Panthers: Off-season variables, potential, and concerns created by the Trade Deadline
"We added a great number of picks and got younger and really solidified our future. The future is most important for us." These were the words from Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon after the dust settled from Monday's busy Trade Deadline. He couldn't have been more right. It's all about the future. The moves he made have allowed for this upcoming summer to be vitally important, perhaps the most pivotal period in club history. With so many factors, ranging from the Sunrise Sports Entertainment's wallet, to the blueprint, to RFA's and UFA's, not to mention the upcoming CBA, the next few months have the potential to be incredibly beneficial to the success of the franchise, or horrifically tragic. While Tallon has set this team up for success with all of this potental money in the off-season, don't go buying your streamers and confetti just yet.
While the current CBA is a maze of information - even those who crafted it have professed they don't understand it all, it is believed that the recent salary shedding of Cory Stillman, Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen, Dennis Wideman, Chris Higgins, and Radek Dvorak has not only set the table for a wild summer but now qualified the Panthers for increased revenue distribution which will pay increased dividends into the millions and help SSE overcome any operational losses it might have endured throughout the season and if 2011 will be anything like 2010, which saw the club's operating income loss fall to a staggering $9.6 million (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) the Cats will need that money.
The moves themselves are built around the idea of addition (in terms of a bigger slice of revenue pie) by subtraction - the Panthers weren't making a very good case for the playoffs this season, and as such the moves in theory help the team down the road - in more ways then one. Roster spots opened up, the team got younger, picks were acquired and perhaps most importantly, money was saved and thus earned.
The move presumably lowered Florida's salary level to below that of the predetermined league average as part of The Player Compensation Cost Redistribution system (Article 49 of the CBA), which enables the Panthers to snap their fingers and receive additional money from the rich teams around the league-- including the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and Vancouver Canucks who received some of the noteable now-ex-Panthers. The great rapper Biggie Smalls said it best, "Mo money, Mo problems" and right now with the current economic landscape dictated by the CBA, the less fortunate NHL teams are making out like bandits as Gary Bettman and his merry men of thieves, steal from the rich and give to the poor.
The Player Compensation Cost Redistribution System is designed to cause certain high-revenue clubs to contribute even more of their revenues toward the payment of Player Compensation redistributing a certain portion of the revenues of such Clubs to the lower-grossing, small market Clubs so that such lower-grossing, small market Clubs may be able to, and elect to, spend more on Player Compensation. The Player Compensation Cost Redistribution System is intended to enhance the ability of all Clubs to be financially competitive with one another. The moves on deadline day have lowered the Panthers minimum team player compensation so that the organization is entitled to receive increased distribution.
To some degree the salary dump is an all to familiar story for Florida fans as money and operating costs have been the bane of the Panthers existence for a number of years now, and because of it, the Cats often play "short-handed" from an economical sense, as they constantly square off against teams with vastly superior salary totals, making the quest for wins all the more difficult. The CBA was intented to help small market teams in this regard and while it has-- the Panthers actually had their best wins to cost player ratio the year before the lockout. Making a strong case for changes.
Hopefully the new CBA, which will begin to take form at the end of the 2011-12 season, further corrects the problems and money no longer dictates parity on the ice. This however is one of the least talked-about potential problems concerning the Panthers latest set of moves. Whatever happens concerning the new CBA has the possibility of completely changing the economic landscape of the game in the same way the current CBA did. It's more (especially with the way recent talks regarding some of the bigger sporting leagues have gone) than possible that player contracts or contract types and stipulations become more affordable the year after Tallon has an oppurtunity to make a big splash. While all of that money might be burning a hole in the Panthers organizations pocket, it might be smarter to limit long term spending and gamble on the new CBA.
The Panthers have created substantial cap space moving forward with only $16.7 million guaranteed to be issued next season but that presumed mandatory 30 million in spending to reach the salary floor as Elliot Friedman reported doesn't have to be a financial burden to ownership. They don't have to spend that 30 million to reach the salary floor. They have to achieve that figure in a caphit. Which means smart team building can see the conservation of some money by focusing on heavily tilted salaries and bonus laden contracts.
Looking forward, unfortunately for the Panthers, the upcoming free-agent class has developed to be less than promising as some of the bigger names have allready signed big deals to stay with their current teams; Such is the luck of the Cats. It might not even matter which big names were available either, especially when you consider the blueprint which is still 3-4 years away from completion, not to mention a lot of that money is going to get tied up in RFA contacts as many key young players will be up for a new contact in the summer - by the time deals are set for players like Keaton Ellerby, Mike Santorelli, Jack Skille, Shawn Matthias, Michal Repik, and Niclas Bergfors - plus the presumed re-signing of Vokoun, and all of a sudden that big chunk of change Tallon has amassed looks a lot smaller.
As nice as it might be to imagine the Panthers finally spending some money, It's more likely to see the team barely float above the salary floor, capitalizing on the increased revenue sharing for a number of seasons until the young team is ready to legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup. The question then becomes, will limited spending effect the 14,000 average attendance goals that also influence revenue sharing? Dale Tallon and company are about to walk the high-wire without a net to catch them.
From a financial standpoint the recent departures of these veteran players will have major ramifications on the bottom line, which in turn could fuel increased spending for upcoming seasons. Then again it might just be a cost-saving measure that will be exploited annually from now on to limit the harm the Florida Panthers have on the rest of the SSE portfolio. Whatever happens though, this summer is going to be integral in the development of the Florida Panthers-- where any move has the potential to be pivotal or be scrutinized in retrospect by the media because of a number of variables. It will be interesting to see what Dale Tallon and company do, but whatever happens the moves made at this seasons trade deadline will have a rippling effect for years.