Since the season began, it's pretty much been assumed that Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester would be the ultimate prize at this year's trade deadline. A 25-year-old defenseman just beginning to hit his prime, Bouwmeester is playing out the final year of his contract on a team that's been a perenial bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference.
As it turns out, the Panthers are a pretty good hockey team, currently in a four-way battle for the final two playoff spots in the conference. It's unlikely that Bouwmeester is going to re-sign in Florida, leaving general manager Jacques Martin with quite a dilemma: does he keep Bouwmeester in an effort to make the playoffs, knowing he's probably going to lose him after the season? Or does he attempt to cash in his chips and deal his most marketable player? It should be a no-brainer.
The Panthers haven't qualified for the postseason in nine years and are currently playing before the smallest crowds (in terms of percentage) in the NHL. They need to make the playoffs.
On Sunday, Ray Slover of The Sporting News offered up this suggestion on what to do with Bouwmeester: "Would GM Jacques Martin be best served by getting two teams into a bidding war for Bouwmeester? It's a logical way to boost the defenseman's value."
Sure, it's a logical way to boost his value. But why are you boosting his value? Entering play on Sunday the Panthers (tied with Buffalo) have a five-point advantage over Carolina and Pittsburgh, with an opportunity to widen that gap to seven points with a win against Washington. They're only three points behind Philadelphia for the No. 4 spot in the conference. Trading Bouwmeester, or anybody that is a critical part of the team, shouldn't even be a thought, offseason contract status be dammed.
Nine. Year. Playoff. Drought.
First, let's take a look at who would be likely to swing a deal for Bouwmeester in a hypothetical March 4 trade.
Obviously, a team out of the playoff hunt isn't going to give up anything of consequence for a player that's going to be walking out of town to the highest bidder in two months anyway.
On Saturday, George Martin of the Miami Herald mentioned how the Panthers are still talking to Bouwmeester, while also talking to other teams about what they have to offer.
He says he won't make a move just to add a player, not with the team playing so well. ''If I can improve the team, I will,'' he said. He also alluded to Jay not necessarily wanting to stay in Florida, saying there are plenty of players who do want to play for the Panthers. He used Cory Stillman signing here as a free agent and Bryan McCabe waiving his no-trade to come south.
The only way a trade makes sense for Florida is if it gets something back in return that could bolster the team's playoff chances this season (a goal-scorer, perhaps? Perhaps a young, puck-moving defenseman kind of like Jay Bouw... hey, wait a minute), and it's doubtful a contender is going to part with such a player in the middle of a playoff race.
I think when March 5 rolls around Bouwmeester will still be wearing a Panthers sweater. After all, the team recently came out with The Panthers Promise Plan, a ticket package that gives fans free tickets to four games next season if the team misses the playoffs this year.
If they trade Bouwmeester and miss the playoffs as a result, it's doubtful they'll even be able to give those tickets away for free.