by PuckStopsHere on 07/02/10 at 02:37 PM ET
When Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel bought the Florida Panthers outright from Alan Cohen (where they had been minority partners), I cautioned that this may be a desperate financial move by people who are unfit financially to own an NHL team. I was criticized by Stu Hackel of the New York Times Slapshot blog for misreading the situation, but it is looking as though I am correct.
The first major change the new owners are bringing into Florida is a slashed payroll and that is consistent with them not having the money to properly finance their team, especially as it is second to the Phoenix Coyotes in recent financial losses.
In the build-up to the NHL Entry draft, Florida managed to sell some of their higher priced players for extra first round draft picks. Florida traded Nathan Horton and his contract that owes him $14 million over the next three years (with a $4 million a year salary cap hit) to the Boston Bruins along with Gregory Campbell in exchange for Dennis Wideman (who is owed $8.5 million in the two years remaining on his deal) and a first round draft pick (Florida picked Nick Bjugstad). This move reduced Florida’s upcoming salary commitments.
Florida then moved Keith Ballard (who is owed $4.2 million a year for the next five years) and Victor Oreskovich to the Vancouver Canucks for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and the Canucks first round pick (Florida selected Quinton Howden). This was another move to reduce their salary commitments.
As a result of these moves, Florida only has three players signed beyond the end of next season. They are David Booth, Rostislav Olesz and Stephen Weiss signed beyond the end of the 2011/12 season. Florida is slashing their payroll and preparing to keep it low in the immediate future.
Twenty-four teams have announced at least one free agent signing so far and Florida has not had any. Florida is not using their new salary cap space to improve their roster. They seem to not be able to afford such luxuries.
The biggest question with the Florida Panthers future is goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is an unrestricted free agent next summer. Likely he will leave and that will significantly weaken the team. At that point, there will likely be little left to cheer for.
Florida may claim that they are rebuilding again. Did you realize they had finished their last rebuild, which has apparently been underway for the last decade or so? It was 2000 the last time the time made the playoffs and 1996 the last time (and only time) they actually won a series. Can this struggling market withstand a considerably weaker team with a slashed payroll?
Before you imagine this payroll slashing as some grand plan to tank the league and acquire top draft picks to win eventually, consider that the three biggest payroll slashings since the first year post-lockout (many big market teams slashed payroll due to a new salary cap in the first year) were by the Phoenix Coyotes last year, the Nashville Predators when they were barely rescued by a local group including the ill-fated Boots Del Biaggio and the Columbus Blue Jackets when Scott Howson took over as general manager and shed the salaries of Sergei Fedorov and Adam Foote (among others). These teams made their moves out of financial distress and have had no path toward the top of the NHL as a result. I think the Florida Panthers are no different.
It is tough to be an NHL general manager. It is even tougher when you have little financial backing behind you. Dale Tallon is taking over as Florida Panther GM and being forced to slash payroll, as a result his team probably will not be able to compete in the NHL. Unless Tallon pulls off a miracle, look for his run in Florida to yield unpleasant results on the ice and possibly be unpleasantly short for Tallon.
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