The Florida Panthers sit alone in the NHL's basement and have a league-worst minus-31 goal differential. Things just haven't gone right in Florida this season after last season's Southeast Division title.
That has put the Panthers in a rare spot in this shortened season: as a clear seller at the trade deadline. According to Bruce Garrioch, that's exactly what they intend to be.
Two league executives told QMI Agency that Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon is willing to listen to all offers because his club is virtually eliminated from the playoff race with only three weeks left to the April 3 trade deadline.
Six points out of the No. 8 spot heading into Sunday's visit by the Montreal Canadiens, the goal for Florida now is to try to move a few contracts and see if the club can set the course for next year after the Panthers fell back.
With the exception of centre Jonathan Huberdeau, defenceman Erik Gudbranson, goalie Jakob Markstrom and centre Drew Shore, pretty much every player on the Florida roster is up for grabs as the Panthers try to shed some cash.
With that, you can probably expect to see a few more scouts in attendance at every Panthers game.
Naturally it makes sense why those guys are untouchable. GM Dale Tallon has said since arriving in Florida that he was building for the future through the draft and those guys are part of the foundation in Florida. He has a blueprint to build a winner and they are key parts of that. There are still plenty of high prospects in the system behind them, too, making much of the current roster expendable.
Of course, other teams have to want some of the players they have available in Florida. Hands down the best players on the season have been two of the untouchables there, Huberdeau and Shore. Add in Peter Mueller on their line and that has been about the only bright spot for the team this season.
If Mueller isn't on that list of untouchables then he might draw some real interest. He has had injury problems in recent seasons so the Panthers gave him a one-year contract at $1.725 million and it's proved to be worth it. He doesn't have a ton of points with six goals and six assists, but he's been a productive player for them. When you're only minus-2 on the Panthers this season you aren't doing that poorly. Plus, Mueller is still a restricted free agent so teams would have control of his rights. I wouldn't think Florida would be too keen to give him up but you never know when a team is in last.
So who else on the Panthers would be of interest? Let's take a look.
Garrioch mentions that Kris Versteeg is one name that has been mentioned a lot. But he's been riddled with injuries this season and in eight games has just one goal and two assists to show for it. He has shown in the past that when he's healthy he's a 20-plus goal scorer which isn't bad, but he also has a new four-year contract with a $4.4 million cap hit.
Stephen Weiss figured to be on this list even if the Panthers weren't in clear position as sellers because of his status as a UFA at the end of the year. But since he had season-ending wrist surgery, you can forget about trading him before the deadline. Perhaps they could try to trade his rights at the draft.
Tomas Fleischmann could perhaps draw some intrigue, he's tied with Huberdeau for the team lead in points with 17 (five goals, 12 assists). Last season he had 27 goals, a career high. His contract status is three more seasons for $4.5 million per.
Tomas Kopecky could potentially garner some calls. His cap hit of $3 million seemed a bit high to everybody when he signed considering he has never scored more than 15 goals in a season, but he's been good for Florida this season with nine goals already. He fits the mold of a tough, hard-working player that has that intangible of Cup experience as he was part of the Blackhawks team that won it all. He wouldn't fill a top-line role but teams could find use for him.
Two underrated players on the Panthers list of "touchables" according to Garrioch are veteran Marcel Goc and Shawn Matthias. Both are good centers with Goc being especially good in the faceoff circle while Matthias is a strong defender. Matthias is a restricted free agent after this season. I know not to read too much into the faulty plus-minus, but it says a lot about a guy on a minus-31 team that he is a plus-2 this season. In his 230 career games with the Panthers -- who have stunk for pretty much that whole time -- he is only minus-8.
Of course Alex Kovalev is available; the Panthers and him have split ways, but who knows if there will be any takers there. If there are, it won't net Florida more than a bag of used pucks in return.
Defensively, there's probably not much there outside of Dmitry Kulikov. The Panthers' first-round draft pick four seasons ago, he's still young and improving. He signed a two-year, $5 million contract just into this season and will remain a restricted free agent when the two seasons are up.
Outside of Kulikov, I doubt you'd find any takers for Brian Campbell (contract), Ed Jovanovski (injuries, contract, age) and Filip Kuba (see: Jovanovski, minus injuries). Perhaps some team would look at Mike Weaver as a tough veteran defenseman.
When Tallon built this roster mostly before last season, he was chided almost universally for collecting and overpaying for a collection of spare parts. It probably doesn't surprise many then to see the "for sale" sign being hung on the team by the GM.
Salary numbers courtesy of Cap Geek