Many thanks to Donny Rivette from Litter Box Cats for taking the time to answer our thought provoking questions today.
1 - Elliotte Friedman said in his 30 Thoughts column on Monday that the Panthers would like to totally burn the roster to the ground and start rebuilding, but are hamstrung by long-term contracts. Is there an obvious way for Dale Tallon to get out of this sticky situation?
Existing contracts on several high-profile players (for this market, anyway) do indeed have a grounding effect going forward, at least in the short-term. Up front perhaps only Tomas Fleischmann has a legitimate chance at playing out his deal with two seasons remaining, as he continues to contribute and has remained remarkably healthy while seemingly everyone else has seen serious time on the IR. Kris Versteeg (three years) is a toss-up based upon his own health issues along with similar situations involving Scottie Upshall (two years) and Sean Bergenheim (two as well). Tomas Kopecky is having a career year, even in a lockout-shortened campaign, but with two seasons of his own remaining, he and "Flash" may be the only candidates for a change of address at the trade deadline, and even then the deals are likely to favor the other GM, as the dollar amounts ($3M and $4.5M, respectively) could be cause for concern. Once again though, Fleischmann could be the one piece that remains.
On the backend, much has been written about captain Ed Jovanovski's term ($4.25M/2 years), health (he's out yet again), and ability to keep up with the speed of today's game. Being a team "legend" of sorts, Florida will undoubtedly allow Jovo to close out his playing days in any fashion of his choosing, but one has to theorize Dale Tallon furiously selling the retirement option. Somewhat similarly, the Panthers are completely anchored to Filip Kuba's $4M ball-and-chain deal with "only" a year remaining. Hard to believe there's a club anywhere who will touch such a deal, and the situation is doubly painful given Florida's (admittedly young) depth at D. Otherwise - and despite his current league-worst plus-minus (minus-20) - Brian Campbell's three remaining seasons can be justified, because he's Brian Campbell.
2 - What will Kevin Dineen need to do down the stretch to make sure that the development of guys like Jonathan Huberdeau, Drew Shore, Jacob Markstrom, et al. is not hampered by the realities of a team
going nowhere and playing out the string?
The "kids" (and this includes 22 year-old fifth-year pro Dmitry Kulikov) know the score, i.e. the club stinks at present for a variety of reasons outside of their control, they know what is in the system, and they have faith in the so-called Tallon Blueprint. Likely they are aware that many if not most Florida fans are watching games down the stretch not necessarily to see the Panthers break the cycle of consistent losses, but to witness the collective development of Huberdeau, Shore, Markstrom, Colby Robak, Erik Gudbranson, and a growing number of others. That aspect alone has been worth the price of a down season, as one can easily see a far brighter future. How many other rookie crops around the league - being fully aware of their own talents and gifts for the game - can look "beneath" themselves on an organizational depth chart and rattle off names such as Vincent Trocheck, Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad, Mike Matheson, Alex Petrovic, Quinton Howden, Corban Knight, and half a dozen others?
3 - Now that Kris Versteeg has joined Stephen Weiss on the season-ending injury list, both of whom are noted for their two-way play when healthy, which suffers more in their absence: offense or defense? Who is the most likely to pick up the slack in each end?
Shawn Matthias has made enormous positive gains in his overall game this season, and as such has earned extended responsibilities, though he's always been reliable in the two-way aspect. Jack Skille has similarly taken to the same role with ferocity. Somewhat remarkably the line of Huberdeau-Shore-Peter Mueller is a combined minus-12 on a horrendous team which features six individual players with a minus-11 or worse. That alone speaks volumes.