If, for some reason, there remained any doubt whatsoever that the NHL Trading Deadline is more exciting than that of any other sport, it should be indisputable now.
This year’s deadline once again produced some high drama, and the Panthers were right in the middle of it with one of the biggest deals throughout the league. When Rory Babich was introduced as the team’s new president/CEO in a conference call Monday night, GM Dale Tallon promised some bold action by the team in the quest to bring a Stanley Cup to South Florida.
He clearly wasn’t kidding.
Bringing back goalie Roberto Luongo, one of the best and most popular players in franchise history, certainly qualified as a bold move. It also was a strong move, for several reasons.
The biggest, and most obvious, reason the Luongo trade was a good one for the Panthers is that it solidified their goaltending situation for the next several years. This is meant as no disrespect to Tim Thomas, who did a solid job in net after signing in September, but the reality is that Thomas will turn 40 years old next month.
Luongo is five years younger and, as he pointed out during his introductory press conference on Wednesday, is still on top of his game. Just compare his stats from this season (2.38 goals-against average, .917 save percentage) to his career numbers (2.51 GAA, .919 save percentage), and you’ll see he’s right.
Luongo is just the type of goalie needed for a team loaded with young talent, which is exactly what the Panthers are. The fact that Luongo has remained a fan favorite in South Florida even long after he first left is a bonus.
This trade was a long time coming, and in the end the Panthers worked out a good deal for themselves. As Tallon pointed out, Jacob Markstrom has plenty of potential as a goaltender, but he’s no longer the sure thing he once appeared. As for Shawn Matthias, he’s in the middle of one of his hot streaks now, but the reality is he wasn’t a core player for the Panthers moving forward and he also seemed to welcome a trade to a Canadian team.
The Luongo trade, however, was only one of the many moves made by the Panthers.
The second one that really stood out was the re-signing of veteran right wing Brad Boyes. There had been speculation that perhaps the Panthers would trade him because he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July, but Boyes has proven too valuable an offensive threat to let go.
On a team that should have several young players next season, Boyes will bring a veteran presence that only will help. Plus his shootout prowess also is invaluable.
The Panthers did trade away a couple of veteran free agents-to-be this week, with Marcel Goc going to Pittsburgh and Mike Weaver going to Montreal. Both of them should be saluted for their contributions to the Panthers, Weaver for his never-ending willingness to sacrifice his body and Goc for his consistent two-way play. And who can forget Goc’s game-tying goal late in the third period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils two years ago.
Both, however, were expendable — Weaver because of the team’s young depth on the blue line, and Goc because of the Panthers’ abundance of talented young centers in the organization.
One of those young centers is newcomer Brandon Pirri, acquired from the Blackhawks on Sunday night. A skilled offensive player, Pirri joins a talented group that includes Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore and Vincent Trocheck, who is expected to make his NHL debut Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres at the BB&T Center.
A lot of the Panthers’ young players are expected to get extensive action down the stretch this season to help them get experience and set the foundation for a successful 2014-15 season and beyond. The trade deadline, exciting as always, provided one key piece for that foundation.