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Peeke's Points: And The Survey Says

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers Blogger Cliff Peeke
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, is back blogging on for another season, giving the point of view on the Cats from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective.

A Michigan native who’s played hockey (admittedly average at best) most of his life, Cliff grew up watching Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium. His allegiance changed to the Panthers the moment it was announced South Florida would have a team.

Cliff has played in adult leagues at IncredibleIce and his oldest son (age 25) plays there as well. His youngest son (age 9) is a member of the Jr. Panthers ’98 Squirt Travel Team.

Peeke's Points Archive

If you read my last blog, you probably recognized that the next two weeks will be exciting and stressful for hard core Panther fans. And I’m not even referring to the on-ice performances. In 14 days, major decisions by our front office will be made…decisions that will affect our run to the playoffs as well as long-term future.

We have eight players that become UNRESTRICTED free agents on July 1st (Zednik, Dvorak, Peltonen, Bouwmeester, Boynton, Skastrins, Cullimore, and Anderson). I do not believe any of them have been signed to contract extensions (and many of them should) and I think I know the reason why. The logjam is most likely due to Bouwmeester. There has to be a decision made with regards to him before the March 4th trade deadline. I do not see us trading the other UFA’s on our team, as I really believe we can work out deals with several of them. But with Bouwmeester, here are the choices…

1. He signs a contract extension prior to March 4th.  Done deal…end of stress.  From that signing, and getting a better grip on the budget, we can work with the other UFA’s.
2. We do not sign him prior to the deadline and he fulfills his contractual obligation with us.  And leaves with us getting absolutely nothing in return.
3. We do not sign him prior to the deadline, but work towards an extension right up to July 1st.  Way too risky!!!
4. We trade Jay and get some decent value in return prior to March 4th.

Interesting dilemma isn’t it? I’m sure that with the Panthers first real run at the playoffs in years, the thought of NOT having Jay for the remaining 18 post trade-deadline, regular season games and the playoffs (if we make it) is unsettling from both an on-ice basis and PR basis as well. But is that the best decision for the team? Should we be thinking short-term or long-term? Immediate gratification or thoughtful planning?

No doubt, we are playoff-starved, and we are right there in the mix. Matter of fact, we have finally gotten into the top third of the league (#10 of 30 today). Which brings to mind the Ross McKeon power rankings in Yahoo Sports, where just yesterday he moved us up from #20 to #14.  We’ve been a favorite of his to hang in the cellar…he probably hasn’t seen any of our games lately. Anyway, having finally climbed the standings, is it the right thing to do…trading away one of our better players? Here’s my opinion…YES.

I want to follow this year’s positive efforts with more to come. I want this team in the top 10 for many years. I don’t want to come away empty-handed if he does not want to play here. Fans were led to believe that Bouwmeester wanted to see what direction the team was taking. Everything I’m seeing has us pointed in the right direction with a very bright future ahead of us. Of course, if he reads McKeon’s rankings he might see it differently…but we’ve already determined his rankings are a joke. If we trade him, we may get some very good serviceable players and a prospect. We begin work on signing our other UFA’s that want to play here, and with added cap space with his departure, we may be able to sign a decent defenseman in the off-season. But that’s even if we have to. Don’t forget Bryan Allen will be back from injury, and perhaps Noah Welch progresses. And in the wings is Keaton Ellerby, a high draft pick not too long ago. So I say…GO…if you want out of here.

But I recognize the front office concerns over a potential PR backlash. And so I decided to help out and give management some valuable feedback well beyond my personal opinion. I conducted an informal survey over the past seven days, approaching true hockey fans at Incredible Ice (during last weekend’s Tournament that saw a couple Jr. Panthers teams win it) and at the last two home games. I spoke to approximately 50 hard core Panther fans, and the overwhelming response was to work out a trade with only one caveat (receiving “decent” assets in return). And this topic was brought up to those who responded to my recent blogs. Many are of the opinion that Jay wants out of South Florida and away from this organization, and of course we have never heard anything to the contrary. And that bothers hard core fans that have followed this team through some very difficult years…but stay loyal. As these conversations continued, it was clear that fans wanted GM Martin to know that there was a genuine concern for the future and it trumped the immediate concern of the next three months.  The “fringe” fan may not see this clearly, but if my sampling was anywhere near correct, the hard-core fan does…we are left with tough decision…but one that must be done.

I’ve been a big supporter of GM Martin, and I wish him the best as he works the phones over the next 14 days. I am anxious for some closure on this and I’ll tell you why. It’s been absolutely some of the best fun watching this team lately…but I leave the arena feeling not only ecstatic but with a conflicting weird “gnawing” feeling since there is un-pleasant, un-finished BUSINESS that has to get done…and it starts by dealing with the Bouwmeester situation. Good luck Panther management.

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