UFA Options: Florida Panthers

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UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the Florida Panthers.

These are uncertain times for the Florida Panthers. Their general manager jumped ship to become head coach of the Montreal Canadiens; meaning that the Panthers will have their seventh G.M. in the past nine years. With the exception of Bryan Murray (1994-2000) no G.M. managed to occupy the position for three whole seasons.

It’s unfortunate timing for the Panthers; while Martin may not have been the best G.M. in the business not only is the entry draft coming up but Florida needs to make decisions on eight unrestricted free agents, including franchise cornerstone Jay Bouwmeester, who Martin elected not to trade at the deadline this past spring.

Richard Zednik

A fine two-way player most famous for surviving a horrific incident where his neck was sliced open by a skate, Zednik has seen his offensive game disappear since the lockout. While he still has a decent shot (and 17 goals to show for it this past season) he’s a limited playmaker and it’s anyone’s guess how his game would fare outside of the Southeast division. He hasn’t hit the 50 point mark since before the lockout and at this point is probably not suited to a top-six role on a competitive team.

Radek Dvorak

Much like Zednik, Dvorak is a former 30-goal scorer who hasn’t hit 50 points since the lockout. He had a 37-point season in St. Louis in 2006-07 and managed 36 points this past year, but at this stage in his career offense is not his primary contribution. Dvorak is a relatively cheap utility player; he’s still a fantastic skater and he’s also a very sharp positional player, so he can be used in a defensive role.

Ville Peltonen

Peltonen returned to the NHL after the lockout and has played three rather unheralded seasons with the Panthers. He’s another winger similar to Dvorak and Zednik; sharp positionally with some offensive ability but not quite enough to be a legitimate top-six option. He’s a rather streaky offensive player, going both hot and cold for long stretches of the season, but he isn’t a liability when he’s not scoring. A good, cheap option for some team’s lower line; particularly since he can move up the depth chart from time to time.

Jay Bouwmeester

There are a lot of people out there who don’t understand how difficult it is to start in the defensive zone. Here’s a look at the Panthers’ blue-line, ranked by the difference in total defensive zone faceoffs vs. offensive zone faceoffs. A positive number indicates more time in the defensive zone:

Bouwmeester: +180
Skrastins: +134
Cullimore: +56
Ballard: +33
McCabe: +13
Eminger: +4
Boynton: -4

Obviously, the Panthers started in their own zone a lot – not an uncommon occurrence among lousy teams. By way of contrast, the only Oilers’ players with numbers even close were Shawn Horcoff (+156) and Kyle Brodziak (+149) and the Oilers top-ranked defenseman in this category was Steve Staios (+29).

Bouwmeester is a complete player and a franchise talent; he doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for his tremendous defensive game and his offensive game isn’t half-bad either. He’s a great skater and a top passer, and if the workload were distributed a little more evenly he could see a rise in his offensive totals.

Nick Boynton

Given how sheltered Boynton was, he had an OK but not great season for the Panthers, and there were off-ice issues; in February he was suspended for three games by the team for “disciplinary reasons”. Supposedly this was the result of a run-in over ice-time with Panthers’ head coach Peter DeBoer. He’s a physical player who is prone to occasional undisciplined penalties, and his skating leaves something to be desired. Working in Boynton’s favour is that he is big, tough and has some offensive ability.

Karlis Skrastins

Jay Bouwmeester’s regular defense partner, Karlis Skrastins will never wow the world with his offensive ability, but he’s one of the better stay-at-home blueliners in the NHL. He finished 9th in the league with 171 blocked shots (the Oilers’ top player in this category was Steve Staios with 157) and while he isn’t a big hitter he’s as sharp in his own end as just about any player in the game. He would be a very good fit on a team looking for a defensive presence in their top-four.

Jassen Cullimore

The 2008 Norris Trophy candidate is a serviceable depth defenseman who has never used his imposing frame (6’5”, 220lbs) as effectively as he could. He bounced around for a bit before finding a home in Florida and the 36-year old may be near the end of the line at this point. Then again, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be considered for a #5-#7 role given his performance over the last two seasons.

Craig Anderson

Anderson has been one of the best backup goaltenders in the NHL since coming to Florida in 2006-07, and this year he finally managed to get into a significant number of games (31) and posted a comparable save percentage (.924) to his partner, one of the league’s best goaltenders (Tomas Vokoun, .926). It would be a bit of a risk to just hand over a starting job to him, but he would be a fine choice at this point to be a 1A goaltender in a tandem situation, and he might take over the starting role entirely.