Florida Panthers Season Preview

There were few teams who were more active than the Florida Panthers on the first few days of July this off-season. With the NHL imposing a new cap floor, GM Dale Tallon felt the need to spend as much as he could and Florida how has a roster that consists of players who were second or third liners for other teams last year. All these signings and trades did was put Florida in an awful financial position and it’s going to be even uglier a few years down the road. What about this year, though? As bad as a lot of these signings were, Florida appears to have a better team than they did last year but is it good enough to get them into the playoffs? To sum things up quickly; No. Not even close.

Florida wasn’t an awful team in terms of possession (49.7% 5v5 corsi w/ score tied), but they lost one of the best goalies in the league and replaced him with a rookie and someone who was a back-up last season. They also remain without a star player and are trying to fix what was one of the worst powerplays in the league. It’s going to be a long process until they get things going in the right direction.

Forwards:

Off-Season Additions and Subtractions

Florida’s had a bit of a roster turnover with Rostislav Olesz, Marty Reasoner, Steve Bernier, Darcy Hordichuk, Kenndal McArdle, Niclas Bergfors and Sergei Samsonov all leaving. There isn’t too much value that’s gone here but Olesz was a pretty solid player even if he couldn’t score that much. Reasoner was a good face-off guy and defensive forward but not much else and Bergfors has the potential to be a solid goal-scoring winger. Other than that, Florida didn’t part with that much talent here. It’s who they brought in which may cause problems.

Newcomers to the Panthers this year are Marcel Goc, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Matt Bradley, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and Sean Bergenheim. None of the players they acquired are bad, they just don’t make Florida a contender and the fact that they were all signed to long-term deals is pretty brutal, as well. Goc and Bergenheim are very solid defensive forwards who help drive possession and I think they will help Florida the most. Upshall and Kopecky got the benefit of soft ice time with their respective teams last year and didn’t score much despite that. Versteeg is a solid player who could make a good linemate for Stephen Weiss. Bradley is mostly there to provide grit on the fourth line.

Depth Chart

LW C RW
David Booth Stephen Weiss Scottie Upshall
Tomas Fleischmann Mike Santorelli (IR) Tomas Kopecky
Kris Versteeg Marcel Goc Evgeny Dadonov
Sean Bergenheim Ryan Carter Jack Skille
Shawn Matthias Matt Bradley

I’m not entirely sure how the lines will work out, but the Santorelli injury could mean that Fleischmann moves to center for awhile, a position he struggled at when he played in Washington. If you can draw anything positive about this forward corps, it’s that they will be better territorially than they were last season. Bergenheim and Goc are very good getting the puck out of their own end and creating chances, so those two could make a decent third line with Dadonov.

Weiss also draws a lot of tough competition, so his line could possibly free up Upshall, Fleischmann and Kopecky to play soft minutes like they have their entire careers and be an effective scoring line. Upshall and Fleischmann have scored 20+ goals before so I could see Florida doing something like that. The problem is neither of those three have been in a main scoring role before and could be put into one this season. That can also be said about their entire roster aside from Weiss and Booth.

Another positive is that a lot of these guys are in their mid-late 20’s which means they are in their prime of their careers. The bad part of that is none of their ceilings are high at all. Booth hasn’t been the same ever since being concussed by Mike Richards and Weiss would be a 2nd liner on a contending team. These two are the team’s main source of offense and that’s just not going to take you that far.

Defense

Off-Season Additions and Subtractions:

There weren’t too many major losses from Florida’s blue-line this off-season as Dennis Wideman and Bryan McCabe were dealt during the season. They did add two big pieces in Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell this off-season, though. It’s also looking like they are planning to get a full-season out of last year’s first round pick Erik Gudbranson which means that players like Dimitry Kulikov, Joe Callahan and Keaton Ellerby will have a decreased role. There’s a very good chance that Campbell and Jovanovski play top-four minutes for Florida this year.

Depth Chart

Left Defense Right Defense
Brian Campbell Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski Erik Gudbranson
Jason Garrison
Keaton Ellerby
Dimitry Kulikov

Florida really likes left-handed shooters, evidently. One strength Florida has is the very underrated pairing of Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver. These two were constantly matched up against other team’s top lines and they fared very well against them. It’s very impressive when you consider how cheap these two are signed for. Then you factor in Jovanovski (putting his contract aside) who played a similar role in Phoenix last year and that will probably change as he could be placed in a more offensive role with Campbell. You have to wonder how effective he’ll be at 35, though. Speaking of Campbell, he might be able to help this team’s struggling powerplay as got the benefit of protection and easy ice time in Chicago, which certainly helped their’s a bit. 

This defense doesn’t give up a lot of shots and certainly isn’t terrible but they have depth problems. The fact that Brian Campbell is their #1 defenseman should tell you that. It could change if Gudbranson becomes a stud but I still think they could be an injury away from a disaster here.

Goaltending

Losing one of the best goalies in the league is a tough hole to fill and Florida is electing to replace Tomas Vokoun with Jose Theodore, a goalie who has a .902 save percentage since the lockout and .908 save percentage the last three seasons. I would not expect him to be the full-time starter as they have Jacob Markstrom waiting in the wings and he has the potential to be very good. It’s not a sure thing that he will be, though. They also have Scott Clemmensen who will begin the year on IR for the first month of the season. Theodore’s been kind of a streaky goalie for the last few years so the Cats better hope they get the good version of him for the first month of the year.

Final Thoughts

I heard someone make a Moneyball comparison to this year’s Panthers because they consist of leftover parts from other teams. There’s one problem with that; Tallon grossly overpaid for just about every single player on this roster and that’s the opposite of what “Moneyball” is. That and this team doesn’t look like they will get Florida out of the cellar anytime soon as their offense is severely lacking, not much was done to fix the powerplay up front and their goaltending is a huge question mark. It’s looking like it’ll be another long season in Sunrise, and it’s going to get even worse after that.

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