As it currently stands, the Florida Panthers would be the first to step up at the podium in Philadelphia after commissioner Gary Bettman officially opens the 2014 NHL draft on June 27, but that could be changing.
There have been reports by Damien Cox of the Toronto Star that general manager Dale Tallon has received a "fair offer" for the top draft choice, but that doesn't necessarily mean the pick will be dealt.
The Panthers were not the worst team in the NHL last year—they are only two years removed from a Stanley Cup playoff appearance—but they won the NHL draft lottery. The southern Florida franchise could opt to draft budding blueliner Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts, or one of Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl, a trio of forwards that graced the cover of The Hockey News' 2014 draft preview issue.
These are all realistic scenarios, but the Panthers ultimately should be shopping the No. 1 pick in the draft because the return would help the franchise more than either of the top four prospects would.
Dealing the No. 1 pick would give the Panthers a chance to receive an impact player, a prospect and another pick. The impact player who can help the team now would be more valuable than any prospect would, considering the Panthers are in dire straits financially, according to the Sun Sentinel.
It is no secret that the NHL may consider expansion at some point, considering the fact that there are 16 Eastern Conference teams and 14 Western Conference teams, but a relocation of an East team to the West would make more sense.
The Panthers are a struggling franchise that is under new ownership. Vincent Viola took over the team in 2013, but things are so bad that the team is going to be scaling back its seating capacity for home games in 2014, according to team beat writer George Richards of The Miami Herald.
The reduction in attendance will do nothing to help the team financially, and if the team continues to remain in the red, relocation would become a realistic option.
The Panthers would be a prime candidate because of their struggling attendance numbers, their inability to turn a profit and the fact that Florida may not be able to support two NHL franchises. The Tampa Bay Lightning are also situated in Florida, but they haven't had problems even while losing, and this was because of star names such as Brad Richards, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.
When you look at the Panthers, who stands out? There is no denying the talent and potential of youngsters Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov and numerous others, but will they be able to carry this team into playoff contention before it is too late?
The Panthers need players who can help them now, not prospects who will be decent this year and not fully matured and ready to be a factor until three or four years from now. No disrespect to the top prospects from this draft, but there is as much chatter about these prospects as there has been about other top prospects in years past.
Getting a top player back would strengthen a lineup already featuring some good young players and a team set in net with Roberto Luongo. While getting a top-end prospect would be nice, the Panthers most likely don't have the time to play a waiting game considering they may be in danger of relocation in the next few years.
Maybe things change if former Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma becomes the guy in Sunrise. Maybe he can turn things around, and his reputation makes free agents want to come to Florida. Maybe then the Panthers will compete, make the playoffs and start making money again.
These are all good things in theory, but that's exactly the problem. They are "maybes," "but ifs," "if onlys" and other conceptual things. In order to be successful, the Panthers need tangible things, and Bettman is going to only give them so much leeway if they continue a downward spiral.
According to capgeek.com, Tallon has 14 players signed for this season and just about $31 million to spend on free agents in cap space, although that number is likely lower because of the team's financial situation. A head coach needs to be hired.
However, Tallon needs to make a decision on the No. 1 pick, because dealing the pick for a worthwhile package could launch a meaningful period of growth for the Panthers that saves them from relocation and puts them back into the playoffs.
The Stanley Cup Final may have just ended, but there is still a ton of interesting stories and drama as the NHL draft on June 27 approaches.
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