Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Panther GM Jacques Martin said Monday he would explore the possibilities of making a deal before the March 4 trade deadline, and would look at all his options regarding defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
But Martin also made it clear the Panthers priority would be making the playoffs and not disturbing team chemistry.
“I think it’s clear our priority for this franchise at this point in time is to make the playoffs this year,” said Martin during an NHL conference call Monday afternoon.
Regarding Bouwmeester, who is fifth on the team in scoring (12 goals) and who would become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Martin said the Panthers “are in the process of evaluating what’s available for Jay Bouwmeester and come March 4 a decision will be made whether we move forward with Jay on our team.”
“If I feel we can get something that makes us a better club, there’s a possibility of moving him,” he added. “But the priority for us right now is to move forward, improve our club, and make the playoffs this year. I don’t want to disturb (chemistry), so it depends on what’s available.
“If we feel we can improve certain areas of our hockey club, then there would be the possibility (of moving Bouwmeester). But I also think there’s a possibility we retain Jay and we see where we’re at after the season.”
When asked what areas of the Panthers he might like to improve, Martin replied; “I think if there were any areas we’d like to improve maybe (it would) be at the center position…or even the depth of our forwards we’d look at.”
Martin said the Panthers have kept their communication open with Bouwmeester, but wouldn’t get into specifics regarding the contract negotiations. He said Bouwmeester has been “very professional” throughout the negotiations and has given the Panthers “tremendous hockey.”
“What’s important is to look at all our options, whether he signs at the trade deadline or not,” he added “We’ll investigate to see what’s available for him and then make a decision in due time.”
Martin said the Eastern Conference is “extremely competitive” and money would be a huge factor come the trade deadline. Martin said he believes the NHL has become a little like the NFL is terms of building a team during the off-season that you carry through the season.”
The Panthers, nine games over .500 and seventh in the Eastern Conference, begin a five-game road trip Tuesday evening in Boston that continues with games against the Rangers, Devils, Capitals and Thrashers.
Martin said if the Panthers can keep the same pace they’ve had since Dec. 1, “that should put us in the playoffs.”
FOUR AND OUT
Tom Renney was relieved Monday as coach of the struggling Rangers. Renney’s dismissal means all four teams who opened the season in Europe have fired their coaches. Renney joins Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa), Barry Melrose (Tampa) and Michel Therrien (Pittsburgh).