Reliving the Martin era, part 2: Three seasons of futility
This week is the official start of the Dale Tallon era of the Florida Panthers. Although Jacques Martin left the team at the end of the 2008-2009 season, the following season saw the promotion of his assistant, Randy Sexton, who spent his single season attempting to clean up Martin's mess but making many of the same mistakes.
The first installment of the series looked at the whereabouts of the 2006-07 Panthers. While that season was Martin's first, it was really Mike Keenan's organization that he inherited. Martin was busy in the summer of '07 changing the look of the club, and after the team missed the playoffs yet again, he was busy doing the same in the summer of 2008. These annual roster reshapings led to an entire roster of skaters, 21 in all, passing through the team in the three seasons from 2007 to 2010.
Jacques Martin was incredibly busy in the summer. On draft day, Martin traded three draft picks, including the team's first-round pick in 2008, to the Nashville Predators for goaltender Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun would replace departing goaltenders Ed Belfour and Alex Auld. While this move was criticized some because of the first-round pick, initially Martin was mostly congratulated for bringing in such a high quality goalie. In retrospect, once it became obvious that Martin had overlooked Craig Anderson's ability as a starter, it was seen as a poor move, one of the two worst of Martin's tenure as General Manager.
A number of other players left when their contracts expired and Martin would bring in several free agents as well as re-signing unrestricted free agents Josef Stumpel and Ville Peltonen along with restricted free agents Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton to multi-year deals.
3 Karlis Skrastins (2008-09): Skrastins was aquired from Colorado in a 2007 deadline deal for Ruslan Salei. He played another full season as a solid defensive defenseman and a shot-blocking machine, but left when his contract expired. Skrastins wanted a multi-year deal and since Martin would only offer one, he left and signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Stars early in the free agency period.
6 Magnus Johansson (2008): Johansson, a career player in the European leagues was in his first, and to date, only NHL season, playing for Chicago, when the Panthers traded a ninth-round pick for him after losing a large number of defensemen to injuries. After the season, he went back to Europe, where he is captain for Linkoping in the Swedish Elite League.
7/27 Noah Welch (2007-2009): At the 2007 trade deadline, Gary Roberts was traded to the Penguins for former Harvard captain Noah Welch. Welch never really played to his promise in Florida and was traded with a third-round pick at the 2009 trade deadline to the Tampa Bay Lightning for soon-to-be RFA defenseman Steve Eminger.
17/57 Garth Murray (2007-08): Spirited scrapper Murray was claimed from the Montreal Canadiens via waivers early in the season. Murray played only six games for the Panthers before being injured in a fight and missing the remainder of the season. He signed with Phoenix and played most of the next season for the AHL's San Antonio Rampage.
20 Richard Zednik (2007-09): Former Montreal Canadiens forward Zednik was signed as free agent in 2007. He played most of a solid season before his throat was slashed in a freak accident by Olli Jokinen's skate. Zednik, realizing the severity of the injury, reacted quickly, skating immediately to the bench. He was evacuated to the hospital and the game was delayed for 20 minuted while the trail of blood he left on the ice was cleaned. After surgery, he was able to return the following season and played well, but left the Panthers days after being announced as a Masterton Trophy finalist to sign with Lokomotiv Jaroslavl of the KHL.
21 Cory Murphy (2007-09): Undrafted defenseman Murphy played for Colgate University and for a couple of teams in the Swedish Elite League before being signed by the Panthers late in the 2006-2007 season. He played for half of the following season for the Panthers until being injured. He returned to the Panthers in the middle of the following season, but was sent down to Rochester for a conditioning stint and then claimed off re-entry waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He finished the season with the Lightning before signing a contract with New Jersey. After playing most of the season with the Devils' AHL affiliate in Lowell, Murphy returned to Europe.
22 Jassen Cullimore (2007-09): Veteran defenseman Cullimore was signed for one year by the Panthers at the start of the season after failing to make the Detroit Red Wings on a tryout. Cullimore ended up being one of the Panthers' best defensemen that season. Cullimore was let go when his contract expired, but returned early the next season to replace the injured Bryan Allen, who only played two games before missing the rest of the season.
33 Wade Belak (2008): The Panthers traded a fifth-round pick to Toronto at the deadline for enforcer Wade Belak. Although Belak quickly became a fan favorite, new coach Pete DeBoer was not impressed with his play and he was traded to Nashville early in the season for enforcer Nick Tarnasky.
37 Tanner Glass (2007-09): Former Dartmouth college forward Tanner Glass was the Panthers' ninth-round draft pick in 2003. After graduation, he played his first game with the Rochester Americans late in the 2006-2007 season. He split the next two seasons between the Panthers and Amerks, but injury cut his second season short. He was not qualified at the end of the season and signed with Vancouver, where he remains.
53 Brett McLean (2007-09): Forward Brett McLean spent several years bouncing around the AHL and Europe leagues before playing two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. Following his stint wiith the Avalanche, he signed a three-year contract with the Panthers. Solid in his first season, he greatly underachieved in his second with the team and his contract was bought out.
This off-season may have been Martin's worst. The season was a disaster. Team captain Olli Jokinen led a rebellion that led to Martin's dismissal as coach, but inexplicably, owner Alan Cohen kept him as General Manager. After the Zednik accident, Jokinen's play fell off and Martin used it as an excuse to ship him off, bringing in defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and a second-round pick (D Colby Robak). While the return was solid, the fans were not happy with the trade of the long-time captain or with Cohen's retention of Martin. As General Manager, Martin hired his own replacement, Kitchener Rangers coach Pete DeBoer. DeBoer was a winning juniors coach who had already coached several current and future Panthers including Stephen Weiss. He was seen as one of the best options to move up to the NHL and was also aggressively pursued by the Ottawa Senators. His hiring was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal off-season.
Restricted free agent Jay Bouwmeester, unbeknownst to most of the fan base, asked for a trade midway through the season, but Martin refused. He was one year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, and signed a contract for only that last year as he was unwilling to stay any longer. Rather than grant his request and trade him while interest from other teams was high, Martin spent the season attempting to convince Bouwmeester to stay. Martin also signed restricted free agent Rostislav Olesz to a six-year, $18.75 million contract, even though he had only scored 14 goals in his top season. Olesz is one of the team's highest paid forwards, but has yet to improve on his 30 point season in 2006-07.
Just before the start of the season, oft-injured defenseman Mike Van Ryn was traded to Toronto for Bryan McCabe. McCabe, an offensive defenseman with an excellent slap shot, was run out of Toronto by fans who blamed him for the team's poor performance (and for accidentally scoring an overtime goal into his own net).
2 Keith Ballard (2008-10): Brought in as part of the Jokinen trade, Ballard played two seasons for the Panthers before being traded by Dale Tallon to Vancouver for forwards Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner (waived after training camp) in a salary dump prior to the start of the 2010-2011 season. Ballard had two highlight reel plays for the Panthers. The first was an enormous hip check on Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin in spring 2009; the second was the following season when he whacked the goal with his stick and took out his own goaltender after a blown play.
33 Steve MacIntyre (2009-10): Enforcer MacIntyre was signed in the summer, but he was cut from the Panthers during the pre-season and placed on waivers in preparation for assigning him to Rochester. Edmonton claimed him off waivers and he played 22 games for the Oilers. In November 2009, Edmonton placed him on waivers in preparation for sending him to their AHL affiliate and the Panthers picked him up. As with most enforcers on a Pete DeBoer roster, he saw limited ice time. His contract expired at the end of the season and he returned to Edmonton.
44 Nick Boynton (2008-09): Boynton brought a much-needed physical presence to the Panthers blue-line. Part of Boynton's game has always been that he plays on the edge. Unfortunately, he got into a fight with DeBoer after being benched in a game about 2/3 of the way into the season, and though the team's record with Boynton in the lineup was far better than without, he found himself benched for the rest of the season, even after Jay Bouwmeester's play plummeted after the team failed to trade him at the deadline. Boynton's benching is quite likely a large contribution to the Panthers missing what would have been their first playoffs in eight years.
55 Steve Eminger (2009): At the trade deadline, the Panthers, sniffing at the playoffs and having given up on Noah Welch, traded Welch and a third-round pick for impending RFA Eminger. Eminger, a former first-round pick for the Capitals, had already been traded by the Flyers along with Steve Downie for Matt Carle. The Panthers wanted a closer look at Eminger and the Lightning, having already tanked the season, were dumping salary. After Nick Boynton's fight with DeBoer, Eminger got a lot more playing time and was mediocre. The Panthers let him walk at the end of the season and he signed with Anaheim, who later traded him to the Rangers.
74 Nick Tarnasky (2009-10): New coach Pete DeBoer benched enforcer Wade Belak for much of the beginning of the season, so Martin traded him to Nashville for enforcer Nick Tarnasky. Tarnasky spent a lot of time in the press box, but got in just over 30 games in his two seasons in Florida. He was not tendered a qualifying offer when his contract expired.
After the Panthers missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker, Martin spent the time before the free agent deadline not trading UFA Jay Bouwmeester or re-signing RFA David Booth. Fans wondered what was going on and found out right before free agency began that he was busy getting himself the Montreal Canadiens head coaching job.
Assistant GM Randy Sexton was given the title "Interim General Manager" and he quickly set about to trade Bouwmeester and sign Booth. Booth was signed to a six-year deal worth about $4 million a season and Bouwmeester's rights were traded for Jordan Leopold's. At the draft, the Panthers got a steal in defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Although he had signed a KHL contract when quite young, Kulikov was determined to play in the NHL and in pursuit of that goal moved to Canada to play in juniors and take English lessons. Originally projected to go top five, teams were spooked by his KHL contract. The Panthers picked him and when he made the team out of training camp, Sexton and crew got the KHL contract taken care of and got Kulikov under contract just before the deadline.
He also signed several veteran players to one-year contracts. When it was obvious the team was not going to make the playoffs, he traded all of them and was able to pick up a number of picks in a deep 2010 draft. The team did their part and tanked, finishing 28th overall. Unfortunately for Randy Sexton, his one year contract as GM expired and Dale Tallon was hired as his replacement. Sexton is now in an executive capacity with Pittsburgh.
4 Dennis Seidenberg (2009-10): The Panthers went into training camp with only four proven NHL defensemen: McCabe, Bryan Allen, Leopold and Ballard. Martin Skoula and Christian Backman were given tryouts, but only a couple days into camp, Seidenberg was signed as a free agent. After a solid season, he was traded at the deadline with prospect Matt Bartkowski for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller and a second-round pick (Alexander Petrovic).
6 Ville Koistinen (2009-10): Known in Panther fan circles as "Sexton's Folly," former Nashville defenseman Koistinen was signed as a free agent in summer 2009. Touted by the team as a great depth signing, Koistinen was moved to forward early in the season to make way for first-round pick Dmitry Kulikov. Koistinen only played 17 games for the Panthers before being waived and sent to Rochester. He played 8 games for the Americans before sustaining a season-ending injury. His contract was quickly bought out after Dale Tallon took over.
19 Dominic Moore (2009-10): Moore was signed early in the season to replace center Shawn Matthias, who was sent back down to the AHL. Moore helped improve the Panthers' faceoff numbers all season long and provided a few highlight goals as well as a stunning check on goalie Rick DiPietro late in the season before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round draft pick in 2011 as part of Sexton's trade deadline frenzy. Moore went on to help the Canadiens advance to the Eastern Conference Final and is now playing for the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
22 Jeff Taffe (2009-10): Forward Taffe was a depth signing who played most of the season in Rochester. He was traded in the summer to Chicago for center Marty Reasoner.
44 Jordan Leopold (2009-10): Traded from the Flames for Jay Bouwmeester, Leopold initially did not sign with the Panthers, opting for free agency. When he wasn't signed late in the day, Sexton called him and Leopold signed for one year. He was traded to Pittsbugh at the deadline for a second-round pick (Connor Brickley). Leopold is currently playing for the Buffalo Sabres.
65 Victor Oreskovich (2009-10): Oreskovich played for Pete DeBoer in Kitchener, but left hockey after juniors. He decided he wanted to return to hockey and contacted DeBoer. Sexton agreed to a try-out and he was signed and assigned to Rochester. He played 50 games for the Panthers (and 34 for Rochester) before being traded to Vancouver with Keith Ballard at the draft.
Part three will look at the team Dale Tallon inherited.