Despite rumors of the opposite, the Florida Panthers are not yet done and dusted from the playoff map. The win over the Flyers put to an end a four game losing streak, and as the performances are slowly improving; a ray of hope is reemerging in South Florida.
That however doesn’t deter trade murmurs from buzzing around the Panthers camp like voluptuous vultures. Nathan Horton is the latest and oft recurring target.
Nevertheless, I think these rumors are largely based on faulty assumptions. I’ll go on to explain why in a moment, but first a quick elucidation of the Florida Panthers and its methods may be in order to initiate the unacquainted reader...
Florida’s Road Map to Success
The Philadelphia victory, 4-2, was a hard fought win for the Panthers group, a road map if you will, for Florida to follow in their quest for success.
The Florida felines’ team is not the most gifted in the league, in fact, no one star performer has emerged; scoring has come from the collective team effort and the stats clearly show this fact:
Michael Frolik and Stephen Weiss top the point chart with 2 goals and 2 assists each in the opening six games. Three players; Radek Dvorak, Steven Reinprecht, and Dmitry Kulikov, have notched up three points. Six players have two, and of the players that have appeared in more than one game; only Gregory Campbell has yet to snatch a point.
While this says much about the Panthers need for combined scoring, it also highlights the clubs call for greater point production all around.
Each and every one of the current players are required to step up their game and chip in with hard fought goals if the Cats are to have any chance whatsoever.
In the second and third period on Friday, after a stern telling off from the coach, the players managed to do just that and the end result was a much needed win versus the Flyers.
Now the Floridians will have to keep up the pressure in every game, not just once in a blue moon.
Indeed, consistency was the issue throughout all of last season, or rather: the lack thereof. And this time around the Panthers have probably even less room for inconsistency…
Not least after the uninspiring 2-4 start to the campaign.
People outside of South Florida that aren’t necessarily acquainted with the Cats’ brand of hockey sometimes misunderstand the pillars that the team is built around.
Again; there is no star player to lean against for scoring. That is the job and responsibility of the entire team: the defenders as much as the forwards. Hence why we constantly see Panthers’ blueliners pinch-in at the offensive zone and jump into scoring areas at every opportunity.
Coach Peter DeBoer believes in the collective effort. Yet everybody must pull in the same direction for this tactic to be successful, everyone is looked upon to put in sterling, grinding shifts, for the cause. DeBoer will act swiftly if someone is not pulling their load.
Sometimes, fairly and unfairly, Nathan Horton has been pinpointed as one that doesn’t give 100% exertion into all games. However, worth noting is that Peter DeBoer seems to hold Horton’s endeavors in high regard.
Nathan didn’t start the season in the best of fashion, but in the last two games his, and the teams play overall, has made a remarkable upturn.
Next: Why Horton Will Stay Put
Horton, a 24 year old 6-foot-2, 229 pound right winger, has only two goals so far into the campaign. However, those came in the two previous games and his play is showing clear signs of improvement.
Yet, the most frustrating part of Nathan’s hockey repertoire, in a Florida fans’ perspective, is his inconsistency. He can win games for the Panthers one day and then be virtually invisible the next. In this light his performances seems to follow the same path as the team as a whole over the last few seasons.
So, to hear Nathan Horton’s name already popping up in trade rumors is not surprising, and yet, probably based on the misunderstanding that he is supposed to be a prolific goal scorer and little else on the team.
Two goals in six games is thus reason enough for some to start the rumor that the Panthers are actively shopping Horton.
However, that rationale is based on a foundation that is not currently employed by the Panthers and its head coach Peter DeBoer. In Pete’s tactic Nathan is a two-way player that is looked equally upon as a defensively responsible and offensively predatory player.
He is not a pure offensive force (as he perhaps once was seen as).
What this does to Nathan’s stats is obvious: less goals scored and points on the board. This could clearly be seen last year as well when Horton was employed in the center. After having notched up 62 points in the two previous campaigns; he only got 45 points in 67 games played in 2008/09.
No one doubts the skill and potential possessed by the former 3rd overall pick from 2003.
What perhaps is lacking sometimes, and that brings Panthers fans to the brink of insanity, is his apparent lack of certain mental aspects of the game, such as a healthy dose of determination and resilience; to accompany those silky skills of his.
If Horton can adapt to coach Peter DeBoer tactics, and required two-way play, I think this can be highly beneficial to Nathan’s progress as a player. If he adds the mental wherewithal to his arsenal, he could become a lethal player yet, in the NHL.
Further, there have been no signs from DeBoer that he is specifically unhappy about Horton’s play; that has been directed more to the team as a whole. And there are no signs that Pete is giving up on Nathan.
Neither are there signs that the new General Manager Randy Sexton is contemplating trading Horton. Indeed, he has stated that the young Panthers players that have become the core of the team also constitute the long term backbone of his plans.
Nathan would surely be seen as one of those core players.
When confronted by the Horton rumors from a Sun-Sentinel reporter, Sexton told him that “there is no shred of truth to the report, that it was absolutely made up and that he hasn't contacted teams, nor have any contacted him, about trading Horton”.
I, for one, have no reason to disbelieve him.
This rumor sounds like a pure fabrication, apparently from the good lads of the Ottawa Sun brainstorming department.
Its basis, Horton’s lack of points, is based on misconceptions of the Panthers style of play and tactics. A poor study of character when it comes to head Coach Peter DeBoer, General Manager Randy Sexton, as well as a confusion of the long term strategy of this club.
To add to the list, Nathan is in his third year of a six year, $4 million per season, contract. Such a contract is not easy to move in a Salary Cap world. Most teams would be expecting to get more than Horton’s 45 points (last season) for that kind of money. They would also be obliged to give up some serious assets in order to tempt the Florida management.
Overall these hurdles are simply to big too overcome. But, does that mean Horton won’t be traded this season?
No, it does not. A trade could possibly happen later in the season, if the Panthers fail with their endeavor of putting up a decent challenge for the playoffs.
While Florida would probably prefer to move some of their veterans in that case of events, it is not impossible that management might consider moving Horton if they are unhappy with his performances at that point; especially as Nathan has a no-movement clause kicking in next July 1st.
That however, amounts to a grand subtotal of: Copious quantities of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.
As Panthers fans, we may or may not wish to see Horton traded, but I think we all understand that he won’t be going anywhere at the moment anyway...
For the time being we’ll have to hope he can dig deep, ignore the rumors, and continue to improve his play. However, he is not alone in that respect; all Panthers players will need to do the same, not least tomorrow; when the Buffalo Sabres come to town.
Coach DeBoer has opted to go with the same team that won against Philadelphia last Friday. That means Scott Clemmensen will continue in goal instead of Tomas Vokoun.
The Sabres on the other hand have started the season impressively and it is up to the Cats to take the game to the visitors and squeeze out another victory.
We need those points accumulating rapidly to keep that early playoff-push on course and catch up with the teams above us in the standings, with Buffalo being one of those teams.