The Panthers announced today that they’ve traded forward Dave Bolland and prospect Lawson Crouse to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a 2017 3rd round pick and a conditional 2018 2nd-round pick.
The saga of Bolland has finally come to an end after the overpaid, under-performing veteran forward has been taken off the Panthers’ books. Bolland hasn’t suited up for a hockey game since December 19th when he played for the Panthers’ former AHL affiliate Portland Pirates while on a short-lived conditioning stint. The Panthers first acquired the gritty center back in 2014 when they signed him a 5-year, $27.5 million deal on the first day of free agency, and the hope was that he’d frustrate opposing players while being a stalwart defender in the bottom-6, but as the season wore on, it became clear that he was having trouble living up to not only those expectations, but the ones that came with his hefty contract.
The now 30-year old came into training camp this past season in “the best shape of his life” according to Dale Tallon, but he continued to underperform while suffering from injuries and working to get back into shape following Achilles tendon surgery in November of 2013. The Panthers sent him to the AHL in December for a “conditioning stint” but he would play in just two games before returning to the NHL roster, never to play for the big club again. Bolland was placed on the injured reserve in February – a move the Panthers did their best to avoid making with the hopes of buying him out this off-season – and he apparently failed a physical in June, so their options with him were limited.
It’s widely agreed that Bolland’s contract, which has 3 years at $16.5 million left on it, was – and still is – the worst ever doled out by the Panthers in their history and it’s likely that it became a point of contention within the organization. Early in the off-season, we saw a restructuring of the front office which delegated the responsibilities of contract negotiations (which were once part of Tallon’s role), among other things, to new assistant GMs Steve Werier and Eric Joyce while also creating a more collaborative atmosphere throughout the hockey ops department.
So far, it seems to have worked out incredibly well with the Panthers shedding not only large contracts but also the potential for them in moves like the ones that saw Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson get shipped out for equal players on cheaper deals (Mark Pysyk) or highly-touted prospects and picks (Jared McCann). They then went out and signed guys like Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, and the entire young core to cap-friendly long-term deals, and after today’s moves, the Panthers have not only an incredibly competitive and skilled team but also just under $10 million in space for more acquisitions and signings.
Unfortunately, the Panthers were forced to give up Lawson Crouse in order to sweeten the deal for Arizona. Crouse was drafted by the Panthers with the 11th pick at the 2015 Draft in Sunrise, Florida, and although they liked what they had in him, he wasn’t considered untouchable by any means. In his draft year, Crouse tallied just 51 points in 56 games but scouts and other observers were in love with the big physical winger’s overall package and potential.
This past season – which was his third in the OHL – he finally performed at over a point per game with 62 points in 49 games, however, many became concerned with the fact that he wasn’t producing at a better pace considering his size and maturity being much higher compared to other players. At rookie camp this past July, the Panthers liked what they saw again but weren’t overly impressed by his showing when playing alongside other prospects belonging to the organization, and from my own viewings, he didn’t stand out like you’d hope he would have.
In the end, the Panthers want to win now, and the necessary evil of moving Bolland’s contract, especially with the term left on it, was not going to be an easy thing to do. They knew they’d have to give up a piece with value in order to get something done and they seem to be just fine with letting Crouse go, leading me to believe they may not have been thrilled with the first round pick – former Director of Scouting Scott Luce’s final one with the team – in the first place. Crouse was projected to have a very good chance at making the Panthers’ roster this season – or at least get a 9-game tryout before a decision was made – and was expected to be competing with newly-signed Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault for a spot on the 3rd or 4th line.
With all of the forward talent still remaining in the organization’s prospect pool – Jayce Hawryluk, Adam Mascherin, Henrik Borgstrom, Jared McCann, and Dryden Hunt, among others – the Panthers aren’t hurting themselves by moving Crouse, and while I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to make, life will go on.
So in short, even without Crouse, and certainly without Bolland’s contract hanging over them, the Panthers are in a really good spot. With September right around the corner, things will start heating up quickly, and after today’s move, it appears they already have.