Rumor Roundup: Panthers in play

Lyle Richardson
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The Florida Panthers are off to yet another poor start, lurching to a 3-6-0 record in their first nine games.

New owner Vincent Viola, upon taking control of the Panthers in late-September, promised the club’s fans he and the front office will do “everything we can and we will win here.” He can’t be pleased with the club’s performance thus far.

Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch cited sources claiming the Panthers are “prepared to move any of their veteran players,” saying Viola and partner Douglas Cifu aren’t willing to “throw good money after bad.”

Garrioch claimed forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Shawn Matthias, Brad Boyes and Marcel Goc could be available, along with blueliners Tom Gilbert and Dmitry Kulikov.

He also believes Tim Thomas, whom the Panthers inked to a one-year deal last month, could be of interest to playoff contenders near the March trade deadline.

Garrioch’s column prompted responses from Panthers beat writers Harvey Fialkov of Sun-Sentinel.com and George Richards of the Miami Herald expressing doubt the club would soon engage in a fire sale of their veterans.

Fialkov noted most of the players named by Garrioch have played well, while the remaining two years and $7 million on Upshall’s contract makes him unmovable. He did acknowledge the disappointing Kulikov (who’s in the final year of his contract) could be expendable.

The Panthers were on a day off Sunday and unavailable for comment, but Fialkov believes GM Dale Tallon will give his stock trade rumor response, saying he’ll consider anything that could improve his team.

Richards, meanwhile, doubted the Panthers would make any significant moves until the trade deadline, if at all, though he admitted Thomas could interest playoff contenders by that point.

The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson, meanwhile, believes the Oilers would be very interested in Matthias if the 6-foot-4, 220-pound center hits the trade block.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star speculated the Maple Leafs could be eyeing Kulikov, though he’d be another left-handed shot on a blueline in need of a right-handed defenseman.

Assuming Tallon wants to shed some veterans, the easiest to move are those with affordable or expiring contracts, such as Matthias, Kulikov, Goc, Boyes, Gilbert, Scott Gomez, Ryan Whitney and Mike Weaver.

Fleischmann and Upshall also have no-movement/modified no-trade clauses in their contracts. Versteeg lacks such a clause, but his $4.4 million cap hit and recent injury history could hurt his trade value.

In today’s salary cap world, a major roster shakeup early in the season almost never happens. Thanks to the reduced salary cap this season, most NHL clubs have $5 million or less in cap space, making the possibility of an early season fire sale by the Panthers – or another NHL team – less likely.

It’s also still very early in the season and Tallon probably intends to give his roster more time to turn things around before considering a roster shakeup.