Florida Panthers defense looking deep heading into 2012 season

By Rob McMahon

The Florida Panthers  find themselves with a situation on Defense going into the 2012-2013 NHL season. As of right now the team has seven Defenseman to start the season, not including Dmitry Kulikov who they are still working with in getting a new contract signed. Erik Gudbranson is signed to an Entry Level deal and can be moved to the AHL if they see fit, but that likely won’t happen, especially with his strong play at the end of his rookie season and in the playoffs. Currently under One Way contracts would be Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Filip Kuba, Tyson Strachan and Keaton Ellerby. Once Kulikov is signed they’ll be sitting with seven signed to One Way deals and one very deserving young Defenseman heading into his Sophmore season. So the question is, do they move one of these current contracts in a deal to possibly find some needed offense or do they ride it out with two in the press box?

The Panthers currently are under the salary cap floor, but still need to sign Kulikov and Kris Versteeg which should put them around where they need to be to start the season salary wise. Last season the team carried seven Defenseman and used Ellerby to fill holes due to injuries and to give others rest. Campbell, Jovanovski, Weaver, Kuba and Kulikov are seen to be a lock for the starting roles on a nightly basis and chances are Gudbranson being the sixth. Tyson Strachan played strong last season when called up from the Panthers AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage which earned him a One Way deal from GM Dale Tallon. He provided some spark in the playoffs in the two games he was called up, even earning an assist in one of the games. Where as Ellerby looked shaky in games he got into last season, possibly over thinking things trying not to make mistakes. He did however show some upside the season before so this may be the chance he gets to redeem himself with coaching and management. Kuba and Jovanovski are both getting up in age and have had some issues with injuries in recent years so it’s expected they won’t be playing a full 82 game season, which could easily give both Strachan and Ellerby decent playing time.

However Florida also has Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic waiting in the wings in San Antonio. Robak has played in a handful of NHL games and has been waiting to break into the big league. Petrovic is heading into his first full professional season and will most likely stay in the AHL, but if his play is strong he could be called upon to make the jump if Florida has a rash of injuries like last season. factoring that into the equation the Panthers have ten possible Defenseman who could find ice time in the NHL this season. Most teams would be happy to have seven solid guys they could fill their lineup with, which leaves Florida with a good ‘problem’. Could Tallon use some of these pieces to make a move? He’s been known to pull what looks like risky trades and have them work in his favor, and with the depth currently he can afford to do so once again.

With the rest of the South East Division getting stronger, at least on paper as it appears. The Carolina Hurricanes uniting the Staal brothers and according to reports are working hard to lock up winger Alex Semin who could potentially add 30-40 goals to their lineup. The Washington Capitals added Mike Ribeiro as an upgrade to their second line Center position and he could also see power play time next to Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Tampa Bay Lightning already set offensively with 60 goal scorer Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have upgraded in goal by acquiring Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators, which was a weakness of theirs last season. On top of these transactions there is also the Winnipeg Jets, if they happen to stay in the South East Division for another season. The Jets have signed Olli Jokinen this off season who has proved in the past he can put up numbers, and you would have to think he would fill in nicely to provide some offensive support.

One would have to think Dale Tallon has taken this into consideration in attempts to improve his team, signing Peter Mueller is a nice addition that could end up matching the acquisition of Ribiero in Washington or Jordan Staal in Carolina. However if injuries that have plagued him return in 2012 look for Tallon to move some assets to help his team out, much like last season trading David Booth to the Vancouver Canucks. Whichever defensemen excel will most likely be sticking with the team, so for now only time will tell.

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