Jay talking, but not saying much about Panthers

BRUCE GARRIOCH

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

SUNRISE, FLA. -- Jay Bouwmeester must be a great poker player. You can't tell what he's thinking -- especially about the Panthers.

To call the 25-year-old defenceman thrilled to be part of Florida's playoff push would be a stretch.

A looming unrestricted free agent in the summer, Bouwmeester has refused to re-sign with the Panthers. Yet GM Jacques Martin opted not to deal the valuable blueliner at the deadline.

The Panthers hope keeping Bouwmeester for a potential playoff run will convince him to stay, but that's highly unlikely.

The strong belief around the NHL is he'll wind up with the Flames or Oilers because the Edmonton native wants to play in a hockey market.

Bouwmeester's actions speak louder than his words, which he chooses carefully:

"I got to the point where I didn't have any control over (what would happen at the deadline)," Bouwmeester said before last night's game. "Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. You kind of accept that. There's nothing you can do about it and you move on. That's that.

"Once the season is over, you can evaluate things and go from there. We've got (five) games left and that's our focus."

While there have been concerns about Bouwmeester's play down the stretch, he did score a big goal Saturday in a 6-3 win at Dallas. It also tied his career high of 15. He plays an average of 26:58 per game, and is a big reason why the Panthers are fighting for a playoff spot.

"He's an amazing guy. I thought (the trade deadline) would be a distraction to him and to our team ... How we would handle it as a group and how we would handle it?" said coach Peter DeBoer.

"It's a credit to him, he hasn't let it affect his play. If anything, he's played above expectations. The fact he hasn't made (his contract status) an issue has made it a non-issue for our team and it's really been a non-factor all year."

OFF THE GLASS

Asked if he's been doing a lot of scoreboard watching lately, DeBoer admitted he was guilty. "It's kind of like a car accident, you don't want to look, but ..." said DeBoer with a smile. "Absolutely, you'd be crazy not to. I watched the (Rangers win over New Jersey) for about 30 minutes (Monday) and then I'd seen enough of that. If it's going all right, I'll usually finish (watching). If not, I'll go onto something else." ... Was walking inside the vast Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall across the street from the hotel with "Sleepy" Sylvain St. Laurent from Le Droit early yesterday when three cops went by on bicycles. That's something you'd rarely see in Canada ... File this under the wild speculation category: If Martin's Panthers don't make the playoffs, there's talk he may not be back next season. The theory making the rounds is if Canadiens GM Bob Gainey gets fired and former Senators GM Pierre Gauthier takes over in Montreal, Martin could land behind the Habs bench. Sure, anything is possible ... Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen was in the crowd.

THE MORNING SKATE

Panthers play-by-play man Randy Moller asked the fans for suggestions on what he could say after a Florida goal and the response has been overwhelming. "I've got a stack of about 800 sitting on my desk," said Moller. His favourite comes from the movie Fletch: "My car just hit a water buffalo!" ... DeBoer never lets a morning skate with the Ottawa media in town end without asking about legendary 67's coach and GM Brian Kilrea. "How's Killer doing? Is he still alive (in the playoffs)? Told the 67's were facing Niagara in Game 7 of their first-round series last night at the Civic Centre, DeBoer predicted: "Killer will win. He always does." Everybody hoped DeBoer was right, but he wasn't ... The Panthers haven't made the playoffs since 2000. So it's no wonder they've had to give away tickets away. Getting to the post-season could mean a lot to their mere existence in South Florida ... Senators G Brian Elliott said the souvenir puck from his first NHL shutout Sunday, when he made 20 saves against the Bolts, will go to his dad Bill's basement in Mississauga. "I spoke with him and he was pretty excited," said Elliott.

PARTING THOUGHTS

The Senators held talks with University of Denver star C Tyler Bozak yesterday. They are on his short list of NHL teams, but it's not known who else he's considering. The coveted unrestricted free agent is expected to make a decision in the next couple of days ... Hard to say Florida G Craig Anderson has the lock on the No. 1 job. He couldn't even get into the dressing room after the morning skate. "Can we get someone over here with a pass card so I can get in?" Anderson asked a couple of Panthers employees. Of course, he holds the key to Florida making the playoffs ... The Canadian consulate in Miami advertises on the BankAtlantic Center scoreboard. Nice to see us contributing to the local economy.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


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