Dale Tallon was the laughing stock of the hockey world this summer when he signed eight different players to multi-year contracts in an attempt to get to the cap floor. Now that it is almost March and the Florida Panthers are leading the Southeast division, Tallon is the one that is laughing now. If that wasn't enough, most of the players who are leading the way for the Panthers are the ones that Tallon signed and traded for. Kris Versteeg, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell and Marcel Goc have all played a huge role into Florida's success this year and they have a very good shot at taking the Southeast. They are a borderline positive team in terms of possession and aren't going to scare a lot of teams in the playoffs, but they are good enough to win the Southeast this year. The Caps have fallen apart ever since Dale Hunter took over, the Jets aren't dominant and both the Lightning and Carolina have little to no shot at the playoffs this year. Florida's chances at the playoffs are very real and Tallon has said that he plans for them to be "buyers" this deadline. They could use a few pieces to make some noise in the playoffs, but the question is who can they add and how much space do they have to work with?
We'll explore that after the jump.
Here's what Tallon has done so far this year.
Traded David Booth, Steven Reinprecht & a 3rd round pick to Vancouver for Mikael Samuelsson & Marco Sturm
This trade was all about saving money and making room for players next year. Booth was under contract for the next four seasons and with Florida having many high-end forward prospects (Huberdeau, Rau, Bjugstad, Howden, etc.), they needed to make room for some of them next season. So, Tallon decided to send Booth to Vancouver in exchange for two guys that will be gone next season. He was also able to save money by including Reinprecht's awful contract in the trade. Makes sense, right?
It would have made a lot more sense if Tallon didn't acquire five different long-term contracts this summer. If the goal was to save money and make room for next year, then why did he acquire so many long-term deals? I know that he needed to reach the cap floor but there had to be much better options out there. Also, Tallon basically sold Booth for pennies on the dollar with this trade. Booth hasn't been the same since the Mike Richards hit but he is still a guy that you could get other GMs to overpay for near the deadline. Tallon selling low on him so early in the season was a confusing trade to say the least.
Waived Ryan Carter, claimed by New Jersey
Carter was mainly used in a penalty kill/fourth line role and became expandable with Marcel Goc and Shawn Matthias both on the team. Plus, they were without Mike Santorelli for part of the year and needed to make room for him when he returned. Carter was the odd-man out.
Traded Mike Kostka & Evan Oberg to Tampa Bay for James Wright and Mike Vernace
This trade was done to help San Antonio as they needed more depth and Norfolk had some to give. Oberg was part of the Chris Higgins deal last year and wasn't used much by Florida and neither was Kostka. It's a minor deal that doesn't mean much in hindsight but the Lightning have used Oberg a couple times this year.
Traded Jake Hauswirth and 5th round pick for Krys Barch
Hauswirth was who the Panthers acquired in the Dennis Wideman trade last year and he isn't exactly a future star, so they used him in a trade to acquire some bottom-six depth. Barch is your typical fourth line/tough guy. Other than his willingness to drop the gloves, he doesn't have many redeeming qualities. He gets used against the weakest competition, gets pummeled in his own end, scores once every solar eclipse and the most noteworthy thing he's done as a member of the Panthers is get suspended for using a racial slur. He's not exactly someone that I would want to acquire but it's not like Florida gave up a ton.
Re-signed Mike Weaver to a two-year/$2.2 mil. contract
Weaver has consistently been one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. He is always given a ton of defensive zone starts against opposing first lines and has done a great job at limiting both shots and chances in years prior. He hasn't been quite as effective this year which might be due to him and Jason Garrison being split up, but $1.1 mil. a year is a great price for a shutdown defenseman.
Traded Angelo Esposito to Dallas for Ondrej Roman
Really not much to say about this trade. Esposito is a former first round pick who hasn't seen much success outside of junior hockey. Roman hasn't done much with his AHL career either, so I'm not sure why this trade was made or if it means anything in the big picture.
Signed John Madden to a one-year/$600k contract
Florida's experienced a lot of injuries to their forward corps this year, so they decided to bring in John Madden on a cheap contract to help give them more depth. Madden might be nearing 40, but he is a fine defensive forward and not a bad person to have in your bottom-six. He's gone 15 games without a goal and has been getting pounded in his own end, so the signing hasn't worked out the way Florida planned yet. I expect him to stay in the lineup for the rest of the year, though.
Traded Evgenii Dadonov and AJ Jenks to Carolina for Mattias Lindstrom and Jon Matsumoto
With Dadonov bouncing back-and-forth between the NHL and AHL, it was clear that Florida didn't see him in their future plans. They also needed help in San Antonio with their AHL club and Matsumoto has been a top performer in Albany/Charlotte for awhile. This trade makes sense for both teams because Florida needed AHL scoring, and they get that in Matsumoto while Carolina needed to strengthen their forward prospect pool and Dadonov helps that cause.
Signed Tyson Strachan to a one-year/$600k contract
Strachan is a good depth defenseman to have at your disposal. He can play a third pairing role effectively at the NHL level but he isn't someone that you want in your lineup every night. With Florida seeing injuries to Jovanovski, Garrison and Kulikov this year, they needed depth on the back end and Strachan should give him that. He should be fine as long as he's in a sheltered role.
Now let's see what kind of situation Florida is in when it comes to money and cap space.
Top 3 Forwards: Fleischmann, Upshall, Weiss - $11,100,000
Middle 6 Forwards: Kopecky, Bergenheim, Goc, Santorelli, ???, ??? - $9,050,000
Top 4 Defensemen: Campbell, Jovanovski, Gudbranson, ??? - $14,467,875
Bottom 9 Players: Bradley, Matthias, Skille, Weaver, Strachan, ???, ???, ???, ??? - $4,326,625
Goaltenders: Theodore, Markstrom - $2,800,000
$41,744,500 on 17 players (10 forwards, 5 defensemen, 2 goaltenders)
UFA: Samuselsson, Sturm, Barch, Madden, Garrison, Clemmensen
RFA: Versteeg, Kulikov, Ellerby
Tallon spent like a mad man last summer but Florida still has plenty of cap space to work with even with all the long-term contracts. Clearing Booth's $4.25 mil. cap hit helped that. As of right now, they have about $9 mil. in cap space to work with but Tallon needs to be careful with his trades over the next week. Both Versteeg and Garrison are due new contracts and I am willing to bet that both will get large raises. Versteeg has been arguably their best forward and Garrison's emerged as an offensive threat with Brian Campbell so I would guess that Tallon plans to keep both around next year. Kulikov will likely be re-signed too and him plus Garrison and Versteeg's new contracts should take up a bit of cap space. That should get them to the floor and those empty roster spots can be filled by their upcoming prospects.
Florida has a lot of money invested in their top players for the next few seasons, so the trades I see them making over the next week will likely be for depth purposes and secondary scoring. They might also look to add some defensive depth because they have been hit hard by the injury bug, but they may have to go the cheap route with all the money they have invested in their top four. They are also going to look for expiring contracts to keep those roster spots open for next year. With the depth that Florida has in their system, Tallon isn't going to mortgage the future for a brief playoff run. No reason to make a blockbuster deal here. Florida needs depth to go anywhere in the playoffs but they also need to remember not to give up anything of great value to acquire that depth.
Let's look at their current depth chart to see where their main needs are and who they might acquire.
Fleischmann - Weiss - Versteeg
Bergenheim - Goc - Samuelsson
Skille - Matthias - Kopecky
Barch - Santorelli - Bradley
Gudbranson - Campbell
Strachan - Robak
Ellerby - Weaver
Garrison (out until next week)
Jovanovski (could be back in a few weeks)
Upshall (out until at least April)
Kulikov (Out until March)
Sturm (Out until March)
Madden (out for two weeks)
One of the keys to the Panthers success is their second line of Bergenheim, Goc & Samuelsson. These three take most of the tough draws and free up the Weiss line to easier minutes and that method has worked like a charm so far. Their first line has been benefiting from ridiculous shooting percentages all year so I don't know if that's going to sustain through the playoffs, but we'll see. Either way, that line has made up most of their scoring and if they go through a dry spell, they are in trouble. This is why I think they could use some help with secondary scoring. Guys like Bergenheim, Samuelsson and Matthias pitching in help but I think another scorer like Andrei Kostitsyn or Brad Boyes could help. That and those sound like the kind of players Tallon typically acquires. Although, waiting for Scottie Upshall to get healthy might be a better option but who knows if he'll be ready by playoff time? Florida's defense has also been destroyed by injuries but most of their key players should be back by March so I'm not sure if Tallon will make a move or just wait for Garrison and Kulikov to get healthy.
The Panthers have a great opportunity to make the playoffs now because the division is wide open but I don't know if they are good enough to get past the first round. With how unpredictable Dale Tallon is, it will be interesting to see what he does in the past week but if I was a Florida fan, I would hope that he doesn't make any big moves. His history of deadline trades isn't very good and there's no need for Florida to deal any of their prospects right now. Gaining two months of secondary scoring isn't worth risking the future. That said, I think Tallon will trade for a couple forwards with in the next week to help make Florida in better shape for a playoff run.