Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Panthers Invite Veterans

I guess it finally dawned on the Florida Panthers that they are no longer in the Southeast Division this season. It's taken them a little longer than I would have predicted, but they move into a division with several powerhouse teams including Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. All five of those teams made the playoffs last season which is something that the Panthers cannot claim. So it makes sense that the Panthers would invite veteran unrestricted free agents Brad Boyes and Tim Thomas to training camp on professional tryout contracts as they try to compete with the big boys of the Atlantic Division.

Brad Boyes has a fantastic shot at making the team as the Panthers are quite thin at the centerman position. Boyes brings a physical edge to the game alongside his ability to put up points, and he should find himself with few equals in the Panthers' camp. Boyes recorded 10 goals and 25 assists with the New York Islanders last season, and has always been a decent scoring forward. Boyes has recorded a season of 43 goals in 2007-08 with the Blues, and had a career-high 73 points in 2008-09 with the Blues. He'll be needed to put up some similar numbers in Florida this season if the Panthers hope to challenge for a playoff spot.

The key with Boyes, however, may be his veteran leadership. For a team that needs a player who has been through the trenches, Boyes could be a steadying influence on players like Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau this season, especially if Huberdeau finds himself in some sort of sophomore slump. Boyes can also help players who had poor seasons last year by providing that offensive boost. Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, and Kris Versteeg can be excellent wingers alongside Boyes if Boyes is having a solid offensive campaign. Look for at least two of those players to flank Boyes if things work out in Sunrise.

The other guy who could have a major impact on the Panthers' success this season is Tim Thomas. Thomas was also offered a PTO by the Panthers, but has yet to accept the invite as he continues to weigh his options from his bunker in Colorado. Or where ever he'd hiding out these days. In getting Thomas, the Panthers have significantly upgraded their options for the blue ice, especially after losing Scott Clemmensen to knee surgery earlier this week. With Clemmensen missing all of training camp, there's no way he'd be ready for the season opener, so bringing in Thomas is a wise move.

Thomas' return to the nets could turn out to be a major disaster after he took last season off for personal reasons. I expect he'll be somewhat rusty in not having faced NHL shooters for a full calendar year, but Thomas should knock some, if not all, of the rust off fairly quickly in getting back to his routine. The question is whether he'll be in shape to handle the rigors of an NHL season again. Training camp is one thing; the NHL regular season is another.

There will be questions about the Panthers' goaltending without a credible veteran option to help Jacob Markstrom. While no one is saying that Markstrom will be horrendous, he's still a young goalie in a league that feasts on the inexperience. Even if Thomas is relegated to a backup role, it's better than the option of twenty year-old Michael Houser who will be penciled in as the backup right now.

Getting these two men on the roster for the Panthers will take some doing, but I can't see Boyes being cut for any reason with Florida's problems. Thomas certainly poses a bigger problem in not having played for a year, but he's been a professional long enough to know what his expected of him. If these two players do make Florida's final cuts, I expect the Panthers to be better than their projected bottom-feeder standing.

White In For Meech?

This week on The Hockey Show, we'll have a full update on the Jets who have fled to greener pastures in the KHL, including hometown boy Derek Meech. Meech, as you may know, joined Dinamo Minsk in the off-season after spending the last few seasons with the Jets and their AHL affiliate in St. John's. Well, it appears that the Jets appreciate having a hometown kid somewhere in their system as they offered a PTO to Steinbach-born defenceman Ian White.

White played with the Detroit Red Wings last season, appearing in 25 games while scoring a pair of goals and a pair of assists. He's well-traveled as he's spent time in Calgary, Toronto, San Jose, Carolina, and the aforementioned Detroit, and now he'll return home to give it a go with the Winnipeg Jets.

White will be looking to try to crack a blueline roster that includes Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, and Grant Clitsome as the incumbents who wore Jets' colours last season. The guys he'll be trying to beat out include highly-touted prospect Jacob Trouba, Paul Postma, Zach Redmond, Adam Pardy, and Julian Melchiori amongst others. Needless to say, White will have to have an outstanding training camp to earn the coveted sixth defensive spot, let alone the seventh spot.

I've like Ian White's game for a long time, but I'm not sure he'll crack the opening night roster for the Jets. He's going up against some solid veteran talent and some hungry kids who have NHL visions. Muck like Derek Meech, he may find himself in St. John's with the IceCaps to open the season. That's obviously a good sign for the Jets, but a little disappointing for the veteran.

The only good that I see? He'll know the town of St. John's after having played two seasons there with the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs. If I had to guess, I see White walking away from a two-way contract if he doesn't crack the Jets' roster.

There are a couple of updates for Tuesday. Camp rosters are taking shape, and that means we're close to having hockey action live in an arena near you! If you aren't getting excited, it might be time to check to see if you still have a pulse!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: