Something's happening in Florida. They're winning. In their last ten games, the Florida Panthers have an impressive 6-2-2 record, and have been flip-flopping between seventh and tenth in the Eastern Conference, and 2nd and 3rd place in the Southeast Division. The Panthers currently have an above .500 record of 23-18-8, and in their surge through the standings, have defeated some pretty respectable teams. This is a Florida Panthers team, where mercy and good fortune has not been experienced by players or fans for almost a decade. As of late, rumors have been circulating that this Florida organization may be the potential candidate to relocate with fan attendance not being as high as other NHL clubs, and with the likeliness of another losing and playoff deprived season seeming inevitable.
Things are changing.
Most of the thanks and credit for the success of a Panthers team that I had finishing thirteenth in the East this year, should go to the likes of forwards David Booth, Nathan Horton, and Stephen Weiss, who have been on fire as of late, and have had tremendous support from veterans Radek Dvorak and Cory Stillman. You cannot count out the defense either. Florida has a solid core of young and veteran defenseman that have ultimately been the push for the Cats to keep their successful efforts consistent. Players like Jay Bouwmeester, Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, and Nick Boynton are the main pieces of this young and talented group of defensemen, who have played a phenomenal defensive game, while being able to contribute offensively.
Having considered all that has gone well for Florida so far, and where they stand in the playoff race, as well as various trade rumors that have hawked the team since the summer, whether or not the Florida Panthers will become buyers or sellers at the trade deadline should be put into question. It all focuses around Florida's alleged top trade item, 25-year old defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester refused to sign long term with the Cats over the summer, having implied he is tired and frustrated of playing for a losing team, but was willing to avoid arbitration and signed a one-year deal, which would make him an unrestricted free agent this summer. Bouwmeester will be a target for many teams this upcoming free agency period, and has been the main source of trade rumor speculations that involve the Florida Panthers for about six months. If the Florida Panthers were in fact ten points out of playoff contention and dwelling in thirteenth or twelfth in the Eastern Conference right now, then the likeliness of Bouwmeester being dealt imminently or around the March fourth trade deadline would have been high. Right now though, what the Panthers do with Bouwmeester ultimately determines the direction the Panthers take. If they end up trading Bouwmeester, then they are looking to sell, whereas if they keep him, the organization believes they have a good shot at making the playoffs, and will probably look to add a couple of assets to their lineup.
As far as I am concerned, if the Panthers remain consistent with their performance, I think they will become buyers. As for what the Panthers will specifically do to improve their roster, it will involve boosting their offense. Booth, Horton, and Weiss are good players, have had solid performances as of late, and are the future of this Panthers team, whether they stay in Florida or relocate, but I'm sure they will even welcome any additional support with open arms. Florida may try to trade for a pair of top six forwards, likely a number one or two center, and a scoring winger. As an example of potential acquirements I can see the Cats trading for are Keith Tkachuk of the Blues, and Nike Antropov of the Leafs. Both players should mulch nicely in the lineup, and should boost the team's offensive output. Any additions Florida makes on defense, will probably be tweaks. I would try to avoid any drastic alterations on a solid defensive core that they should be very fortunate to have. They have two legitimate number one defensemen in Bryan McCabe and Jay Bouwmeester, who are supported by the likes of Ballard and Boynton, as mentioned before. This is a defense that, if it stays together, is going to continue to grow and solidify throughout the years, and should not be tampered with. At most, obtain a stay at home defenseman or a big bruiser for minimal cost, who can play a serviceable role on the back line, but not become a dependant factor for the team.
Assuming Florida sells at the deadline, things will get interesting. Aside from their top commodity Jay Bouwmeester, Florida has other tradable players playoff teams will want. While the return will be nowhere near as good as Bouwmeester's value, teams will be interested in obtaining forwards Radek Dvorak, Corey Stillman, and Richard Zhednik. All three players are proven goal scorers, solid forwards, and have had some degree of prior playoff experience, where they should be able to contribute for any team that acquires them. The return may consist of mid-late round draft picks, and a young kid or two. In the end, whatever Florida may get in return should be satisfying, helpful, and in addition, helps the team clear cap space, and slots for potential free agent or other trade acquisitions and rookies.
Right now, the Florida Panthers are one of the most interesting stories in the NHL, and are a team that everyone should keep their eye on for several reasons. Whether they slide in the standings, and begin to display their merchandise for sale, or keep up their winning ways, and look to add a couple of assets onto their already young and impressive group of hockey players. What happens remains to be seen.