Around The NHL In 30 Days. Florida Panther Preview. A New Beginning.

Erik Gudbranson. Ready for the big time. Source: Cyberpresse.ca

I am hoping that this song is our new goal song!

A new slogan (We See Red), a new head coach (Kevin Dineen), and eleven new players give the fan base of the Florida Panthers 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.

Last season the Panthers finished with a 30-40-12 record, accumulating 72 points that placed them at 15th in the Eastern conference and 28th in the NHL.  Blah! Dale Tallon’s trade deadline salary dumping of “deadwood” and expensive contracts needed to happen.  The team had a horrible finish to the season as a result, but sometimes the only way to move forward is to take a couple steps back.  To say that the Panthers were active in free agency would be an understatement.  Dale and company made more noise than any other team had ever made with the signing of free agents, and the trades he constructed.  Questions abound all summer long about the amount of money certain players received, and the length of contracts that were given to some of these newly acquired players.  Seems as though pundits are never happy with this club and never want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Obviously the previous track record of the organEYEzation would make them feel that way, however I can’t say this time it’s justified.  82 games will ultimately determine if there’s the “chemistry” that so many people are concerned about.  82 games will determine if these moves were the right moves or not.  Either way, the “New Beginning” is something that’s very refreshing, and finally the fans of the Florida Panthers can see the light….or red!

Dale Tallon entered free agency with virtually an open wallet.  In order to reach the salary cap floor, the Panthers needed to spend about 24 million dollars and Dale began his work quickly.  To bolster the anemic offence he signed Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischman, Sean Bergenheim, and traded for the fun loving Kris Versteeg.  To add grit and sandpaper to the third and fourth lines he inked Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley and traded for the rights to Tomas Kopecky.  On defence former Panther Ed Jovanovski was brought back home for his leadership and veteran presence, and a draft day trade with the Chicago Blackhawks brought puck moving rear guard Brian Campbell.  Defenceman Nolan Yonkman was also signed as a free agent to add additional depth the the defence. In goal Jose Theodore was signed quickly after Tomas Vokoun turned down a three year deal, and will be the new number one goaltender.

If all that doesn’t make your head spin,  don’t forget about the potential of Big G (Erik Gudbranson) being one of the 6 defencemen, and Quinton Howden and Jonathan Huberdeau having a shot making the club as well.  All in all competition for spots, ice time, and a chance for things to finally turnaround, have Panther fans salivating for the games to begin.

Moving On:  Tomas Vokoun who’s tenure here should be applauded.  Vokoun’s service here kept the Panthers in games that they had no business being in, and Vokoun deserved a much better outcome.  He was a true professional, was a determined and hard working player.  It’s too bad that he won’t be here to witness the resurgence.  Although with only a one year deal in Washington, nothing says he won’t come back.  Marty Reasoner who gave us much more than we expected is off to the Islanders and was another player that gave the Panthers outstanding service.  Sergei Samsonov, Niclas Bergfors, Steve Bernier, Darcy Hordichuk and Kendall McArdle were not brought back.  In addition, we finally unloaded Rostislav Olesz, unfortuantely he went to the Blackhawks, but maybe a change of scenery will help him out.

The biggest concerns that most people seem to have are how will this team mesh together with so many new players.  Also under the gun will be new head coach Kevin Dineen who is behind the bench of an NHL team for the first time.  With new assistant Craig Ramsey to go along with Gord Murphy, I think they’ll be just fine.  Honestly, many of these players have played together at one time or another and I don’t think this will be such a major concern.  The play of Jose Theodore is in question for some, however some forget that he won 60 games in two seasons with the Washington Capitals, and won 15 last year in Minnesota as a backup.  He still has game, and intends on proving it.  With Scott Clemmensen as the backup, I expect Jose to get about 55 starts, potentially more.  Clemmer will have a pretty decent defence in front of him and is in the last year of a three year deal, which should elevate his performance.  Waiting in the wings is phenom Jacob Markstrom who is recovering from knee surgery, and is about one year away from being ready for the big time.

As for returning players of note, David Booth, Stephen Weiss and Mike Santorelli should be primed for their biggest seasons to date.  Weiss has been here his entire career as has Booth, while Mike Santorelli was given a chance to shine in his first full year in 2010-2011, and he did.  Defensively Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison had decent years and will be expected to improve, while Keaton Ellerby looks to be in the top six after a solid showing at the end of the season.  Mike Weaver, steady and virtually mistake free is potentially the odd man out.  Size and the emergence of Erik Gudbranson could push Weaver to a seventh defenceman position.  While I know nothing that tells me this, it’s pure speculation on my part.

Players on the bubble:  Jack (Crash) Skille, Ryan Carter and Shawn Matthias all will be given a chance to make the team, yet with the veteran presence, it will be difficult in my mind to see all three on the roster.  Let’s not forget about Evgeny Dadonov who I would expect to make the club, yet where he lines up is another story.  I do believe we have seen the last of Michal Repik and he’ll reamin in San Antonio or traded.

Special Teams:  The penalty killing unit last year finished sixth in the entire league thanks to the hard work of assistant coach Gord Murphy and the reliability of Marty Reasoner.  His role should be filled nicely by Marcel Goc, and with the addition of Tomas Kopecky and the maturation of Kulikov and Garrison, one would expect similar results.  As for the power play, which was a complete disasterfinishing dead last, things can’t get any worse and the only place to go is up.  Hopefully with the new style that coach Dineen brings, and the new skill set that we have, moving at least to the middle of the pack would be a tremendous improvement.

Must see home gameMonday December 5th against the Washington Capitals.  Tomas Vokoun returns for his first game against the Panthers as a member of the Caps.  Curious to the reception that he gets from the crowd at the Bank, but I know that I’m standing up and cheering for him.  Yes, he’s the opposition now, but we can all applaud his performance for his time here.  That includes you too Mr. Knowsnothing in Section 119.

Lucky 7.   Other big games:  The home opener on October 15th against the Tampa Bay Lightning, October 31st against the Winnipeg Jets, November 3rd against the Chicago Blackkawks, November 21st against Peter DeBoer and the New Jersey Devils, December 31st against the Montreal Canadiens, January 9th against Bobby Lose and the Vancouver Canucks, and April 7th against the Carolina Hurricanes…the last game of the regular season.

Where will we finish:  Making the playoffs is the first challenge of this team.  Expecting them to finish higher than 8th is pushing it.  A lot would have to happen with numerous teams ahead of them, and short of the sky falling, I don’t see it.  Kevin Dineen promises a more uptempo in your face, hard forchecking style of play.  Thank heavens.  After watching 6 years of paint drying (Uncle Jack and Pete DeBoer) this alone will be refreshing.  Again however, we will need to manage our expectations.  I would love to see Florida in the playoffs this season and I think if a few things go their way in a dramatic fashion it could happen.  Do I want to predict and 8th place finish?  Yes I do.  Do I really believe that’s  where they’ll end up?  Hard to say.  My heart says 8th, my head says 10th.  Right now, that’s the best prediction that I can give you.

Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Topics: A New Beginning, Around The Nhl Ini 30 Days, Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore, Tomas Vokoun, We See Red

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