ATLANTA – The Panthers began what could be a full-scale sell off Thursday evening as alternate captain Cory Stillman was sent to Carolina for a fifth round pick and a fourth-line center.
Stillman, in the final season of a three-year deal he signed with Florida on July 1, 2008, is headed back to comfortable environs. Stillman won his second Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 and is still a popular player in Carolina.
For the Panthers, things are anything but warm and cozy. The Panthers have eight pending unrestricted free agents – including the newly acquired Ryan Carter – and general manager Dale Tallon isn't done dealing yet. The trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m.
Stillman was expected to leave for Carolina directly from Atlanta on Thursday night and join the Hurricanes for their morning skate on Friday. The Hurricanes, who sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, play host to the Penguins.
“We're looking at all angles, all aspects in trying to get better for the future,'' Tallon said. “Cory is great guy, gave his heart and soul to this team. Now he's going to a place where he won a Cup. I wish him all the best going forward.''
The Panthers didn't seem to get much in return for Stillman. The fifth round draft pick gives Florida nine selections in the June entry draft – a number that is expected to grow before the trade deadline. In Carter, the Panthers get a big center (6-foot-2) who doesn't really contribute much offensively. In 32 games with Carolina this season, Carter has no goals and just three assists.
“You take what you can get,'' Tallon said. “That was the best offer for [Stillman] we've had so far. All picks are valuable. The best possible deal, that's what we went with.''
Tallon also placed the disappointing Steve Bernier on waivers Thursday. Bernier, who had a career-low 22 points with Vancouver last year, has just 14 points in 48 games. Bernier is expected to clear waivers and play for Florida on Friday.
“We have got to do something to get him going,'' Tallon said. “Disappointing? Yeah. It's all about performance for me and he's not performing.''
Tallon also called up three players – defenseman Joe Callahan and forwards Bill Thomas and Michal Repik – from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
Carter has been sidelined by a back injury and won't play right away. Winger Jack Skille, acquired earlier this month for Michael Frolik, suffered what appears to be an ankle injury on Wednesday. He was fitted for a walking cast and watched practiced Thursday on crutches.
One would think the way the Panthers have been playing with the puck the past two games that coach Pete DeBoer would have given one to each player to care for in order to become more comfortable with it. Instead, the closest thing to a puck at the Panthers practice Thursday afternoon at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place was a two-day old doughnut left in one of the dressing rooms.
DeBoer had 15 skaters and two goalies skate back and forth, in circles and back and forth again during the 45-minute session before the Panthers chartered to Atlanta.
“I don’t think anyone’s happy nor should they be,” said DeBoer, referring both to the skate and the recent play of the team. The Panthers lost 5-1 to both the Islanders and Senators in successive games. “I don’t expect anyone is happy, and we delivered that message today in practice.”
Had the Panthers managed two wins over the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference, they would have gotten themselves right back into the playoff picture. As it stands now, the four lost points leaves them in 12th place and seven points out of eighth instead of three points back.
“We’ve got to focus on Friday and Atlanta,” said David Booth, who is tied with Mike Santorelli for the team lead in goals with 17. “We know we could have had four points the last two games, but we didn’t play well enough. It’s unacceptable but we can’t think about that now. We have to think about getting two points Friday.”
Panthers captain Brian McCabe has been through these situations in the past and has seen how fine the line is between success and failure.
“We laid a couple of eggs the last two [games] and it’s unacceptable the way we played. For sixty-something games we’ve played pretty hard, we’ve battled and had a lot of one-goal games, but the last two games were disappointing and we really need to play a lot better than that,” McCabe said.
“We’re chasing everyone pretty much, so we need all the points we can get. We need to turn this thing around and play better, and I expect a better effort from everybody.”
FRIDAY: PANTHERS AT THRASHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; Philips Arena, Atlanta
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Thrashers lead 36-25-5
The game: The Thrashers have won three of four against the Panthers this season – all by a single goal. Nine of the past 11 games between the two teams have been decided by one goal. .-.-. Both teams are really struggling. Atlanta has lost four straight and eight of nine this month. The Panthers have been outscored 10-2 in successive losses to two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference (Islanders, Senators) as Ottawa snapped a 10-game home losing streak by beating the Cats 5-1 on Wednesday. Florida has lost 13 of 17 games.