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Booth to Canucks looks money-motivated

David Booth's time in with the Panthers is over after being traded to the Canucks. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

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David Booth's time in with the Panthers is over after being traded to the Canucks. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Florida Panthers claim their decision to trade David Booth to the Canucks had nothing to do with money and everything about sending a message to a struggling team. But, boy, does this ever smell like a long-term salary dump.

Because if you’re looking at this trade from strictly a hockey standpoint, the Canucks hit one out of the park. And if it’s a hockey trade as the Panthers seem to be making it out to be, then it should be measured by which team got the best player in the deal. And that team would be the Canucks, by a mile.

The deal breaks down like this: the Canucks get Booth, Steven Reinprecht and a third round pick in next year’s draft in exchange for Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. Booth is the centerpiece of the trade and the only one of the players who is under contract beyond this season, with a deal that will pay him $4.25 million through 2014-15.

There is an argument to be made that Booth has never been, and may never be, the same since taking a devastating open-ice hit from Mike Richards two years ago. And even though he was struggling with just one assist in six games for the Panthers this season, he still managed to score 23 last season after missing most of 2009-10 with a severe concussion. Perhaps the Panthers thought they could afford to give up their leading scorer from in 2010-11 because they have much better offensive depth now with the additions of Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Marcel Goc up front and Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski on defense.

But then again, this is a team that had gone almost 138 minutes without a goal before finally getting one in the first period of its game against the New York Islanders Saturday night.

So you tell us whether this is a money deal or not. If it weren’t, wouldn’t the Panthers have insisted on getting more than two veteran expiring contracts back in return for a guy who scored 23 goals last year on a bad team? The fact Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon made Canucks GM Mike Gillis take Reinprecht in the deal makes it look even more like the Panthers were dumping salary. Reinprecht carries a cap hit of $2.05 million, but was making $2.175 million to play in the American League. Even though having him in the minors doesn’t affect their cap, the only salary cap concern the Panthers have ever had has been whether or not they could pull themselves up to the floor.

The Panthers could not have been thrilled about paying that kind of money to have a guy play for them in San Antonio. So now Reinprecht will move to the Chicago Wolves, where the Canucks will be more than happy to pay him that money if it means they can get a player of Booth’s talent level. Meanwhile, they give back $4.75 million in salary in Sturm and Samuelsson, two players who it seemed were not going to make an enormous contribution. Samuelsson had a goal and three points in six games, but still seems hobbled by the sports hernia surgery he had this past summer and is eight years older than Booth.

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So even though the Panthers will actually add $500,000 in cap commitments, they’ll at least have two players they feel will be able to make some contribution. And they just happen to be two players to whom they will have no contractual obligation once the season ends. And if they’re out of it by the trade deadline, you’d have to think Tallon would be able to move one or both of them for a middle- to low-round draft pick.

Sure looks like a salary dump from this vantage point.

The Canucks, meanwhile, shave $500,000 off their salary cap with the move, which is always a consideration when you’re a team that spends at or near the cap ceiling. And they get a player who can play on their second line alongside Ryan Kesler, a teammate of Booth’s from their minor hockey days in Detroit.

“A lot of things come into play,” Tallon said of the trade. “We’re in the performance business, and I was not happy with our team’s performance, especially the last two games. I wasn’t going to sit still and let this fester and I want to send a message. I want to make changes and I want to get better.”

If that’s the case, that’s one heck of a risky message to send six games into a season in which you have a 3-3-0 record. But for a GM whose history of success seemed predicated on making deals to acquire young players and draft picks instead of getting rid of them, the logic seems curious. Very curious indeed.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column

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