2014/15 Season Preview – Florida Panthers

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Erik_Gudbranson_2012-03-09.JPG

2013/14 Season Record – 15th in Eastern Conference, 7th in Atlantic Division

W

L OT PTS

GOAL DIFF.

29 45 8 66

-72

2013/14 Season Recap

F

or the fourth time since 2010, the Florida Panthers found themselves drafting in the top-3, and making the number-1 overall selection for the first time since 1994 when they took Ed Jovanovski (they had held the 1OV in ’02 & ’03 but traded it both times).  In an all too familiar story, the team was riddled with holes – too many young players, too many over-the-hill veterans, poor goaltending, and not enough impact players in the prime of their careers.

Despite a reasonably strong run (by their standards) through December and January, when they went 14-11-2, it wasn’t enough to salvage a season in which they were simply horrendous in every other month.  The team was atrocious at both ends of the ice – Nick Bjugstad was their leading scorer with 38 points, while they were a collective -72 in goal differential – and the addition of Tim Thomas in net couldn’t halt the tide.

Projected Roster

LW C RW
Jonathan Huberdeau Aleksander Barkov Jussi Jokinen
Sean Bergenheim Nick Bjugstad Scottie Upshall
Tomas Fleischmann Dave Bolland Brad Boyes
Tomas Kopecky Derek MacKenzie Jimmy Hayes
LD RD
Brian Campbell Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell Dmitry Kulikov
Dylan Olsen Erik Gudbranson
G
Roberto Luongo
Al Montoya
EXTRAS
Brandon Pirri
Shawn Thornton
Colby Robak

Top Call-Up Options

Forward Bobby Butler, Quinton Howden, Mark Mancari
Defense Greg Zanon, Shane O’Brien, Alex Petrovic
Goal Dan Ellis

Top Prospects

1. Aaron Ekblad (D)

2. Rocco Grimaldi (F)

3. Mike Matheson (D)

Key Additions

  • Steven Kampfer
  • Al Montoya
  • Derek MacKenzie
  • Shawn Thornton
  • Dave Bolland
  • Jussi Jokinen
  • Willie Mitchell
  • Blake Parlett
  • Brett Olson
  • Greg Zanon
  • Shane O’Brien

Key Subtractions

  • Tom Gilbert
  • Scott Clemmensen
  • Jesse Winchester
  • Joey Crabb
  • Ed Jovanovski

Roster Thoughts

There’s a lot to like on this roster, there really is.  No, stop laughing, there is!  Leading the charge, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov represent the future of the team up-front, the former possessing wonderful offensive talent while the latter is perhaps underrated at scoring and even more so in his defensive game.  There are far worse players to have mentor them than veteran two-way C/W Jussi Jokinen.

Nick Bjugstad looks to be rounding into form as a strong second-line center, blessed with a massive frame and excellent two-way potential.  His offensive ceiling is a little hazy – he did lead the team in scoring as a rookie, but the team was so, so bad… he urgently needs better support on his wings than Bergenheim and Upshall. These two are solid NHLers, but are playing above their station on the second line.

Dave Bolland joins the team on a huge contract, one that will extremely difficult for him to live up to.  He made his name as a two-way forward with Chicago, but his results have varied widely at both ends of the ice.  He’s not a bad player at all, and he may prove to be highly useful for Florida, but on a team even worse than Toronto he’ll likely struggle to be an impact player. Fleischmann and Boyes again are solid forwards, with a history of offensive production, and could well wind up playing with Bjugstad on the second line.

Derek MacKenzie is a veteran at 33 years old, but only has 309 NHL games to his name having been a replacement level player for most of his career. He’s solid enough, but not nearly close to the tough minutes center the team needs.  On his wings are Tomas Kopecky and Jimmy Hayes, again two perfectly capable skaters, though nothing outstanding.  Kopecky actually excelled last season in a tough minutes role, but Hayes struggled in far easier minutes.

The D-corps is once again led by Brian Campbell, yet another of Dale Tallon’s former Hawks hires.  An excellent puck mover still at 35 years old, it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop taking on the tough minutes any time soon, and indeed he performed very well in that role last season on a very good pairing with Tom Gilbert (a big loss to this group).  Aaron Ekblad has all the tools to be a top-pairing defender in this league, perhaps not elite but still the kind of player most teams wish for.  Unfortunately, instead of bringing him along slowly, the Panthers are going to drop in to the thick of things, and for the team’s sake it better not ruin him.

Dimitry Kulikov has thankfully re-signed with the team after a season of trade rumours, which is a boon for the team as he remains an excellent top-4 defender still at just 23 years old.  His +/- was horrendous last year, but he performed well by puck-possession metrics while playing tough minutes. He’ll be expected to carry Willie Mitchell, a respected veteran who won two Cups in LA but who’s age was on display rather too much during last year’s playoffs.

Yet another form Hawk, Dylan Olsen had his first extended NHL stretch with Florida last year and was solid, performing well by shot attempt differential in reasonably sheltered minutes and putting up solid box-cars. Eric Gudbranson is looking less and less like the player the team believed they’d drafted 3rd overall back in 2010, though he was solid enough in a sheltered role last year.  His failings are due at least in part to having been rushed into the league at 19, but he’s still just 22 and could yet develop into a solid top-4 player with a penchant for aggressive play.

Roberto Luongo needs no introduction in net.  He’s not the Vezina-winner he used to be, but he’s likely got a good couple of years left before his play really slips. There are worse goalies for the team to put their faith in.  Al Montoya has proven over the last couple of seasons to be a reasonably competent backup; indeed, he was far more effective for the Jets last season than start Ondrej Pavalec, but Pavalec seems to be the hill the team is determined to die on, so Montoya finds himself in Florida, and the team is likely better for it.

Key Player

Without a doubt, it’s Florida’s prodigal adopted son Roberto Luongo. He is not the young star desperate to drag his team into contention while facing a barrage of shots while making a name for himself.  Now, he is an aging star desperate to drag his team into contention while facing a barrage of shots while attempting to salvage his name.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh Roberto?

2014/15 Expectations

This team is strange in that they are packed with genuinely useful NHLers with proven track records, elite young talent, and a star goalie, but I still can’t seem them scraping their way out of the bottom-5 just yet.  It’s just a whole load of “meh”.  Which is better than a whole load of “dear Gord no”, of course, but when it’s unlikely to lead to results it just doesn’t matter.

This team is desperately in need of Huberdeau, Barkov and Ekblad to turn in stars, pronto, and to complement them with more Jussi Jokinens and less Sean Bergenheims.  Until that day, this team is going to continue wallowing in the depths of the league.

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