A Florida Panther on the Brink of Extinction

I'm not talking about actual Panthers, but yeah, that too. I'm talking about the best Florida Panther hockey player -- defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Last night, after the team's playoff hopes collapsed for the eighth, nearly record-setting year in a row, it brought into focus exactly how a franchise manages a string like that: God-awful front office management.

Panthers management has a way of showcasing a franchise player, only to give him a ticket out of town. Ray Whitney, Roberto Luongo, and soon, Bouwmeester. Granted, the team's lone All-Star was going to be a tough sign for Florida regardless. Last summer he signed a one-year deal, ostensibly in hopes that the Panthers would make an improbable run deep into the playoffs. Lacking that, he was going to hit the free agent market in 2009.

This was an over-achieving Panthers team, thanks in part to Stephen Weiss' good health and David Booth's goal-scoring. But at the March 4 trade deadline it was still a fringe playoff team. Had the Panthers squeaked into the playoffs, what chance would they have had against Boston or Washington? Zip.

At that point, a smart team executive -- or even a half-wit blogger -- cuts his losses.

The team still has a young, talented nucleus. If Bouwmeester's going to leave town anyway, General Manager Jacques Martin should have cashed him in at the trade deadline. A playoff-bound, forward-rich team that needed a quarterback for its power play would have paid a high price --a young forward close in age to Weiss, Booth and Horton who could play on the Panthers top two lines, plus a first-round draft pick. That's a team with some upside going into next year.

Instead, Bouwmeester will walk, and Panther fans loyal to a plucky 2008-09 team have little hope for a playoff run next season. Who can blame them if they won't buy season tickets?

For more on Bouwmeester, see this feature story I wrote about him last fall.

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