So finally, I have caught up with this 30-preview series. Today’s season outlook regards the Florida Panthers, who finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2010-2011. In order to reach the cap minimum, the ‘Cats went on a free agent frenzy this offseason, signing skaters left and right. Will a new-look roster boost the Panthers up the Eastern Conference ladder? Over at The Rat Trick, Frank Rekas breaks down what he expects will surely be an improved season.
A new slogan (We See Red), a new head coach (Kevin Dineen), and eleven new players give the fan base of the FloridaPanthers reason to believe that things will finally be different. A complete house cleaning that began at the trade deadline in March, and continued into the off season, the Florida Panthers and general manager Dale Tallon are following through on their promise of change. Change the attitude, change the culture, change the direction, and change the expectations of this franchise. I have lived through the broken promises and empty threats of change in the past, and am here to tell you that this time it’s different. It has to be. This franchise has missed the post season 11 years running, and it needs to stop. I’m not saying that this is the year, but I am saying that we’re close.
To read the rest of this Panthers’ season preview, click here.
The first two of four games the Devils play against the Panthers will take place at the Bank Atlantic Center. November 21st will be the first of these matchups, which is the last game of a five-game road trip. After the Devils visit Florida (after a game with the Lightning) to play the ‘Cats on December 13th, the two teams play on January 6th and February 11th at the Prudential Center. The ‘Devs have been relatively successful against the Panthers in recent years, but with so many new faces in Florida, we cannot be sure what to expect this season.
So what about those new-look Panthers? Truthfully, they might be one of the toughest teams to figure out. Sure, the likes of David Booth and Stephen Weiss are still in town to help lead their club; however, looking at their roster, you might have thought Florida was an expansion team that took a player or two from some other clubs. Among this mass of signings, Ed Jovanovski (who could very well be named captain) has played for the ‘Cats in the past, and should serve as a great leader for their defensive corps.
Offensively, the Panthers’ forward lines have much better depth on paper, as proven skaters should give them production from many different sources. Jonathan Huberdeau (who, I believe, might be the best player to come out of this year’s draft) should be exciting to watch if he starts the year in the NHL, or eventually joins the team this season. Florida also has plenty of veteran defensemen, with youth in their system as well. In goal, Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen should both see time, with Theodore probably getting the bulk of the action. While they are not particularly strong between the pipes, having two goaltenders that have thrived in this league before should be comforting to the Panthers’ brass.
Overall, with leaders both offensively and defensively, the Panthers have their fair share of depth. It will be interesting to see how those lines are organized, as the coaching staff has some tough decisions to make, with so many newcomers in camp. Admittedly, I was impressed by their roster even as I began this article, as there are many new skaters who have proven themselves in the NHL. However, with an Eastern Conference that is continuing to improve, I do not believe Florida will make the playoffs just yet (the lack of a true number one goaltender certainly doesn’t help them). However, they are decent enough to stick around in the playoff race for a while, and I will mark them down, at the moment, for a finish at around 11th place. They have the potential to surprise, and if the chemistry is there from the get-go, they could certainly do that.
Tomorrow’s preview will discuss the Dallas Stars, who barely missed the playoffs last season after losing a “win-and-in” game in Minnesota.