What to do with Panthers' Rostislav Olesz?

It's tough to beat up on this guy. It really is. He just seems so darned nice. But at some point the question must be asked: what's the upside?

Olesz tied a career high in 2009-10 with 14 goals over 78 games, set a career high with 178 shots on goal, and came within a point of matching his best year offensively (30 over 75 games in 06-07). Other than remaining generally healthy, six power play points and three GWs sum up the positives. All this and a minus-4 for the lowly price of $3.125M in cap space.

"Rusty" is heading into year number three of a six-season deal offered up by old friend Jacques Martin. And while his cap hit remains constant throughout the life of the contract (expiring following the 2013-14 campaign), his actual salary trends upward considerably:

  • 2008-09 - $1.7M
  • 2009-10 - 2.3M
  • 2010-11 - 3.1M
  • 2011-12 - 3.4M
  • 2012-13 - 4.0M
  • 2013-14 - 4.25M

These numbers were defensible in the summer of '08; a former first-rounder (7th in '04) Olesz had displayed a tantalizing peek of good things to come (33-44-77p) in his first 190 games before signing. Worth noting was the acquisition of fellow Czech Jozef Stumpel to "groom" the youngster into the pros.

An unfortunate tendency for injury was already apparent, as 56 games had been missed over the three seasons, but at that point in a green career one can only train harder and "hope for the best". Sappy and cliched, yes, but what more is there?

Many folks in '08 - myself included - found the six-year contract to be overly optimistic, though if the kid wound up as an annual 45-50 point scorer, which was not an unrealistic estimate at the time, Martin would have nailed himself a helluva bargain considering league-wide salary escalations.

How'd it turn out? In the two seasons since inking his gargantuan deal, Olesz has played in 115 games, scoring 18 goals (3pp), 20 assists (4pp), 38 points and a minus-9. 49 matches were missed due to various injuries. For anyone who watched the Panthers closely this year, simply noticing Rusty had played may come as a surprise; with few exceptions, most nights he was impossible to find.

Are his struggles related to coaching strategies? Linemates? Unspoken injuries? Instability of the club? Granted, there's been a boatload of turnover in his five years with the Cats, but after 300 games he surely knows the way to the nearest Dippin' Dots station at the BAC. He can't be "uncomfortable". Um, right?

So what to do? Short of a ridiculously costly buyout (in salary owed - four years worth - and an equal amount of time in swallowed cap hits each season) there just aren't many options. Try finding a sucker GM to take on that contract with his limited production? Highly unlikely; Florida would be forced to acquire someone else's problem, which is not a solution. Demotion is impossible for the same reasons as a buyout.

Or are we all so bleary-eyed from collective failure that Olesz is an easy target for criticsm?