"I think you're always reading and evaluating defenseman and obviously Jay's a pretty highly rated guy in the League. We wouldn't have tried to go after him if we didn't think he could play a lot of minutes." -- Darryl Sutter
The Florida Panthers traded their All-Star defenseman's negotiating rights to the Calgary Flames on Saturday for unrestricted free agent defenseman Jordan Leopold and a 2009 third-round draft pick. Florida used the pick to take right wing Josh Birkholz).
Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter told NHL.com that he will contact Bouwmeester's agent, Byron Baltimore, to begin talks upon his return to Calgary.
"I'm as confident (in getting him signed) as any other time I go into any other negotiation," Sutter said. "He's 26 years old, so I feel his best years are in front of him. But until we talk to him, I really couldn't tell you anything else.
"I haven't spoken to Jay or his agent," Sutter continued. "We just got the right to talk with him a short time ago, so once the draft is over, we'll go back to Calgary and try to take that next step."
Bouwmeester, an Edmonton native, had said he wanted to go to a place where hockey was king. Calgary fits that bill.
"About 18 months ago, (Bouwmeester's agent) gave us a list of teams they were interested in and Calgary was right at the top; he's an Alberta boy and Darryl Sutter is aggressive and creative. I think he'll find a way to get a deal done," Panthers interim GM Randy Sexton said.
Leopold, who was traded to Calgary by the Colorado Avalanche at the March 4 trade deadline, had 7 goals and 24 points in 83 games this past season. If the Panthers sign Leopold, they'll be getting a puck-moving defenseman capable of starting the transition in Bouwmeester-like style. In addition, Leopold, like Bouwmeester, can log big minutes as evidenced -- he averaged 23:09 of ice time in 2008-09. The biggest difference between the two is the physical element -- Bouwmeester is a much more physical player.
"We had every intention of trying to sign Leo and we weren't able to do that, so we felt that we'd give him the opportunity to go somewhere else and try and sign -- and obviously we've had interest in Bouwmeester for a long time," Sutter said.
The Panthers are interested in signing Leopold.
"I've already received a couple of text messages from (Leopold's agent) Ben Hankinson and I know him well, so we'll sit down and talk things through," Sexton said. "We'll have to sell (Leopold) on the merits of South Florida and we're pretty confident we can do that. But at the end of the day, it all depends on how much money he'll need to get a deal done."
The 6-foot-4 Bouwmeester, who figures to be the most sought-after player if he reaches free agency on July 1, was rumored to be on the block for months leading up to the March 4 trade deadline. Then-Florida GM Jacques Martin never pulled the trigger on a trade, opting to keep his best defenseman as part of a playoff push -- one that came up short.
The Panthers had 18 regular-season games remaining at the time of the trade deadline and stood in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 33 wins and 74 points. It was thought the decision to keep Bouwmeester, the NHL's reigning iron man having played in 342 consecutive games, was proof the organization was committed to qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
The playoffs never happened, however, as the Panthers got just 19 points in their final 18 games to finish ninth in the East. Bouwmeester had 2 goals and 8 points with a minus-6 rating over that span. Bouwmeester has appeared in just one playoff series in the past 12 seasons -- in 2005 with the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves. Still, he did lead the League in average ice time (26:59) while playing all 82 games for the fourth straight season. Bouwmeester, 25, also equaled a career high with 15 goals.
"I think you're always reading and evaluating defenseman, and obviously Jay's a pretty highly rated guy in the League," Sutter said. "We wouldn't have tried to go after him if we didn't think he could play a lot of minutes."
Bill Torrey, the Panthers' first team president and alternate governor, and Sexton were determined to come away with something for Bouwmeester, their first-round draft pick (No. 3) in 2002.
"We felt all along that there were not going to be any free looks," Sexton said. "We wanted to have something of value because of the quality of player he is and we tried really hard to get a second round pick for him, but no one was willing to pony up. We settled on a third-round pick and had a deal with several teams on the third. What varied was the different amount of compensation to be signed. But we like Leopold and we'll try and sign him; we don't know if we will or not, but he's a mobile puck-moving guy who'll be a really fine replacement for Jay."
With Bouwmeester's situation now resolved, next on Torrey's to-do list is finding a replacement for Martin, who resigned on June 1 to become the coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Torrey is in the process of interviewing the more than 60 applicants that applied for the position. Martin had been the club's general manager the past three seasons.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.