In General Manager Dale Tallon‘s end of year press conference he concluded that the veterans on the team did not live up to expectations. Some veterans where traded at the deadline (Goc, Weaver), some demoted to the AHL (Whitney, Gilroy) and a couple remain on the active roster. At the same time Tallon was positively surprised by the contributions by some of the up-and-coming young stars on the team (Bjugstad, Barkov).
As the Panthers continue to expect growing pains, as youth is seasoned in to the sharp learning curve that is the NHL, the role of mentor of the veterans of the team becomes crucial. They need to set the example of hard work and professionalism, a mentality of “never say die” and “only winning is good enough” as well as little tidbits of wisdom and tricks of the trade that can be invaluable to a budding career. The question then lends itself to be posed: “Who are these veterans that will bring all this to the table?”
Tallon did mention in his presser that he wants the addition of up to five veterans to next years line-up. If chosen carefully they could have a crucial role in Florida’s revival. However, it his hard speculating as to who these five players might be. More useful might be to look what we have and which we’d like to retain.
Starting with the Captain of the team Ed Jovanovski. Who better to personify perseverance, hockey wisdom and love of the game? To anchor the team and help in the development of youth, Jovocop must surely be essential – especially if you consider he still has a year left on his contract. However, Tallon did not seem convinced Jovanovski had overcome his injury woes and would be ready for another grueling season, stating: “There’s a lot to discuss there as far as his conditioning, his fitness and his health.” It could be that Ed is bought-out of his remaining year on the contract to make way for youth and the veteran signing Tallon wants to bring in on defense. Personally I think it would be a huge mistake. Better to keep Jovocop around for his last year as a 7th defenseman. He might get limited games but would still be useful in his role of guiding the young defensemen.
Another key defenseman and veteran head on the back-end is of course Brian Campbell, who had a good season – playing top-minutes with a solid production and good plus/minus to boot. Maybe not the most vocal leader, but he will continue to be a key performer and someone who can lead by example while his huge contract winds down.
On the forward side Scott Gomes seems to fill a similar role as Jovanovski on the back end. The difference in my mind is Gomes’ lackluster point production and the fact that the Panthers are brimming with talented centermen that have proved to be better than the wily former Devil. Other veterans on the forward side have shown greater ability and could help fill the void with the possible aid from off-season acquisitions. Players such as Brad Boyes and Scottie Upshall have the potential to be key veterans on the team. I do see a need to add someone here that can perhaps bring the intangibles of a Scott Gomes to the locker-room but with greater production. Hopefully there is such a player available this summer that wouldn’t mind coming to Florida.
In goal, the return of Roberto Luongo gives some credibility to the franchise as well as much needed consistency between the pipes. Tallon hopes Luongo’s name and profile can help attract other big names to South Florida which will be key if the rebuild is yield any success in the near future. He will also be a good voice to have in the dressing room, even if there is no heir-apparent to groom in the system (with Jakob Markström having gone in the opposite direction to Vancouver).
While this low-down shows that there are veterans that can be instrumental in helping the promising youngsters of the Panthers to find their way into the big time. It also highlights the need to add a couple, especially if Ed Jovanovski and Scott Gomes head for the exits this summer. If so, we need veterans equal or better to aid the young guns at this critical time of transition. Tallon as much said so in the press conference when stating that the talented kids are the bright future of this franchise but “we also have to have people around them that are going to help them find their way”.
Without these savvy veterans there is a risk that the right mentality will not spread through the system and no matter of raw talent can trump experience and mental approach in the cutthroat competitive environment that is the NHL.