The Florida Panthers are really struggling this season. After winning the Southeast division and making the playoffs for the first time in what seemed like forever last season, fans in Sunrise expected the Panthers to come back strong this season. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case, and the Panthers currently find themselves 5 points out of a playoff spot and 8 points out of first place in the Southeast Division.
A major reason for the struggles have been the huge injury issues the Panthers have faced. Consider the following:
Kris Versteeg has only played 7 games this season, and is still out of the lineup at least til Friday.
Ed Jovanovski has only played 5 games this year and is expected to be out another 10 days.
Scottie Upshall has only played 8 games this year and is expected to be out another 10 days.
Dmitri Kulikov is expected to miss the next 3 to 4 weeks.
Mike Weaver is expected to miss the next 3 to 4 weeks.
And then to top it all off, we saw arguably the two biggest injuries of the Panthers season in the last 3 days. Starting goalie Jose Theodore suffered a groin injury and is expected to miss a minimum of 6 week and #1 centre Stephen Weiss is gone for the season.
The last two injuries are particularly damning for the Panthers. You see, even if Florida can’t turn their game around over the next few weeks, there is always the trade deadline. A time to sell UFAs to be, and to retool your team going forward. Weiss and Theodore are both UFAs this summer, and with Jacob Markstrom as the Panthers goalie of the future, and with rumors circling that Weiss’ contract demands are too rich for Dale Tallon’s wallet, both players were prime candidates to be trade deadline rentals.
Weiss would have been a very attractive option, as the Panthers 1st line centre can do it all. He is used by the team in all situations, whether it be key faceoffs, powerplay, penalty kill, or matching up against the other team’s top lines. His loss is crippling to the Panthers playoff chances, but it also has the dual effect in that even if the Panthers couldn’t get it going with him in the lineup, they could have sold him for a king’s ransom at the end of the month. With the Ducks strong play this season, Weiss was likely to be the best centre UFA rental centre available on the trade market, and the Panthers certainly could have turned him into a future 1st round pick plus multiple young players/prospects if they couldn’t get him signed to an extension by April.
In Jose Theodore the Panthers had an attractive rental option for teams needing an experienced goalie down the stretch. While that may only apply to a limited number of teams right now, one injury could have put him in high demand. Theodore has played very well for the Panthers over the last season and a half, and certainly could have been a valuable rental. Even if we peg his value as a second round pick, it would still be an extra asset to the Panthers.
So what will the Panthers be selling now, should they continue to be at or near the bottom of the conference in three weeks? The only significant UFAs to be will be Mike Santorelli and Jerred Smithson. The returns and interest in those players will be minimal. And so the Panthers will either have to find teams willing to take players signed for future years, or just sit tight at this deadline, and so the injuries to Theodore and Weiss have been a double pain for Florida.