Discarded Grabner outscoring Panthers' best

The New York Islanders' Michael Grabner has lit the lamp fifteen times this season; that's one more than Panthers top goal scorer David Booth, who sits one behind with fourteen. The 23-year old Austrian winger was placed on waivers - and promptly snapped up by Isles' GM Garth Snow - at the start of the season by Florida as he couldn't crack Peter DeBoer's lineup following a poor showing in training camp. Many were surprised by the roster move, especially after Grabner was widely considered to be the prized asset in June's Keith Ballard deal with Vancouver, but Cats' general manager Dale Tallon displayed what's become a trademark response when clarifying such decisions: "You have to earn your playing time here. Reputation doesn't mean anything to me. It gives an opportunity to someone else." This approach won over many fans and observers, softening the blow of losing a 14th-overall pick (2006, VAN) for nothing.

After four months of personal evolution eerily identical to the plot of "Batman: Arkham Asylum" (hero lands on prison island, bashes heads, battles inner demons, develops cool tricks, all the while overcoming enormous odds to save the day), Grabner has become a competent NHL goal scorer, something the Panthers desperately covet. More and more it seems as though this was the first real blemish on Tallon's track record with the Panthers, and the first sign that perhaps Tallon's strong sense of principle should have been met with patience, and that like Panthers General Managers before him tossed away a promising future (Look no further than All-Star Dan Boyle) for a better chance at the present.

Hindsight is 20/20 and glancing back at the Grabner situation is a painful process for all close to the Florida Panthers, but Tallon made a decision he felt would help the squad most. One cannot fault a man for doing what he believes in, but looking forward there is no doubt that this was a poor choice - and one that has the potential to haunt the Panthers for years to come, especially if the goals become harder and harder to come by.

While Grabner's goal totals are impressive - currently 4th among all rookies - many individual facets of his game leave a lot to be desired, and that has always been the knock on the young winger: he has tremendous skill but  considerable trouble putting the enitre package together. Though lately while not being a true stud without the puck he's shown some responsibility and is actually a +2 over 45 games played. One can't help but think those 15 goals  would have a dramatic effect on Florida and their bottom line thus far, regardless of the very different scenario he finds himself in with the Islanders.

Hypothetically adding Grabner's 15 goals to the Panthers this season, they would sit 12th (with 144) in the league in scoring, ahead of powerhouse teams loaded with offensive assets like the Stars, Kings, and Capitals instead of  the bottom third of the league (21st with 129 goals-for). Plug that into varying theories on goals-to-win ratios and those fifteen times Grabner hit the twine could have changed the outcome of perhaps 2-4 games, enough to turn the Cats current situation into a dogfight for 8th, instead of a stealthy pursuit from the tall grasses of South Florida.

Obviously, the departure of Grabner gave oppurtunities for some unlikely scoring heroes to emerge, and when the Dark Knight departed to Long Island, players like Michael Santorelli took over some of that slack, playing admirably while adding considerably to a sporadic Florida offense. However, one cannot ignore the fact that it was possible to have both of these offseason additions - it wasn't a "one or the other" situation. Was it a managerial oversight to covet the grit of say a Darcy Hordichuk (or predecessor Andrew Peters) over the scoring potential of Grabner? It's likely, especially in this NHL market, that the veteran would have walked the line and passed the test of waivers, especially when numerous "grinders" have found themselves assigned and recalled without obstruction over the course of the season; this is the New NHL after all, where scoring and youth rules all, and veteran toughness is devalued. How many games this season have the Panthers cried for a symbol of hope - for a goal scorer?

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After facing off against Grabner for the first time earliar this season, Coach Deboer was quoted as saying, "Good for him, Some guys are better fits in other places." It's almost inconcievable to think that a player who can score goals wouldn't be a good fit for the offensivley challenged Panthers. "The Bottom line is we came into camp with an open competition concept, and we stuck to it". That is all well and good (especially if this is in the context of Junior Hockey) but this isn't a one year process, there is more on the line for this franchise then the one season, open competition is great, but at what cost should you throw away potential? It seems as though the Coach and GM lost sight of the true purpose of the rebuild--the future.

Ultimately this situation comes down to winning now-  a symptom all general managers are faced with in this non-traditional hockey market that has begged for a winner for 10 seasons. With the waiving of Grabner, Tallon put the needs of this season's team ahead those of longterm growth and development either by misfortune or a simple lack of homework. There's no doubt Grabner could have been kept on the roster; the club and the rookie would have endured expected growing pains, but looking at how far Grabner has come over the past 20 games, one can't help but wonder, were the first few months of mediocrity and a .500 record worth going into the second half of the season (and beyond) without a potential leading goal scorer? Would the impact of a veteran who earned his spot during training camp in October really be more important to the team than Grabner now?

As strong as Tallon has been so far this season, this one incident reminds Panthers fans of the tragedy we have endured in this market and the pressures we place on management to win now. One can't help but wonder how this team could have been built if not rushed by the demands of immediacy. As Grabner continues to turn things around for himself and score goals (especially after Kyle Okposo was activated from the IR) the city of Sunrise continues to ache for a hero on the scoresheet. Anyone know if Bruce Wayne has ever played hockey, and if so would he agree to a 2-way deal?