If it's trade deadline season in the NHL, there's a good chance Jay Bouwmeester's name is going to come up amongst the league's 30 general managers. With the March 4 deadline inching closer once more, this year is no different. However, the script has a slightly different twist than the usual.
For once, the Florida Panthers are in the midst of a playoff chase that has them sitting in sixth in the Eastern Conference with 66 points.
You can attribute much of Florida's success this season to the goaltending of Craig Anderson and Tomas Vokoun. Their team leader in points, Stephen Weiss, has just 41 in 53 games, but Florida has found a way to be a part of the push to the playoffs. That push to the playoffs would certainly be assisted by Bouwmeester, who has 12 goals and 30 points this season.
Bouwmeester's name is not new to trade talks. It's come up before. It's also well-known around the league that the Flyers have long been interested in the 25-year old defenseman. At the 2002 draft, the Flyers had traded up to the No. 4 spot in the draft in their attempt to draft him.
Florida, who owned the No. 1 pick, gave it up to Columbus and slid down to the third spot, drafting Bouwmeester one pick ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers ended up with Joni Pitkanen, who, after years of tumult and lack of production in Philadelphia, was dealt to Edmonton for Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith before the beginning of last season.
Now, the Flyers have a chance to strike for Bouwmeester once more. It will not be easy. The Flyers currently boast a defense of Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Randy Jones, Matt Carle, Ryan Parent, and Andrew Alberts. Ossi Vaananen has found himself in John Stevens' doghouse, and Parent has looked like a veteran in the handful of games played since his return from the AHL two weeks ago.
The conundrum for the Flyers is such: should they send talent Florida's way for a player that is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season? If Florida makes Bouwmeester available, then the answer should be yes, but only at a certain cost.
The Flyers can ill-afford to deal Claude Giroux, James vanRiemsdyk, or Scottie Upshall in such a deal for him. These young stars are a part of the team's future. Risking them for a run with a potential unrestricted free agent in Bouwmeester would be foolish.
However, the Flyers should absolutely offer the Panthers a deal that would include winger Joffrey Lupul and defenseman Randy Jones for him. If Florida wants a high draft pick, the Flyers should not hesitate.
If the Flyers can rid themselves of Lupul's contract, it would be a blessing in disguise. It appeared Lupul was about to turn a corner with his play last season, but while players like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have stepped up, Lupul has played far below expectations. Beginning next season, Lupul is set to cost the Flyers $4.25 million against the cap for the next four years.
Despite the yeoman's work done by GM Paul Holmgren, this is one contract that should not have been given. Trading Jones and Lupul would give Holmgren a tad bit more of breathing room for the long term. It would also help in the short term as the Flyers will soon have to fit Danny Briere back into the lineup and into the salary cap.
There's no guarantee the Panthers will make Bouwmeester available. As a fledgling team in a rough economy, the Panthers could use the playoff revenue. Keeping Bouwmeester could help them reach the post-season, but if he becomes available, he'll be the hot target come March 4.