In a season where the Florida Panthers
appear destined to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, it might benefit General Manager Jacques Martin to act as a bystander at the trading deadline.
Unfortunately, that might not be an option.
There's no question Martin will be extremely busy this week as he responds to inquiries and possible offers for pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester
. The 25-year-old Edmonton native might just be the most coveted player at the deadline.
"I think we have people that evaluate our team on a daily basis," Martin said. "The last couple years we've tried to build a team that would put this franchise in the playoffs moving forward. When you get into a trading deadline, you probably look to improve your club for the stretch drive if you can."
Bouwmeester, who has played in 319 consecutive games and is the new ironman of the NHL, leads the NHL in average ice time per game at 27:11 and ranks 22nd among all defensemen with 31 points (12 goals). He is just the second defenseman in Panthers history to score 50 goals in his career, joining Robert Svehla
The Panthers have posted a 14-5-3 mark since Jan. 1, earning points in 17 of their last 22 games and currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 68 points. Only New Jersey, Detroit and Washington boast a better record since New Year's Day. The club is also 7-3-0 in the month of February.
With that much success, would Martin be willing to tinker with the chemistry of his team under the tutelage of first-year coach Peter DeBoer
"It all depends on what we can acquire in return and I think if it's a package where we feel we improve our hockey club, I think the rest of our organization and the players would recognize that," Martin said. "For now, we'll go forward with Jay in our lineup if we can't get something that helps us now. If we do get something that we feel is more beneficial for our hockey team, then we'd be willing to change the chemistry.
"I think we're in the process of evaluating what's available for Jay and come March 4, a decision will be made whether we move forward with him on our team or if I feel that I can get something that makes us a better club. I think the priority for us right now is to move forward to improve our club, to make the playoffs this year, and I don't want to disturb that."
Martin, who has kept an open dialogue with Bouwmeester regarding his contract, is certainly privy to restructuring a defense. After all, he did some major retooling this offseason when he dealt captain and leading scorer Olli Jokinen
to Phoenix for defensemen Keith Ballard
and Nick Boynton
at the 2008 Entry Draft. He then acquired 33-year-old defenseman Bryan McCabe
and a fourth-round draft pick in 2010 in exchange for 29-year-old defenseman Mike Van Ryn
in September. The results have been promising as the club ranks sixth in the League with a 2.59 goals-against average.
"Bryan (McCabe) has brought a tremendous value to our blue line," Martin said. "At even strength, he's a plus player and an individual who can make the good first pass and join the attack. He's always an offensive threat 5-on-5 and his ability to get the puck to the net on the power play is another asset he brings to our organization."
All things considered, Martin has been excited to witness the growth of his team this season.
"I think we like our hockey club," he said. "We think our hockey club has grown a great deal since last summer. We made a lot of moves in the offseason, a lot of acquisitions, and we feel that our team is improving as the season is moving along."
During the All-Star break in Montreal, Bouwmeester admitted he wasn't concerning himself with the trade rumors. Instead, he just focused on hockey.
"You kind of know it's out there (trade rumors)," Bouwmeester said at the time. "But I don't really fret over it or worry about it too much. One way or another, it's kind of out of my hands a little bit and I guess it works both ways. Honestly, people ask the questions and stuff, but it is what it is. I'm not losing sleep over it, that's for sure."
As is usually the case, predicting the activity on March 4 is virtually impossible.
"You would think because of the parity, especially in the Western Conference, that teams would be sellers at this time," Martin said. "I think there're very few teams, probably a little more in the East, but who knows? I think teams are trying to improve their club, but as a League, we're probably getting more and more towards like football where the team that you've built in the offseason is the team that carries you through the season."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.