By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE — Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was noticeably absent on the trip down the elevator last Sunday following another tough defeat, but one Panther — Tallon’s finest free-agent offseason acquisition — was still around at the final destination, the team’s dressing room.
While many fans in red were upset after the 5-2 loss to Montreal, no Panther embodied disappointment and frustration more than forward Peter Mueller. Jack Skille, Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom were among a smattering of Florida players who stayed around the dressing room, but the most obvious was Mueller, seated alone on his side where most of the defensemen and a few forwards have lockers. The Bloomington, Minn., native looked like he had just left the ice, in full gear except for his jersey and sporting a Panthers Reebok hat.
No good reason existed for Mueller to be there; in fact, most of his teammates had high-tailed it. He logged 15:49 of ice time in the loss, registering two of Florida’s paltry 16 shots against Montreal backup goalie Peter Budaj in a game in which Florida was outclassed and outworked, despite Montreal having played less than 24 hours ago and ending a five-game road trip. And after a fine start, Mueller hasn’t tallied a goal since scoring two at Philadelphia on Feb. 21. Like most who donned the home red, his play against the Habs would likely have been described as bad, mediocre, inferior. Take your pick of adjectives that mean “not quite good enough.”
So why was he there, ultimately having to face the music from the media who were looking for anyone to talk to?
I think it was because he was bothered by losing — again and again and again, over and over, ad nauseum, quiet room. Some players may be hard to figure out, but not Mueller. He wears his emotions on his jersey — which he wasn’t wearing — but you didn’t have to be the Amazing Kreskin or the Amazing Criswell (Is it a requirement to be amazing to be a mentalist?) to surmise what Mueller was thinking about under all that head of hair. He was troubled, despondent after losing to the Habs in front of a pro-Canadien crowd. Losing is gradually wearing on everyone in that room, and it has the feel of those last few games of the Pete DeBoer Era, but Mueller seems to take it harder than most, or in the least, shows it more.
But there he was, as if mulling over what he could have done differently in another wasted chance for his team to win and…caring about it. And because of that care level, in addition to his plus-skill and hard-working effort he possesses, Tallon doesn’t even really need to give a second look at or think twice about re-signing the 24-year-old Mueller, an RFA like Skille, Matthias and Markstrom.
Tallon should just go ahead and do it. A two- or three-year deal will be the good news Mueller’s needs and give Florida’s faithful, who have watched the club struggle on the ice, a sense of something going right within the organization — a feeling that hasn’t happened much lately.
Mueller’s comments after the Montreal loss: