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VanMurph's View: The Draft & Free Agency

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
Joining YourBlog's Cliff Peeke, Murphy Burch will be sharing his views on the Panthers in his blog, entitled VanMurph's View. Murphy started blogging at the beginning of the 2008-09 season.

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

VanMurph's View Blog Archive

“Listen, honestly, it’s not you, it’s me…  Well, ok, it’s you…”  

Sometimes at the end of a relationship, it’s best to just go your separate ways and not look back. 

By now all of you know that after six seasons together, the Florida Panthers and Jay Bouwmeester have parted company. To many, this turn of events is no surprise at all. Jay wasn’t happy here, his father wasn’t happy with him being here, and toward the end of last season, a lot of fans weren’t happy with his play. So the time was right for the separation. I stated long ago that I didn’t think Jay was going to stay here even if we won the Stanley Cup. The whole episode reminded me of a couple whose relationship had soured. I just wish that Jay had come out and stated his intentions instead of stringing the fans along with his “I’ll just have to wait and see” and “I’m not going to rush any decisions” lines. All that did was damage his credibility, and allow the entire affair to be a major distraction for the entire season. It was evident in his play after the trade deadline that he was disappointed he hadn’t been traded, and he had moved on mentally. And it’s evident from the contract he signed with the Flames that it wasn’t about the money; he just wanted out of Florida. As much as I love this team, I can honestly say that I don’t blame Jay for wanting to leave. I mean let’s face it, athletes want to win. It’s ingrained in them. They want to compete at the highest level and be successful. Jay’s been here his entire career and has yet to play in a single playoff game, and that had to have weighed heavily in his decision to leave. Like I said, I can understand that. I’m not happy about it but I certainly have empathy for the situation he was in here. He’s a guy who was far away from his family and friends for half the year or more, and in the end, he just wanted to go home. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, and this was Jay’s time. The real question from me here is for Jacques Martin: If you knew 18 months ago that Bouwmeester wanted to play for a handful of other teams, why on earth was he still a Florida Panther at this season’s draft? If handing you a list of other teams he would rather play for isn’t a CLEAR indication that he WAS NOT going to re-sign here (despite his rather deceptive public undertones otherwise), then I don’t know what is. If I were the GM, I would’ve started shopping him before he had time to get back to his truck after handing me the list! According to reports, this list was presented to Martin at the conclusion of the ‘07-‘08 season. Now, juxtapose that fact against the deal that Anaheim just got from the Flyers for Chris Pronger. Anaheim received TWO players and TWO first round draft picks from Philadelphia for a player that only has ONE year left on his contract. Sound familiar? That means that the possibility was there for someone to give Martin a similar deal, if not a better one, if he had just not waited until the second half of last season to start looking around for a dance partner… You know, I had a modicum of faith in Martin. I believed he, in conjunction with Coach DeBoer, would turn this franchise around. Now, after finding out the information about this list and its timeline, I am quite disappointed with Jacques. Come December 31st, I’ll have a little more incentive to loudly boo the Canadiens when they visit the BankAtlantic Center… As if I needed another one.

In the aftermath of Martin’s abandonment, I believe Randy Sexton has stepped up and made a serious statement about his abilities as a General Manager and his desire to assume the job full-time. One of his first moves was to trade perennial minor leaguer Stefan Meyer to the Phoenix Coyotes for Steven Reinprect, and his second was going into the draft and taking the best player available in the first round. Then, on the second day of the draft, he was able to defy the odds and actually get something of value in return for the rights to speak with Jay Bouwmeester. The fact that Sexton was able to secure a third round pick and the rights to Jordan Leopold just days before Jay was to have become an unrestricted free agent, deserves a lot of credit. We’ve all heard the rumors of the trades that were available to Jacques Martin prior to the trade deadline in March, but the fact of the matter is that the options available to Randy Sexton were very limited. So when I heard that we’d at least picked up a draft pick for Bouwmeester’s rights, I was pleased. It could’ve been worse… A lot worse.

With their first pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, the Panthers selected Dmitry Kulikov, a 6’1” 185 pound Russian defenseman from Drummondville of the QMJHL. By all accounts, Kulikov was a steal at number 14, as he was projected to go in the top 10. He won a ton of accolades in his first year in the QMJHL. He was named a First-Team All-Star and a Rookie All-Star. He also received the RDS Trophy as the league's rookie of the year, the Raymond-Lagace Trophy as the league's offensive rookie of the year, the Emile Bouchard Trophy for being the QMJHL’s best defenseman, and the Michael Bossy Trophy as the league's best professional prospect. According to quite a few analysts, Kulikov is ready to compete for a job on an NHL blue line. Personally, I’m eager to see how he performs at camp.

With basically the entire organization in a state of flux for the past month or so (with the potential sale and the lack of a full-time GM), it didn’t really surprise me that there wasn’t much movement on our free agent front before the actual opening of Free Agency. There were a couple of moves early on, including the waiving of Brett McLean and not making qualifying offers to Steve Eminger and Anthony Stewart. But perhaps the biggest move for the Panthers in free agency so far has been the re-signing of one of our favorites, David Booth. I couldn’t be happier about the six-year contract, and I can’t think of a better pair of players than Booth and Keith Ballard (who’s also signed for six more seasons) to build a franchise around. Radek Dvorak was also re-signed to a two-year contract, meaning that two-thirds of the CPR line are under contract for next season. Radek was a key penalty-killer, so the fact that he’s coming back is also good for our special teams.

There are a couple of players who left the Panthers during the first two days of free agency, and if you read this blog last season, you know they were both favorites of mine. Craig Anderson signed a two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche, and Karlis Skrastins signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Stars. Anderson is a great guy on and off the ice. His stellar play in the net when we needed it the most endeared him to the fans here, and I’m fairly certain that the ovations he received in the BankAtlantic Center will continue when he visits next season. Skrastins was another fan favorite, mostly because of his grit and the tenacity with which he’d sacrifice his body to block shots. Both of those players will be missed, although in their absence, Randy Sexton was able to sign two equally suitable replacements; Scott Clemmensen from New Jersey, and Leopold from Calgary.    

The Panthers’ draft party at the Carolina Ale House in Weston was a lot of fun. It was the second Panthers event of the summer that I was able to attend, and I had a terrific time out there with a great group of my friends. The place was crowded with Panthers fans, and it was encouraging to see such a sizable turnout! I relish any opportunity to get jerseyed-up and spend time with fellow Panthers fans. The next event of the summer I’ll be able to attend will be on the 10th of July. Vanessa and I will be bowling with our account representative and other fellow season seat owners at Sparez on University in Davie. Several friends have already had their bowling night, and they all seemed to have enjoyed it. Vanessa and I are looking forward to it. Before I move on from the subject of the draft party, I’d like to acknowledge a friend of mine, Pete Mills, for his upstanding sense of integrity. In the confusion of the evening, a couple of people sitting across from Pete got up and left without paying their bill. When the waitress realized what had happened, Pete stepped in and paid their tab, including tip, to prevent the waitress from having to eat the loss! Pete’s a good guy, and I thought his righteous deed deserved some recognition.

As free agency continues, I hope you’ll stay up-to-date on the Panthers’ moves, as well as those of the rest of the conference. Almost everyone in our conference has improved their hockey club in the last few days, and ’09-’10 should prove to be an exciting season. Although the loss of Bouwmeester, Anderson, Skrastins, and Zednik were a blow to our team, I am keeping the faith that Randy Sexton and Coach DeBoer will be able to put a team on the ice that will be ready to compete in October. 

Thank you to all of you who emailed me and sent me messages on facebook after the last blog entry. I have enjoyed corresponding with each of you. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: 

Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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