen out last season, and both had pretty hefty contracts similar to what Pitkanen is looking for.

James Wisniewski: Another Blackhawk alumnus, Wisniewski had a career year splitting time between the Islanders and the Canadiens, posting 51 points in 75 games. He has matured into a very solid player, and was averaging around 23 minutes a game for both the Isles and the Habs respectively. He will likely be looking for a long-term deal somewhere in the $4 to 5 million range, and should be able to find it as he is one of the better defensive players available this summer.

Will he become a Panther?
Not likely. Tallon is obviously familiar with Wisniewski and may end up trying to coerce him to come to South Florida. However, as is a concern with Pitkanen or any other top-end defensive free agents, it doesn’t seem like the Panthers are interested in another Ballard-like contract for their already maturing blue line corps. Still, Wisniewski is a very intriguing possibility for the Panthers due to the Chicago connection between him and Tallon.

Andrei Markov: A fan favorite in Montreal until his recent injury plagued campaigns the last two seasons, Markov is a very intriguing risk-or-reward player that several teams will be interested in looking at come July. He was a consistent 45-point producer from the blue line in Montreal, manning the point on the power play with his massive shot, and was only a minus player twice in his last eight seasons. His knee injuries are a major concern for any team looking to take a chance on Markov, but if he indeed is fully healed by the time next season starts, he is a massive upgrade to any defensive roster when healthy.

Will he become a Panther?
Possibly. If the Panthers can lure him in to a short-term deal at around $4-5 million, he could be suiting up for the Cats this fall. He would immediately start on the power play for the Panthers and would provide a very welcome veteran presence on the team. Injury risks aside, Markov is still one of the premier offensive defenseman in the NHL.

Tomas Kaberle: Many folks feel Kaberle hasn’t really lived up to his trade deadline hype since he was acquired by the Boston Bruins for their postseason run. Yet Kaberle is quietly turning in a solid Stanley Cup finals performance and is showing Bruins fans that he may be worthy of a longer-term deal to stay in Boston, especially when Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi’s salaries come off the books next season. He’s a durable point man who can quarterback a power play and is pretty solid defensively as well.

Will he become a Panther?
Not likely. He’ll command a pretty decent contract and at 33 years old will likely be looking for at least a three-year deal. Again, it’s not too likely the Panthers will want to sink a lot of money into a long-term deal similar to what was done with Keith Ballard.

Andy Greene: The Devils blue liner will likely be walking away from New Jersey this summer due to cap space issues for the Devils. He’s a very solid defensive defenseman who had a pretty good 2009-2010 season for New Jersey, and at 28 is still young enough to grow as a player. He will likely be looking for a raise from his $750,000 salary from last season and is a player the Panthers may target due to his individual defensive skill as well as his price range.

Will he become a Panther?
Possibly. His contract could be a longer-term deal at a better value than some of the other players available, and he would log top-four minutes for the Cats if acquired. He’d be a very solid defensive addition to the team and would give the Panthers plenty of depth at the position as well. Tallon does not want to rush up the younger prospects like Erik Gudbranson or Alex Petrovic, and Greene would be a great player to help fill the void as those prospects mature into the NHL.

Ian White: White is similar to Andy Greene in that he will be a more affordable option for the Panthers to help fill out the defensive depth on the team. After bouncing around between Toronto, Calgary and Carolina, White settled in with the Sharks last season after the trade deadline and was a solid performer during their playoff run. He is a very respectable +18 in five full NHL seasons and would bring a good physical presence to the Panther blue line.

Will he become a Panther?
Possibly. He’s a player who could score a long-term deal at a smaller salary cap hit than Pitkanen, Markov or Kaberle, and could bring plenty of veteran leadership to the team. He performed admirably this past season for each team he suited up for and would likely be a top-four defensive player for the Panthers next season if signed.

Scott Hannan: Hannan has never been a big point producer, but he’s a very physical and capable defensive presence when on the ice, and averaged around 20 minutes a night last season for both Colorado and Washington. His current cap hit of $4.5 million is probably a bit too high for his overall performance the last several seasons, but with free agency being the spend-fest that it usually is, he may again command around $4-5 million a year. At age 32, he still has several serviceable seasons left in the tank.

Will he become a Panther?
Possibly. He may come to Florida on a short-term deal to help fill the organization with depth while the aforementioned prospects such as Gudbranson and Petrovic continue to develop. He would bring solid veteran leadership and an element of toughness and grit the Cats blue line continues to lack. If Tallon could get him in on a two-year deal at around $4 million he may be a possibility.

Jonathan Ericsson: If Tallon and company want to add some size to the back end, look no further than Redwood… err, Red Wing Jonathan Ericsson. He has matured the last several seasons into a permanent fixture on the blue line for Detroit, and there’s a very good chance he will be brought back by the Wings for another few seasons, especially with Brian Rafalski retiring, and Nicklas Lidstrom also potentially hanging up the skates. Ericsson is a solid defensive player, and although he’s not a huge point producer, he provides a very scary forechecking target for opposing forwards.

Will he become a Panther?
Not likely. As mentioned, Detroit will probably re-sign the hulking Ericsson to a multi-year deal and he’ll be off the market before July 1. However, if he is not brought back, look for the Panthers to be in the running for him during the free agency flurry.

Bryan McCabe: The former Panther captain did not really want to be dealt at the trade deadline this past season, but was shipped out anyway to the New York Rangers, and was a solid veteran presence on their blue line throughout the remainder of the regular season and during the Rangers playoff appearance. McCabe saw plenty of power play time for the Rangers and was still able to be productive. At age 36, he’s likely looking at short-term deals for the remainder of his career, and knowing his affinity for his time in Florida, he is an intriguing possibility. He’s still pretty durable and played tough minutes for the Panthers during his time in South Florida.

Will he become a Panther?
Possibly. McCabe’s $4.15 million contract number will definitely dive a bit when he is signed during the free agency period this summer. If he is looking to come back to Florida, there’s a good chance he’d be re-signed at around $3 million for a one or two-year deal. It all depends on if Tallon and Mike Santos are willing to invest in a 36-year old player who is entering the twilight years of his career… even if he did give his all for the Cats as their captain.