The Florida Panthers
Making the case for contraction in the NHL for over a decade
|The future is Red comrade.|
Previous Year's Team Stats
32 wins, 37 losses, 13 OTL, 77 points, 27th overall in the league
The Florida Panthers have been in a decade long rebuild since their last playoff appearance going through seven head coaches and five general managers in that time. It's been a rough ride for Panthers fans in that time suffering through several regimes of mismanagement and a lot of questionable hockey decisions. However this organization made a step in the right direction hiring former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon to finally bring order to the organization. Tallon has taken the Panthers into full blown rebuild mode trading established Panthers players for picks and young players at the draft. The Panthers do have a surprisingly talented core of players and could be a team that surprises this season. However this team could just as easily be in fire sale mode by game 41. The question for the Panthers this season is will their core be able to play well enough to prevent Tallon from making further changes to key personnel?
The Panthers offense will largely be by committee this season. Leading the forward core is 25-year old David Booth who only managed to play 28 games last season before suffering a season ending concussion. Booth has been deemed completely healthy and will look to have a bounce back season as the Panthers potential goal scoring leader. Centering the top line will be Stephen Weiss who's been Florida's top center since Olli Jokinen was traded two seasons ago. Weiss is a solid two-way player but lacks elite NHL scoring skill. Complimenting the first line will be 22-year old Michael Frolik who's had two consecutive seasons scoring 21 goals. Look for Frolik to crack the 60 point barrier this season.
One of the Panthers big trades at the draft saw two former Canucks come to the Panthers. The most exciting of these is 22-year old Michael Grabner who couldn't crack the Canucks top six but will likely excel with ample opportunity in Florida. Grabner is a streaky sniper who boasts speed and a heavy wrist shot. Look for him to score 20 plus goals this season. Enigmatic power forward 25-year old Steve Bernier also arrived in Florida in the Canucks trade. Bernier has never been able to find the scoring touch that made him a 16th overall pick in 2003 but he has developed into an effective bottom six player. Look for Bernier to bounce between the second and third line in Florida this season.
Filling out the offensive forwards for Florida is recent unrestricted free agent signing Chris Higgins who's a multiple 20 goal scorer. Higgins has had a rough career the past few years bouncing between teams since his three straight 20 goal seasons. However Higgins will look to fill out the second line and is considered to be a "Tallon Player" among the Panthers' faithful. Competing with Higgins for offensive minutes in the top six will be 36-year old accomplished vet Cory Stillman who's tuning up for his swan song in Florida this season. Down the middle will be 36-year old center Steven Reinprecht who had a respectable 38 point campaign last season. Competing with him for top six minutes will be 22-year old Shawn Matthias who's boasted offensive acumen but has had difficulties adjusting to professional hockey.
Occupying bottom six roles this season will be scoring winger Rostislav Olesz who's been a disappointing former first round draft pick for the Panthers. Veteran two-way winger Radek Dvorak will likely be a fixture on the Panthers' bottom six this season. Depth center Marty Reasoner who was traded from the Thrashers to the Blackhawks to the Panthers this off-season will play a significant defensive role. Veteran heavyweight enforcer Andrew Peters will look to weigh in on games where his physical presence is needed. And big 6-5 grinder Byron Bitz could also see a few games this season.
The Panthers' defense is led by one of the most underrated players in the NHL Bryan McCabe who had a huge 43 point campaign on the Panthers' blueline last year. McCabe is one of the stronger all category defensemen in the game and will again carry the bulk of minutes on the Panthers back-end. The next most intriguing defenseman is 19-year old Dmitry Kulikov who made the big club as an 18-year old straight out of Juniors playing 68 games for the Panthers' last season. Kulikov is quietly one of the best offensive defensemen prospects in the game. Look for Kulikov's role to expand in Florida this season as the Panthers' give him more ice time and responsibility this season.
The Panthers' added talented offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman in the other big trade of the off-season with the Boston Bruins. Wideman is an excellent puck-moving defenseman who's managed three straight 30 points seasons. Wideman will likely team with McCabe on the powerplay in a pairing reminiscent of the uber-successful Kaberle-McCabe pairing of years past. Wideman will be a player to watch this season as he's in an optimal point production environment for his game. Bryan Allen will be the de facto defensive defenseman in Florida this season. Allen boasts a gritty safe stay-at-home game but will likely take the bulk of key defensive minutes for the Panthers.
Rounding out the defensive core is recent UFA signee Mike Weaver who's made a nice career for himself as a depth defender. 25-year old Lukas Krajieck clone Jason Garrison will also get significant time on the bottom pairing this season. Versatile role player Nathan Paetsch will look to fill in as the club's seventh defenseman.
Current third overall pick Erik Gudbranson stands an outside chance of making the big club this season. Gudbranson plays a gritty defensive oriented game while showing flashes of offensive competence. Gudbranson and Kulikov are clearly the future of the Panthers' blueline and at the time of this writing Peter DeBoer has already expressed how impressed with Gudbranson he is in rookie camp. Keep an eye on what this kid does in the coming weeks in Florida.
The Panthers are both blessed and cursed to have 34-year old goaltender Tomas Vokoun as their starting goaltender. Vokoun is a top five goalie in the league and has played out of his mind in Florida. However Vokoun has been the subject of significant trade rumors in months past and seems somewhat out of place on this Panthers team with one of the finest goalie prospects in the world finally coming to North America. That prospect is 20-year old Jacob Markstrom who absolutely decimated the SEL last season with his stellar play. Markstrom is clearly the goalie of the future for the Panthers but will likely see significant time in the AHL this season as the Panthers' organization doesn't want to rush him. However there is a possibility that Markstrom's talent could force him to be on the big club in some capacity this season. Keep an eye on this kid because he's going to be the next great goalie in this league. Scott Clemmensen won a contract with the Florida Panthers after an excellent campaign with the Devils playing 40 games in place of the injured Martin Brodeur. Clemmensen did a very respectable job with the Panthers' last season and will play 20-25 games again this season.
The Panthers lack elite offensive talent up front and will depend on a core of streaky and injury plagued players to carry their offense. This team has a very underrated back-end and is one of the deepest in net in the league. This team is obviously beginning to go in the right direction with the changes in team culture and emphasis on youth instituted by general manager Dale Tallon. However this team probably won't make the playoffs this year. Look for the Florida Panthers to come in somewhere between 21st-25th in the league.
BVB Projected Opening Night Line-Up
David Booth - 29 G/30 A 59 P
Stephen Weiss - 31 G/36 A 67 P
Michael Frolik - 26 G/28 A 54 P
Chris Higgins - 15 G/17 A 32 P
Shawn Matthias - 13 G/18 A 31 P
Michael Grabner - 22 G/20 A 42 P
Cory Stillman - 12 G/16 A 28 P
Steven Reinprecht - 14 G/23 A 37 P
Steve Bernier - 18 G/20 A 38 P
Rostislav Olesz - 10 G/12 A 22 P
Marty Reasoner - 3 G/10 A 13 P
Byron Bitz - 7 G/10 A 17 P
Bryan McCabe - 7 G/32 A 39 P
Dennis Wideman - 5 G/22 A 27 P
Dmitry Kulikov - 5 G/20 A 25 P
Bryan Allen - 3 G/10 A 13 P
Mike Weaver - 0 G/7 A 7 P
Jason Garrison - 3 G/11 A 14 P
Tomas Vokoun - 27-26-9 | 2.67 GAA | .921 Sv%
Scott Clemmensen - 8-10-2 | 2.80 GAA | .907 Sv%
Jacob Markstrom - 1-0-1 | 2.40 GAA | .916 Sv%