I'm going with worse. Hard to believe, eh?
On behalf of the fans of the Florida Panthers who have been flooding my email box as well as our comment sections, I hope acting GM Randy Sexton is still working on something.
Because as this team stands right now, I cannot see the Panthers being a legitimate playoff threat.
Right now I see the Panthers battling Atlanta and Tampa Bay for third in the Southeastern Conference (and the way ATL finished the season, I give the Thrash the edge).
I sure don't see Florida in the same ballpark as Washington and Carolina.
Today we find out that Florida lost another solid defenseman as Karlis Skrastins is going west, joining Joe Nieuwendyk in Dallas. Skrastins signs a two-year deal worth about $1.4 per season. Have to think the Panthers offered something close or even more. If they didn't, well, they either didn't like Skrastins all that much or they are seriously pinching the pennies.
That, or Skrastins just didn't want to stay here. And I never got that impression from him.
How bad is the Florida defense right now? I have to file depth charts to The Hockey News listing eight defensemen. I can come up with six, and that's using Jason Garrison and Keaton Ellerby. Anyone have suggestions on who Florida's seventh and eighth defensemen are? I mean, right now? Wait a second. The Hockey News wants 10 defensemen.
OK, take a gander at this:
Keith Ballard; Bryan McCabe; Bryan Allen; Ville Koistinen; Jason Garrison; Keaton Ellerby; Dmitry Kulikov; Clay Wilson; Rory Fitzpatrick; Mike Caruso.
Yeah. See what I mean?
No wonder Scott Luce says Kulikov could battle for a roster spot this training camp. If camp started now, we'd be in September. And, he could be in the top six.
There is no way Randy Sexton can be done. Or is he? Remember, July 1 is just the start of the free agency period. There's a lot of time between the start of training camp and today. Although a lot of players are slipping away.
Getting away from the D for a second, Sexton said yesterday that Florida liked what it had as far as forwards go, and that cannot be the truth. Because if it is, he's the only one.
Florida struggled to score last season, and switching Nathan Horton back to wing and adding Steve Reinprecht to one of the top two lines isn't going to cure that. Especially when injuries get factored in, and Florida was relatively spared of major injuries last year, save for the first quarter of the season.
A few weeks ago, Sexton told me that Florida's budget was very close to last year. Not counting the $2 million the Leafs paid to Bryan McCabe, Florida spent about $52 million.
UPDATED Right now, the Panthers are at about $43 million, about $9 million under last year's real money (these are all estimates and depending on bonuses and the like, things can fluctuate).
Florida is also about $13 million under the cap, so there is plenty of room to play around. If Sexton is allowed to spend close to last year's money, there is a lot he can still do.
-- And for the record, aside from Scott Clemmensen, I like the resigning of Radek Dvorak and David Booth. But those were moves that could have been made earlier so it's hard to get too excited about them on the first day of free agency. Although it did buy the Cats some positive Canadian PR as Booth was a hot topic for a while on TSN.
And the Reinprecht move was a solid by Sexton, getting a decent center for a guy who wasn't factoring into Florida's plans much anyway. And the Bouwmeester move was probably as good as Sexton could get on Saturday, although in retrospect, he might have recieved more had the trigger been pulled say on Tuesday when teams were buzzing.
-- Note for those of you who love a lot of left turns, On Frozen Pond will turn into NASCAR Central over the next couple of days as I head to Daytona for a weekend of racing. Will be in the pits starting tomorrow morning, so tell all your racing friends to check in. Will also have hockey stuff as well. Hockey and racing. Is this Carolina?
-- In a surprising turn of events, the Panthers moved up on ESPN's Ultimate Standings, going from No. 98 in the North American pro world all the way up to No. 90! Hey, that's some heavy lifting. The Magazine ranked all 122 teams by using such criteria as 'Bang for the Buck,' ownership, affordability and stadium experience.
Florida did very well on affordability and coaching, not so much everywhere else. That's a shock.
The Panthers, ranked below Phoenix by two spots FYI, did rank above some notable NHL franchises including the Rangers, Oilers and Canadiens. Florida also ranked ahead of the Bills, Redskins, Cleveland Browns (duh) and the New York Yankees. As expected, the Clippers finished dead last. The Angels were ranked first.