One of the true surprises of this off-season has been the fact rugged defenseman Danny Markov is still a free agent.
Markov, a solid contributor to Detroit's conference finalist team last season, balked at the Wings' $2.5 million contract offer, revealing he was thinking of something more in the range of $3.5 million. Is he asking too much?
Have you seen this guy play? He's a pitbull. He doesn't back down, he was a plus-25 last season and he doesn't take a lot of penalties considering his physical game. I'm cool with the Wings passing, but the fact no one has picked him up is rather stunning.
And you know where Markov should go? Florida.
Yes, let's give the Cats some love. They don't get a lot of ink, mostly because they're usually rather bad. But this can all change in a hurry. Since realizing that the best team in the Southeast last year (Atlanta) was only sweep-worthy in the face of the third-best team in the Atlantic (Rangers), the Dirty South has been in a state of flux.
The five teams in the division could finish in almost any order this year and I wouldn't be surprised, but I'll admit I currently don't see Florida near the top.
The Panthers aren't going to win any beauty pageants with their offense, despite the fact Olli Jokinen had 91 points last year. That being said, youngsters such as Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Rostislav Olesz have been talked up enough in the press Â– this is their put-up-or-shut-up year. Assuming they put up, Florida can at least be Canuck-esque up front Â– and hey, Vancouver made the playoffs in a much tougher division. Heck, they even won the Northwest.
With that in mind, let's shift to the backend. Goaltending? With Tomas Vokoun moving into town, let's give that a great big checkmark. His backup, Craig Anderson, was statistically Florida's best keeper last year, though he did only play five games. He's only going to play 10 this year, so let's just say I'm not worried.
On defense, the Cats are on the fence right now. Jay Bouwmeester has been a consistent minute-muncher and Florida's All-Star Game rep, but he wouldn't be considered top-flight. Bryan Allen is literally the only thing the Panthers have left to show for the Roberto Luongo trade and played quite well down the stretch. Mike Van Ryn and Ruslan Salei round out the top four and are both serviceable, but it wouldn't be a crime against humanity to see Salei on a third pairing at this point in his career.
This is where Markov comes in. Add him to the mix and you're safeguarded against injuries or someone having an off-year. Florida's current depth chart has the oft-injured Branislav Mezei and newcomer Cory Murphy rounding out the top six. The Panthers are taking a risk that Murphy, who led the Finnish League in scoring by a defenseman last year, can contribute that way in the NHL. That's quite an Â‘if.' Finland is not even among the top leagues in Europe right now and the NHL is a big step up.
Markov is a crowd favorite wherever he goes and Florida hasn't exactly needed to add any turnstiles to the BankAtlantic Center lately. Bolstering their defense just a little more will make Florida much more of a threat to make the playoffs, especially since they'll be facing a lot of firepower in the Southeast from stars such as Eric Staal, Alex Ovechkin and the Tampa 3.
Ownership has apparently given coach-GM Jacques Martin the go-ahead to spend, as long as it's wisely, and at a sticker price of $3.5 million, the Cats could do a lot worse than snagging Markov before he decides to follow the gravy train home to Russia.