Stephen Weiss and the Florida Panthers were knocked out of Round 1 in seven games by the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
The Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring for the first time in more than a decade and, entering this season, management hopes the lockout won’t affect their chances of building upon that success.
In summer of 2011, GM Dale Tallon turned over roughly half the roster, acquiring veterans Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski and Jose Theodore. Those transactions proved crucial in the Panthers’ improvement last season.
Tallon didn’t make nearly as many moves this summer, re-signing Versteeg and Scott Clemmensen and inking Peter Mueller, George Parros and Filip Kuba via free agency.
Mueller hopes to get his career on track after a series of concussions threatened to derail it. Should he remain healthy and regain his once-promising offensive touch, he’ll prove an affordable, vital addition to the Panthers offense. Parros should provide an extra measure of toughness that was lacking last season.
Adding Kuba was a smart move, filling the gap for the departed Jason Garrison, who signed with Vancouver.
Tallon is also keeping an eye on the future. Jonathan Huberdeau (19), Nick Bjugstad (20), Quinton Howden (20) and Jacob Markstrom (22) are projected to make the club this season or next, joining Dmitry Kulikov (21) and Erik Gudbranson (20), who are already in the Florida lineup.
The Panthers could do with more offensive depth and a little more size in their lineup, but the off-season rumor mill instead linked them to Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
Though Theodore and Clemmensen are under contract through 2012-13, Tallon was rumored to have interest in Luongo, who played five seasons in Florida before being dealt to Vancouver in 2006.
Luongo, who carries a no-trade clause, made no secret of his willingness to return to the Panthers. Florida also has a bit of a trade history with the Canucks, having shipped David Booth to Vancouver in a multi-player deal early last season.
Though neither Tallon nor Canucks GM Mike Gillis would comment on the summer-long speculation, it’s believed Gillis wanted at least one of the Panthers’ promising prospects as part of the return for Luongo, which Tallon was apparently reluctant to surrender.
Given Theodore and Clemmensen were an effective tandem last season and Markstrom waits in the wings, Tallon doesn’t appear pressured to upgrade his goaltending.
However, if Theodore or Clemmensen struggles early this season and Markstrom still proves unready for prime time, Tallon could change his mind about Luongo, provided the Canucks haven’t shipped him elsewhere by then.
Early-season injuries or issues elsewhere in the lineup could also take the Panthers out of the Luongo sweepstakes.
Depending on how things shake out under a new NHL collective bargaining agreement, Tallon should begin this season with his current roster and evaluate its performance.
If the Panthers get solid contributions from their goalies, off-season acquisitions and promising kids, they should continue to be a playoff contender this season.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.