| Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, is back blogging on FloridaPanthers.com 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
After Saturday night’s gritty, TEAM performance, a 2-0 shutout over the Bruins, I couldn’t help but think just how much fun I’m having watching this team. And how, with each victory, a different player seems to take on the hero role. Saturday night, pending UFA Radek Dvorak scores the lone two goals. In fact, all our pending UFA’s (except Anderson) had a major impact on the game…as they have (now including Anderson) throughout the year.
Then, Sunday morning, I read an article on The Hockey News website about Bouwmeester, and it reminded me of the problem I addressed in my last blog (I included that blog below). Jay-Bo, speaking about the fan support is quoted as saying, “There’s been times when it’s been kind of depressing almost. There’s nobody there. But they haven’t really had much to come and cheer about in the past”. Well, no kidding. Is it the fans fault that Keenan was given latitude to make personnel decisions? Or, before that, watching Bryan Murray stumble around as a GM? As far as empty seats go…it happens in most cities when teams do not perform well. Has Jay-Bo forgotten the half-empty Chicago arena up until just a year ago? Boston had trouble filling their place until recently. And mighty Detroit…well I remember years (pre-Yzerman) when Joe Louis Arena was half full. Jay may not be aware that when the Panthers were performing well that we had consecutive sell-outs at Miami Arena…for years. So…here we are…the Panthers headed in the right direction…with attendance sure to follow…and Jay-Bo is not convinced this is where he wants to play. Why not be part of something great happening? And instead, abandon this team for greener pastures. Well, he’s got that right under the CBA and it surely appears he wants to exercise that right. Based on the “informal” poll and the tremendous feedback I received from my last blog, the great majority of fans say go-ahead and leave if you do not want to be here. And instead, let’s re-focus our attention on the players that WANT TO BE HERE and who have made an impact on the TEAM concept of this rejuvenated Panther squad.
Here’s the pending UFA’s I want back…
VILLE PELTONEN ($1.1mm)
…His performance Saturday night was typical of what we’ve seen throughout the year…especially since the CPR line was put together…tremendous effort, great work along the boards, and a huge heart. He’s got talent, speed, and back-checks very well. A huge asset on the PK. With the chemistry developed between him, Dvorak, and Campbell…it’s hard to imagine him NOT wearing a Panther jersey come next season.RADEK DVORAK ($1.5mm)
…I still remember exactly where I was the moment it was announced Murray traded him for Mike Vernon years ago. I hated that trade, and welcomed him back to this team. Similar to Peltonen in what he brings to the team, his play has elevated since the CPR line was formed. RICHARD ZEDNIK ($1.6mm)
…His recent “highlight” goal surpassed Bill Lindsey’s in my book (sorry Bill), and the way he overcame last year’s near-tragic neck incident shows me that he has one of the largest “hearts” on the team. And this team should covet “heart and soul” type players. Doesn’t it seem like he’s been a Panther longer than just two years…maybe it’s because he’s endeared himself to the fans. We want him back.NICK BOYNTON ($2.9mm)
…Ballard without Boynton…Boynton without Ballard…it can’t happen. I see that defensive pairing for years to come…and it’s a damn good one.KARLIS SKRASTINS ($2.4mm)
…I’ve said it since last year when GM Martin acquired him for Ruslan Salei…he has added a dimension this team had been lacking…an all-out defensive force willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the TEAM. He’s my favorite D-Man…and for that reason alone, we need to sign him. I’m sure management sees it that way as well.JASSEN CULLIMORE ($830k)
…How GM Martin was able to maneuver tryout contracts into a season contract, not once, but twice is amazing. He is a steady force out there and just plain contributes night-in, night-out. Can GM Martin pull it off three years in a row?CRAIG ANDERSON ($550k)
…This may be the toughest one. No doubt, we all want him back. He’s a fan favorite and his performance has been superb. He was a big part in our playoff run last year and played strong when we needed to get on track this year. Is he a number 1 Goalie…or the best back-up? Either way, he gets a decent raise. But will it be here or elsewhere.
Once again, as we allow the Jay-Bo saga to continue, the fate of the Panthers named above continues to linger on in limbo. And yet, those Panthers are very valuable to the core of this team…and what has defined what the TEAM has become…a TEAM. I, as well as so many fans, hope that we re-direct our attention to these Panther heroes.
I just checked the list of upcoming UFA defensemen around the league and there is a number of quality players available that could be of interest if we are forced to go that route…check out some of these names…Havelid, Numminen, Leopold, Sydor, Gauthier, Skoula, Dandenault, Komiserak, Brisebois, DeVries, Oduya (keep an eye on him), Morris, Boucher, and Ohlund. There are others…some big names. But the point is, there are plenty of alternatives if Jay-Bo decides to bolt. Let’s get something DECENT in return now, sign the players that want to be here, and move on.
Back to Saturday night…I was pleased to see Nick Tarnasky in the lineup. The fourth line was effective and perhaps he should have been inserted in the Chicago game as well.
Big road trip coming up, and with the Dive Team creeping up, it’s imperative we continue our winning ways. We are 7th in the Conference and 11th Overall. We are headed in the right direction…to bad Jay-Bo doesn’t see what we all see.
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AND THE SURVEY SAYS…
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. 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, 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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