Jay Bouwmeester Skating On

The Panthers will likely lose their durable defenseman to free agency -- but to where, and for what?

Whether or not he's "glad" to do it, rumor has it Jay Bouwmeester's told the Panthers he won't be back next season -- and to stop driving by his house late at night, Randy Sexton, because he's knows it's you and he's already moving on.

Now the Cats are scrambling to shop him around in advance of the June 26-27 draft and the July 1 free agency free-for-all. 

Bouwmeester only had a one-year contract, for $4.875 million. While the Panthers wanted him for the long haul, he wanted unrestricted free agency at the end of the season.  Florida could have maximized his value a few months back in a trade, but former GM Jacques Martin held on as the Cats attempted to make the playoffs for the first time in 9 years.  We know how that went. (Tenth time's a charm?)

There was also hope that the painfully mediocre Martin's departure a few weeks ago might help the two sides find the love they once had, but research and a lack of progress suggest Canadians don't enjoy bottom-feeding programs in hot places. (A case study of two, you ask? Don't argue, it's science.)

It's too bad, but it's time to wheel and deal.

The Brantford Examiner says the Panthers are aiming high -- as high as a first-round pick. (We trust them on hockey matters because they're Canadian, and we're not.  But we also suspect hockey free agency is an illusion invented by the Bush administration, so you should trust them, too.)  

Bouwmeester might be worth that to several teams, but which have the room for his salary? The Examiner offers up the Oilers, Canucks, Flames and Senators, and suggests the Flyers might nudge a player or two out of the way to accommodate him.

Whatever happens, it'd be awfully nice if the Panthers could get any last-minute benefit from Bouwmeester, who they drafted in 2002.  Sure, they're getting smarter ownership and a new GM hand-picked by Bill Torrey, but let's face it: it's no small hump from "marginally better" to "contending," and they need all the help they can get. 

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