Keith Ballard's Extension Could Spell the End for Jay Bouwmeester

Aaron BrenkerCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2008

A couple of days ago, newly acquired defenseman Keith Ballard signed a six-year extension with the Florida Panthers. The Panthers recently made a lot of moves defensively, most notably the trade for Bryan McCabe and extension of Ballard. All of these recent moves leave me to ponder what this all means for Jay Bouwmeester?

These recent moves may be a sign from Panthers general manager Jacques Martin that he is not confident Bouwmeester will re-sign. Bouwmeester is set to become a free agent this upcoming offseason, and will most likely see many offers from different teams. If Bouwmeester decides to test the market, it's a long shot he will stay with the Panthers.

Former Phoenix defenseman Keith Ballard was also set to become a free agent this season, so this could just be Martin extending Ballard's contract before he would get offers from other teams after the season.

Bouwmeester is without a doubt the Panthers' best defenseman. Martin has truly groomed him into a solid puck-moving defenseman. Bouwmeester scored 15 goals and added 22 assists last season, which also marked the 24-year-old's third straight season playing all 82 games.

Ballard, while not as strong offensively as Bouwmeester, has plenty of upside. The Minnesota-born defenseman showed he has offensive ability in the 2005-06 season, recording eight goals and 31 assists. Martin is hoping he can groom Ballard into a play-making defenseman, much like he did with Bouwmeester.

One thing's for sure if the Panthers can obtain a playoff spot: The chances of Bouwmeester staying with the Panthers will be much better. The Panthers need to get off to a good start to show Bouwmeester they are and will continue to be a playoff contender.