by PuckStopsHere on 03/07/09 at 03:16 AM ET
A lot has been written about the trades that occurred on trade deadline day. There are many interesting stories behind them and many different interesting lines of speculation for what might be their result on the teams involved. In some cases the big story is not the trade that is made, but the trade that does not get made. This is definitely the case for the Florida Panthers. The Panthers best player is defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. He is going to be an unrestricted free agent last summer. I wrote earlier this season that the decision of whether to trade or not to trade Bouwmeester was the biggest hockey decision left this season.
The Florida Panthers have not made the playoffs since the year 2000. Currently, the Panthers have 74 points, which puts them in a three-way tie for sixth to eighth places in the East Conference with the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are only one point up on ninth and tenth place Buffalo and Carolina. A playoff berth is by no means a given, but it is a serious possibility.
Florida’s playoff chances would likely be gone if they had traded Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester has played almost 27 minutes a game all season. This ranks him third in ice time in the league (behind Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger of Anaheim). Re-allocating that ice time to lesser players would significantly change the Florida defence for the worst.
Bouwmeester signed a one year contract last summer because it would speed up his free agency and allow him to leave Florida as soon as possible. He was unhappy with how the franchise was run. He was unhappy with the fact that he had never made the playoffs in his career. He didn’t think it was likely that would be changing. It was considered a given that Bouwmeester would test the free agent market this summer.
Has any of that changed? Will a possible playoff appearance in Florida change his opinions? I think that seems very unlikely unless it is a deep playoff run -and even that may not matter if he has already made up his mind. Most likely, Bouwmeester is leaving Florida as a free agent this summer.
Is it worth keeping him on board for a potential playoff run? More than likely the Panthers would be first round losers if the do make the playoffs. Next year they will be without Bouwmeester and without anything in return. Likely they would be worse off despite a potential short playoff appearance.
The problem with this simple analysis is that it doesn’t take the business needs of the Panthers into account. The Florida Panthers are struggling at the gate. In the weakened economy, they are a team that may not be able to survive financially. One way to turn that around is probably establishing themselves as a winning team with their fanbase. It is hoped that a playoff berth would help to do that. Essentially it is a “Hail Mary” attitude to go for it all now because the future is in jeopardy. The future would likely look better from a hockey perspective if the Panthers didn’t make an ill-advised run for a playoff berth now.
The Panthers defence would be in turmoil if Bouwmeester was gone. Nick Boynton has not been getting along with coach Peter DeBoer and was sent home for a few games. He has not played since February 26th. Losing Bouwmeester and Boynton would really be significant.
In the positive column, the Panthers managed to trade for Steve Eminger from Tampa Bay. He is a solid defenceman. He had probably been the best defenceman on a weak Tampa Bay team. He had played with DeBoer in junior and looks like a good pickup (for the price of Noah Welch and a 2009 third round draft pick). This is a good trade for Florida regardless of the Bouwmeester situation.
Florida’s decision to keep Bouwmeester was made because of the financial strain on the organization. They have to win now in order to increase their chances of survival. The problem is the team is not a great team. Winning now means barely qualifying for the playoffs and likely making a quick exit. That isn’t good enough. In order to make a serious difference to the Panthers fanbase, they must be a serious contender. Barely making the playoffs one time (and jeopardizing their chances to do so in the future after Bouwmeester leaves) makes little to no difference. The Panthers have made a decision to hurt themselves long-term in order to try to attain short-term goals that are not significant enough to make much long-term difference. That is a way to run a hockey team into the ground. Florida should have accepted the best possible offer for Bouwmeester, even though it likely costs them a playoff berth, because it would have left the team in better shape for the future. They are not a good enough team to win big now. Making it their goal to win now is a plan that will fail.
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