Free agency season has died down and while there are still quite a few intriguing names left floating about while teams figure their cap situations out, there’s one man out there who remains and his legend now grows as the pickings get slimmer.
His reputation is expanding faster than the universe you might say.
He’s a man who has played in the NHL for nine seasons, almost all of them healthy… Except for his most recent when he got injured more seriously just to see how it felt.
When Alex Tanguay drinks, he prefers something with an umbrella in it.
Or perhaps you’d just rather have a shitty Mexican beer.
Alex Tanguay is certainly getting a lot of attention and sure, much of it is deserved. He played 50 games for the Canadiens last year and scored 40 points. Not bad. Not great, but not bad either. Teams that are in the hunt for him, the aforementioned Panthers and Coyotes could sure use a big point producer to help out. Florida in particular would make for a great destination with the emerging David Booth and the host of snipers situated in Miami right now.
These teams in the hunt for Alex Tanguay had better know what they’re getting though.
They’re not getting a big goal scoring winger.
Tanguay is a set-up guy and would fit in ideally on a team that has a center that likes to score goals (well hello Tampa Bay) or on a line with enough offensive talent to make sure that Tanguay’s short comings (doesn’t play physical at all) don’t short-circuit the entire line (Ottawa, Dallas, even Phoenix perhaps).
Alex Tanguay is the ideal support piece for a team’s offense but he’s not the main event scorer. Of course, now that just about every main event scorer is off the market, Alex Tanguay is the last guy out there who has put up big offensive numbers in the past and will, likely, be able to get (over) paid by someone desperate.
Buyer beware because the Most Interesting Free Agent In The World is a lover not a fighter… But he’s also a fighter so don’t get any ideas He’s a total pansy, have at it.
As bad as Atlanta will seem this year, there’s another team in the Southeast Division that is going to make life easier a few times a year for them and for everyone else in the NHL. Behind every positive you might be able to find for the Florida Panthers, there’s a large and ominous negative lurking behind it – even at its most basic level.
You’d have to think that playing in Miami, Florida in the middle of winter and making a home there wouldn’t be all that bad and that it would serve to motivate players to want to go there. Instead, the Panthers have been irrelevant to the NHL since 2000 when Pavel Bure was single-handedly lifting the Panthers on his back.
The Panthers being in Miami (or Sunrise, FL to be totally exact) play in a market where fans root for the Dolphins 365 days out of the year. Everything takes a backseat to the Fins. Miami has been a blessed market for professional sports having had a normally successful NFL team each year, a recent NBA championship with the Heat and a two-time World Series winner in the Marlins.
The Panthers, however, are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of Miami. No respect at all – not that they’ve done anything to deserve it of late. They got their Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1996 and got swept out by Colorado and then had only two more playoff appearances to show for it after that in 1997 and 2000.
Now? Hopeful youth has turned sour. Players like Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Jay Bouwmeester have either not followed through fully on expectations or are just playing out the string until it’s time to leave. For a stretch, the Panthers actually drafted decently with their top picks. Horton and Weiss are both useful players and Bouwmeester, despite what that THN column above says is a very good defenseman – it’s just very difficult to gauge how good they are playing in a hockey vacuum.
For the longest time, or so it seemed, Olli Jokinen was the face of the Panthers, taking the job from John Vanbiesbrouck and Scott Mellanby before him. During the NHL Draft this off-season, he was shipped off to the desert to find more old folks in retirement homes in Phoenix.
While you’d never know nor ever heard it, word came out after the deal that Jokinen was dogging it in Florida and wasn’t a leader nor did he have any guts. We shall see how this pans out for both teams as Florida was able to bolster their defense in the deal getting Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton from the Coyotes, but having seen Jokinen play in Olympic competition for a team that was very successful in Team Finland, I can’t help but think that Florida is going to get shown up again here, especially with Phoenix being very close to becoming quite good in the Western Conference. If Jokinen is the clubhouse cancer that these gutsy, anonymous NHL executives claim to be, Phoenix is in a world of hurt and Florida’s rebound from mediocrity starts now.
That ain’t going to happen because the Panthers are awful.
All signs point to Nathan Horton, it appears, but who is going to work with him?
Stephen Weiss? David Booth? Rostislav Olesz?
These guys are all very young. Look at Horton who is the presumtive leader of this team. He’s 22 years-old and is going into his fourth full year with the Panthers, fifth overall.
Stephen Weiss is two years older than Horton and has yet to really show if he’s worth it. Weiss was the #4 overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and his best point season came two years ago (20-28-48).
David Booth is a name to get acquainted with because he’ll probably be suiting up in 2010 for Team USA. That said, him playing in Florida is a good way to keep him a secret. Booth is 23 years-old and finally broke out last year scoring 22 goals finishing with 40 points. I know that seems poor, but with the Panthers, he was certainly one of the guys the coach was telling you to keep an eye on.
They signed Cory Stillman away from Ottawa this offseason, but he’s a guy that comes in on the backside of his career and, while solid, isn’t much of a scorer anymore. That said, he will likely be Horton’s left wing and go-to guy. Yup, welcome to Florida.
Yes, that’s how bad it’s going to be this year. If any team gets lit up by the Panthers this year, I’m demanding that that team’s coach work them out immediately after the game Herb Brooks style. You know what I’m talking about…
Yes, the Panthers are that bad. They are the Team Norway of 1980. And yes, they will make someone feel really bad about themselves later on when they manage to steal a win or two.
The strength of this team is on the blueline and in goal. The two guys they got back for Olli Jokinen are decent and they’ll be used to playing defense on a bad offensive team having already played in Phoenix. They added Toronto’s headache and whipping boy Bryan McCabe which this year will look really good, but let’s face facts, McCabe was brought in as Jay Bouwmeester insurance once he’s traded away.
Bouwmeester will again be the best player back there but this is where the good gets wiped out by the bad. Bouwmeester is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and while he’s said all the right things about waiting to see if the Panthers get it turned around as to whether or not he’ll want to come back, don’t get lost with it – dude wants to get out of town and get paid.
General Manager Jacques Martin is going to have to know when, exactly, will be the time to pull the trigger on a deal for their best player. If the Panthers want to get anything at all for Bouwmeester, the trading deadline should prove to be a great time to pinpoint when the Panthers actually get their stuff together to turn around the franchise or if they can start gathering their things to move to Las Vegas or Kansas City and call it a day in South Florida.
If the Panthers don’t/can’t get a premium package for Jay Bouwmeester, it will prove to be a devastating turn of events for this franchise. Martin and the rest of the front office cannot buy the lip service being served up from Bouwmeester. He’s leaving Florida regardless of what magic you think you can pull. Trade him, get lots of fun pieces to add to the team and for God’s sake, get your head screwed on straight for the draft – if you end up with the #1 pick, you’re all set.
If not – start scouting.
Oddly enough, whether injur occurs in goal or not, the Panthers are very much set. Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson are both more than capable and with Anderson’s success last year while Vokoun was injured, I’m shocked we didn’t get any stories out of Florida about looking to deal Vokoun to get cheaper. Since that didn’t occur, Vokoun and Anderson will provide some of the lone stability you’ll find on the Panthers this year, problem is, will they get any support for their efforts. All signs point to ABSOLUTELY FREAKING NOT.
The Panthers might keep the Thrashers out of last place in the Southeast, but they should prove to be cozy roommates at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings (and they’ll be joined by one other team down at the very bottom of the pile in the East) but Florida is shaping up to perhaps be the very worst of the bunch. They’ll need Vokoun and Anderson to be Jennings Trophy winners to be in the race for the playoffs and they’ll need all of their youth to have breakout years so they can at least trot out two solid scoring lines.
Every goal scored this year for new head coach Peter DeBoer, fresh off of a championship season with Kitchener in the OHL, is going to have to be worked for even harder than what you’d see from better teams in the NHL. It’s clear why DeBoer was brought into this situation in Florida, he’s got experience coaching the team enigma Stephen Weiss as well as a couple of other players. They’re hoping that his new blood as well as experience with some of these guys will light a fire.
There won’t be any fire here though. There won’t even be any smoke, sparks, tinder, lighter fluid, gasoline… you get the point.
See you next season Panthers – thanks for not showing up.
It’s interesting that in this hockey-centric blog that the word “modesty” is being mentioned at all this time of year. NHL general managers can’t wait to get rid of the money the owners make and spend it recklessly on players who may, and likely, may not have earned their new paychecks. A statement like that should be linked with articles talking about such insane money-tossing, but those are too numerous to count right now.
Suffice to say, a guy like Jeff Finger, who only two years ago I was watching carve up the ice in Albany for the AHL River Rats, is now making $3.5 million a year for the Maple Leafs and he hasn’t even played 100 NHL games yet nor could he crack the starting lineup more often than not for the Avalanche in the playoffs last year.
But I digress.
I’d like to talk about how the league’s love of all things American could be put to best use, rather than ripping them for doing so ad nauseum, which I’ve developed a bit of a penchant for doing.
That’s right, the city to a former NBA Champion, the Supersonics won the NBA Championship in 1979, you know, when the NBA was a floundering league that had its title games aired in tape delay on CBS and was overwrought with drug problems.
Hell, the first American Stanley Cup Champions were the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917.
What’s most heinous here is that the main beef for the Sonics shuffling off to the wilds of Oklahoma City (Market size 45 according to Nielsen) is the way Stern has basically told Seattle, “If you ever want to see the NBA again, you’ll build us a new arena.”
It’s this sort of attitude that the NHL should take advantage of and work with the city to show that they care and are willing to play the role of the white knight.
During the ridiculous Nashville ownership wranglings, writers and speculators made it a point to pick out different U.S. markets that are interested in and would love to take on NHL franchises. Cities like Las Vegas (thanks to Jerry Bruckheimer’s interest in owning a team) and Kansas City (due to the availability of a spacious new 18,000 seat arena) were the places picked out as most logical.
Seattle rarely, if ever, entered into the equation.
Why? Well, it’s pretty likely that the answer lies in Canada.
A move to Seattle would, almost assuredly, get the dander up of the Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini. Seattle sits 140 miles to the south of Vancouver and Vancouver’s claim to the region would be highly challenged putting a team in a large, U.S. market that, the Canucks would argue, watches and loves the Canucks.
I’m sure there are many arguments into the validity of this, but let’s face it, 140 miles isn’t that far away, a two to three hour drive away at most. Such closeness is surely a great argument in favor of the Canucks keeping their hold over the market and them having any fans leeched away from a team being located in Seattle must be valid.
Wait… what’s that? Buffalo and Toronto are only 93 miles apart? Both teams sell out their arenas? They have a thriving rivalry? Toronto fans go out of their way to get tickets in Buffalo to see games there because they’re cheaper tickets and easier to land than Leafs tickets? All of these things happen and neither team loses anything being so close?
So why wouldn’t they want to do this? Why wouldn’t they want to ride in and work out a deal with the city of Seattle to move say… the Florida Panthers or Atlanta Thrashers to Seattle with the help of Starbucks owner and champion of all things Seattle, Howard Schultz? After all, Schultz wants to bring a law suit against the NBA and the owner of the now Oklahoma City NBA franchise, Clay Bennett.
Schultz loves pro sports in Seattle so much, you’d like to think he’d be behind a project to bring a floundering NHL franchise to the city, you know, to fill the void. Think of the marketing potential Gary. Starbucks is the biggest brand of coffee in the world now. Their shops are everywhere, and in the western U.S. there is none bigger to compete with them.
You hear that? A product known worldwide and has a foothold stronger than anything in the Western United States! Think of the potential!
It’s been pretty clear that hockey in South Florida is a miserable failure. No, I know they made the Cup Finals in 1996 and leaving a city that’s had a taste of success would be tragic.
What about Atlanta then? They’re currently a two-time failure at holding the interest of the fans. Never mind the fact that Atlanta is a brutally awful professional sports market, this is a place that still finds it necessary to point out the most mundane aspects of hockey to its paying customers by announcing them over the public address.
Yes, we know the rules to icing are confusing and maybe the rules to offside might be a bit hard to understand, but don’t worry, the Thrashers PA guy will tell you what it is every time it happens.
If they aren’t going to find a way to contract franchises and if they want to make the right move and play the good guy for once, sweet talk Howard Schultz and tell him there’s another sport that plays games between October and June. Tell him there’s another way to bring fun to the people of Seattle. Tell him you’ll work out a way to help pay for a new arena in Seattle and make sure that the people of Seattle don’t have to pay for it.
Be the good guy. Save face on one of your failed southern experiments and send them north. No, not to Canada. Send them to Seattle and resurrect the ghosts of the Metropolitans, much like the NHL did in Ottawa with the Senators.