by PuckStopsHere on 02/08/09 at 05:08 AM ET
I think the biggest hockey-related decision (not to be confused with a business decision) left to be made this season will be made by the Florida Panthers. The Panthers have to decide whether to trade or keep Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester is an All Star defenceman who leads the NHL in ice time. He is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Last summer, it seemed clear that he wanted to leave Florida and fine a team to play for that would compete for a Stanley Cup. Florida had one last chance to show a skeptical Bouwmeester that they were capable of contention. Have the Panthers done this?
They are currently in ninth place in the East Conference. They are one point back of a playoff berth with one or two games in hand against most of the teams just above them. It is very possible that Florida will qualify for the playoffs this year. It would be Florida’s first playoff berth since 2000 and the first of Jay Bouwmeester’s career. Most likely they would lose in the first round, but they might be capable of a run. If Bouwmeester is looking for a team that contends, is this good enough? Florida has a young team and might be able to do better next year.
Of course if Florida trades Jay Bouwmeester, their playoff hopes are likely dashed. It will be hard to replace his minutes on defence. Likely he would be traded for young players and prospects, which would mean Florida would be in no position to compete the rest of this season. It would likely mean that the team is also rebuilding next season and again unlikely to make playoffs. Can the weak South Florida hockey market handle a Panthers team that is not going anywhere in the next couple of years? It is not obvious that the answer is yes.
If Florida doesn’t trade Bouwmeester and he leaves as a free agent, they are no better off. They will have had whatever playoff run they accomplish this year (assuming they can have one at all) and have nothing to show for Bouwmeester’s departure. That will leave them in a worse shape for next season (and beyond) than if they do trade him.
If I was running Florida, I would make a concerted effort to sign Bouwmeester. I am sure they have done this and it hasn’t succeeded. Given that failure, the most logical option is to trade him. There is no other comparable defenceman to Bouwmeester on the market, so a playoff contender will likely be willing to pay a big price for him. The potential exists for this trade to be a large long term victory for the Florida Panthers.
Florida will set their direction for the rest of this year and likely for next year as well with their decision about jay Bouwmeester. Trading him probably kills their playoff chances. Unless they can re-sign him, keeping him in hopes of a playoff berth could turn out even worse. Re-signing him is the best situation, but is that possible?
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