Just days ago, Panther defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said he wouldn’t mind remaining in South Florida this season to “see what we can do and make a run of it.”
On Wednesday, the All-Star defenseman got his wish.
Despite all the rumors about the Panthers shipping Bouwmeester out of South Florida before Wednesday’s 3 p.m., trade deadline, the six-year veteran will remain with the Panthers as they continue their dramatic push toward their first playoff appearance since 2000.
The Panthers did make one deal, acquiring defenseman Steve Eminger from the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Noah Welch and a third-round draft pick in 2009.
Martin said throughout the past weeks he would do what was right for the team and not destroy its chemistry.
“I think we had a couple interesting offers,” said GM Jacques Martin Wednesday evening of the possibility of trading Bouwmeester. “But, in the end, we’re very pleased to keep Jay here.”
Martin said he’s had good conversations with Bouwmeester’s agent. He added the team would focus on continuing its strong play the remainder of the season and through the playoffs before re-addressing Bouwmeester’s contract during the off-season.
Keeping Bouwmeester means the Panthers keep a player coach Peter DeBoer has referred to often this season as the team’s MVP. He plays as many as 30 minutes a night against opponent’s top players, kills penalties, skates the power play, and is the Panthers fifth-leading scorer with 34 points, including 13 goals (tied for fourth most on the team) and eight power play goals (leads the team).
Bouwmeester is also the NHL’s current iron man, having played in 324 consecutive games.
"From my perspective, it gives us a little longer to convince him to stay," said DeBoer. "Anybody around the team this year has a great appreciation for how good he is and how important he is to our team. For me, the longer we have him here, it just extends the opportunity for us to hopefully make that impression on him to get him to stay."
The deal the Panthers made was trading defenseman Noah Welch and a third-round draft pick in 2009 for Lightning defenseman Steve Eminger, who leads all Tampa defenseman with 25 points (21 assists). A first-round pick (12th overall) in 2002 by Washington, Eminger has played 62 games this season for the Flyers and Lightning, averaging 22:27 per game in on-ice time while leading the team with 102 blocked shots.
Eminger played under DeBoer and alongside Gregory Campbell in Kitchener when the Rangers won the Memorial Cup in 2003. In five games this year against the Panthers, Eminger has two goals, four assists and is a plus-8.
Martin said the acquisition of Eminger improves one of the Panthers greatest strengths, which is its blue line. Eminger, Martin said, would improve its speed and flexibility on defense and “make us a better hockey team.”
The Eminger deal was one of 22 trades made on the day involving 45 players. Those changing teams included former Panther Olli Jokinen (from Phoenix to Calgary), Bill Guerin (from the Islanders to Penguins), Mark Recchi (Tampa to Boston), Dominic Moore (Toronto to Buffalo), Nik Antropov (Toronto to the Rangers), and Erik Cole (Edmonton to Carolina).
Bouwmeester had been quizzed since the start of the season about whether he wanted to stay with the Panthers or be shipped out of town before becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. But with Martin improving the team over the off-season by acquiring defenseman Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, signing unrestricted free agent Cory Stillman, and hiring DeBoer as coach, the Panthers have improved dramatically.
Bouwmeester woke up Wednesday with the Panthers ranked sixth in the Eastern Conference and tied for 11th in the NHL for the most points.
Welch, a former captain at Harvard University, played 23 games this season but averaged only 6:38 minutes of ice time. He spent the season as the team’s seventh defenseman after missing 75 games last season with a shoulder injury after he was acquired in Feb. of 2007 from the Penguins in exchange for Gary Roberts.