The common denominator to the Panthers' consecutive regulation losses this week and much of the season does not lie in shaky goaltending or pesky injuries, it's a lack of offensive production during any given time. Besides a few blowout scores scattered across the season, the Panthers usually score two goals a game and perhaps an empty netter; when the offense shows up the team usually wins or at least forces overtime, when the offense drifts away so does the chance to win.
Relying on surprising (but not exactly spectacular) goaltending from Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, Florida wins games by the slightest of margins, often regardless of the difficulty of the opponent. As the one goal losses piled up last season, so have one goal wins this season. It's certainly an improvement, but it doesn't make for a dominant team play that goes on winning streaks or opens up wide point cushions within the division. As the deadline approaches, the obvious need is scoring; scoring to get the first goal, scoring to build leads and scoring to close out games. Anything else is just side-tracking the problem.Of course, just making a trade for a top 6 forward is not as straightforward as it may seem. Other than a few elite teams, every general manager faces the eternal search to fill his top lines with top 6 players, and there is only a finite number of those players across the league, and once a GM has one, it will take quite a bit to budge said player. For the Panthers, I'd contend there are four(when healthy) players of this caliber; Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann are the obvious choices, but also Scottie Upshall. After that, the lower lines consist of guys who show flashes of brilliance but are two inconsistent to fight their way on to the top lines. Marcel Goc, Mikael Samuelsson, Shawn Matthias and Sean Bergenheim all have their specialties, but they just wouldn't qualify as top 6 guys on a more offensively gifted team. So the choices are simple, wait for prospects to live up to potential or trade/sign players who will make an immediate impact in the coming seasons.
Dale Tallon has shown he isn't afraid to take chances to bring in top 6 players. Tallon traded for leading scorer Versteeg and made a risky signing that's paying off nicely in Fleischmann. We haven't seen much of Upshall, but he still can be a game changer when playing. So what's to keep Tallon from making the same kind of splash as the Panthers knock on the playoff window? The trade deadline, pure and simple. Only during the trade deadline is Nicklas Grossman worth a 2nd and 3rd round pick or Hal Gill worth a 2nd rounder and roster player. Some GM's will sell for cheap, others will dangle Bryan Allen for a 1st round pick. It's a crazy time during the season, especially when the same players would go for much cheaper, or nothing, just after the playoffs come to a close.
So Tallon has made it clear he wants scoring, but in what form? A star like would be great, but it would cost far too much. A second liner is exactly what the Panthers need, but the choices are limited within the market. Adding in a specialist type player with scoring ability would help the special teams, but availability again is a concern. Leadership is always a plus. There are a few guys being thrown around in rumors that could in theory cure our ailments, but could also bust harder than Angelo Esposito.
Rick Nash: Oh how wonderful it would be to have Rick Nash in the lineup, he is an instant upgrade over anyone on the roster. Few of us can deny wanting to trade away the world for Rick Nash, but I happen to be one of them, and I imagine Dale Tallon is too. The problem here is that in order to move Rick Nash, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson would want a return so steep for his franchise player it's inconceivable to think any smart GM would bite. I've said it before and I'll probably keep saying it until 3pm on the 27th; Nash isn't moving.
Jeff Carter: Again, Howson would need something shiny in return for this guy, and Carter may become a burden in the future. The Panthers have plenty of space to take in his anchor of a contract, but not the will to do so, especially considering his less than perfect character Tallon has come to require. Just let this one pass.
Ales Hemsky: I've never understood the buzz surrounding this guy, and what I have pieced together doesn't paint a pretty picture. He's 28 years old, has only approached 20 goals three times, hasn't played a full season in six years and has only played in about 100 games over the last three seasons. I won't take away the fact he is almost a point per game player and has buckets of skill, but his risks outweigh the benefits even if Oilers GM Steve Tambellini sells him low. This guy is the forward version of Rick DiPietro.
Paul Stastny: I've watched Paul Stastny for years now, and while I must admit I'm not a big fan, he has hit 70 points three times. I disregard him because he often seems so invisible on the ice and never really forms chemistry with the multiple guys the Avalanche have thrown with him. Stastny is more of a passer than a scorer, and while he shows flashes of brilliance now and again my fondest memories are usually of him missing an open net. Stastny is a great faceoff man and utilizes his 26 year old speed, but his contract is a bit steep though short after this season. I'd like to think the change of scenery would do Stastny good in Florida, but for whatever reason GM Greg Sherman has this guy as an untouchable. This is a trade I just don't want to make, at least right now.
David Jones: Of all the players I've heard in rumors, the one I'd most like to see with the Panthers is David Jones. While Sherman clutches Stastny like a kidney, he leaves Jones to fend for himself out in the cold. What I've seen out of David Jones reminds me quite a bit of David Booth during his pre-concussion days; but like Booth, Jones also has had injury problems before. Jones would make a tremendous second line player and bring an extra sniper to the powerplay units, and the best part of all is that Sherman has just about given up on resigning him, meaning he might come relatively cheap. Like 3rd rounder cheap. Jones has rebounded of late after being thrown in the proverbial doghouse, but I still think he's on the market.
Tuomo Ruutu: With the Hurricanes about calling it quits on the season, Tuomo Ruutu was one of the first guys mentioned in rumors. A soon to be UFA, Ruutu may be worth a look to help secondary scoring but could be overvalued by Canes GM Jim Rutherford. Tallon may kick the tires, but I'd bet someone else is driving home with him. Note: After sustaining an upper body injury in a game vs the Canadiens, Ruutu has been taken off the market.
Mikhail Grabovski: He'd help the offense with his speed and skill, but this one strikes me a just a rumor. The Maple Leafs aren't selling him unless they get something big in return.
Derek Roy: Another oft injured centerman who's drawn the ire of the media. He has one year left on his contract and the Sabres seems to have had enough of him, but his numbers do speak to his offensive abilities. Roy is a wildcard, who knows what Buffalo GM Darcy Regier will move him for.
Marek Zidlicky: No.
Those are the big names floating around, infiltrating people's dreams and brewing excitement, but in the end Dale Tallon may not be interested in any of these guys or even anyone of this caliber. Rome wasn't built overnight, and neither with the Cup Champion Florida Panthers. Florida may be closer to the playoffs than they've ever been in the last decade, but that doesn't mean Tallon is willing to even trade low round picks or prospects for a rental. Chances are Tallon will make moves to improve the team, but they won't be the big blockbuster moves some fans are demanding. Chances are just as good Tallon will site tight and do nothing. While the Panthers have overachieved in the face of adversity, the point to remember is it's not about this season, so it's not worth getting emotionally attached to it, no matter what the Panthers are doing come April.