The consensus amongst most NHL observers is the Vancouver Canucks “won” the trade that shipped veteran forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to the Florida Panthers for left winger David Booth, minor league center Steve Reinprecht and a 2013 third round pick.
Booth, 26, is a former 30-goal scorer who could reach that number again, even on a consistent basis, with a more talented Canucks team.
Samuelsson, who’ll turn 35 in December, has been hampered by nagging soreness from off-season surgery, while the career of the oft-injured Sturm, 33, is winding down.
Panthers GM Dale Tallon insisted Samuelsson and Sturm would provide valuable experience and leadership to his younger players.
Cynical observers believe this was a salary dump by Tallon, shedding Booth’s contract (an average cap hit of $4.25 million through the end of 2014-15) for two aging forwards slated for unrestricted free agency next summer.
But this may end up as a shrewd, long-term move by Tallon, as he continues his overhaul of the Panthers.
Tallon made headlines this past summer by acquiring goaltender Jose Theodore, defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski, and forwards Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc via trades and free agency.
Tallon inherited Booth’s lengthy, expensive contract when he took over as Panthers GM in May 2010, and didn’t seem to have confidence in the winger’s ability to regain his 30-goal form after the concussion issues Booth faced.
In fact, Tallon was willing to risk Booth’s ability to reach his full offensive potential to free up cap space he can put to good use elsewhere.
Looking ahead to next summer, the Panthers have just more than $40 million invested in 15 players.
Re-signing Versteeg and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, both restricted free agents, will be Tallon’s top priority.
Versteeg, 25, is off to the best start of his NHL career, with four goals and nine points in his first eight games, putting him on pace for a 41-goal, 92-point performance.
It’s unlikely he’ll maintain that torrid scoring pace, but Versteeg is capable of reaching more than 30 goals and 70 points this season, which would exceed his previous career-bests of 22 goals and 53 points, set in 2008-09 with Chicago.
Kulikov, who turns 21 Oct. 29, has shown considerable promise in his young NHL career and is quickly on his way to becoming the Panthers’ best defenseman.
It’s not hard to tell where Tallon intends on investing the money that would’ve gone to Booth.
If next season’s salary cap happened to remain at $64.3 million, the Panthers would have more than $20 million in available cap space, but they’re expected to remain a budget team.
At most, they would spend up to the mid-point between the cap minimum and maximum. If the minimum remained at $48.3 million, Tallon would have to spend more than $8 million just to get above it, and another $8 million to reach the mid-point.
The next collective bargaining agreement is the big variable in the equation. We may see a reduction in the cap floor to ease the burden on financially struggling teams such as the Panthers.
To achieve this, the owners may seek to decrease the players’ share of revenue from the current rate of 57 percent and possibly even another salary rollback like the one implemented after the 2004-05 lockout.
Even if that were to occur, Tallon would still likely have more than $8 million just to get above the cap floor – assuming one will still exist.
Most of that money would be invested in re-signing Versteeg and Kulikov, but if Tallon is allowed to spend toward the mid-point, it would leave him sufficient room to re-sign Samuelsson and/or Sturm if they prove to be valuable additions. He could also choose to replace them with affordable free agents and fill out the remainder of the roster from within the organization.
Tallon won’t be as big a spender as he was this past summer, when he had to invest more than $30 million to get above the cap floor, but by moving out Booth’s contract, Tallon gave himself flexibility to retain two of his better players and leave room to invest elsewhere in his roster.
If Booth goes on to become a perennial 30-goal scorer with Vancouver, Tallon will face criticism for giving up on him, but if the money saved is well invested, it will be a savvy move in the long run.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.