I think too many of you are giving the Penguins far too much credit. Their fall is a result of losing so many players off last season's roster(not named Hossa) and not replacing them well.
Unless MAF starts to play like a near Vezina Trophy goalie, they are going to miss. My view is the Pens best chance to make the playoffs is complete collapse by the Rangers. They will not finish ahead of Florida, Carolina and Buffalo.
Pittsburgh absolutely strikes me as a team that can turn it on, basically on a dime. They don't need to turn into a powerhouse, just enough to leapfrog some pretty crappy teams at the bottom of the East. Gonchar isn't going to make the Penguins Titans, but it should make them better than the likes of Buffalo, probably Carolina, and maybe one of the Rangers/Canadiens over the next month. If I were betting, I would put the Penguins in the playoffs.
I see Florida eventually coming back down to earth, especially if they have to make a decision on J-Bo. Carolina is going to struggle but they do have all the games against Tampa and Atlanta. Buffalo and Montreal should stay about the same. But yeah...Pittsburgh should be a playoff team.
I'm still not sure about the Rangers. Not too sure what direction they are going to go. A huge loss tonight could be the begin of a fall or a coaching change turnaround.
I think Florida is safe if they keep Bouwmeester, probably out of the playoffs if they deal him for strict futures, and capable of making it in if they exchange him for NHL-ready, quality defense that can be slotted directly into the lineup.
I don't know why, but I just have this feeling that the Panthers are going to keep him, then try their damnedest to re-sign Bouwmeester, right up to the 11th hour. It may blow up in their faces, but I don't think Martin has a choice. Make the playoffs or you're fired.
I like Florida's defense and team as a whole...but they are in the same boat as Carolina in terms of needing some core offensive help. They do a good job spreading out the goals...but they need someone that can semi-constantly take a game over in the late stages. 12 guys with more than 20 points...but no one over 40. It's odd to look at.
What if Florida keeps Bouwmeester, and they make the playoffs? Do you think that would be enough for him to resign. I think they will hang onto him and make the playoffs.
I see him as a guy that just wants to play for a team with a chance at it all...and get paid at the same time. He's going to get upwards of 7 to 7.5 million and is that 1. Something the Panthers can afford? and 2. Something that they want to do?
They have plenty of UFA contracts coming off the books...but losing players to sign one guy could be something they want to avoid (not that the UFA's are great of anything...but there are some serviceable names in there like Skrastins, Dvorak, Zednik, and Boynton.)
They really do have a tough call to make. Making the playoffs doesn't mean he'll sign there. It's a risk to take...but as Drake pointed out...Martin is likely looking at being fired if he doesn't make it. So he might risk long term for short term.
Personally...I'd deal him to the higest bidder if I were running things down there and hope to get moved to Las Vegas.