April 26, 2012; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) makes a stop against the New Jersey Devils in the first overtime period of game seven of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals at BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Florida Panthers Much Needed Stars For Next Season

April 15, 2012; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss (9) celebrates after scoring a goal in the send period of game two of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils at BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

The Florida Panthers executives entered last offseason with the mindset of completely transforming a once completely lost franchise. A team that went through disappointment after disappointment for just over a decade needed to have yet another makeover, this time, under Dale Tallon. Tallon began the offseason with a bang, signing multiple players to deals. During the offseason, Tallon also went out and traded for players that he thought would help bring the Panthers back on the map. Two players he traded for, Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell turned out to be some of the best moves that have been made in the past ten years by any Panther GM, other than the Pavel Bure trade.

When the season began, nobody in the league expected the Panthers to accomplish what they accomplished in just the first season of the new turnaround. In the first season together, the Florida Panthers were able to secure a division title for the first time ever, make the playoffs for the first time in twelve years, and also they entered the playoffs with the number three seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for us, the Panthers couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs, as they were defeated by the New Jersey Devils. Despite the fact that the Devils eliminated us, I was not bitter. In fact, I was more happy than upset, because of what the players on this team accomplished last year.

Because of their aggressiveness in last year’s free agency, the Panthers were able to accomplish a lot. While the Dale Tallon went out and made the moves, it was the players who went out and performed at a high level, night in and night out. This up and coming season is going to be one of the most hyped season in Panthers history. Last year, Tomas Fleischmann, Jose Theodore, Brian Campbell, and Kris Versteeg led the charge. This year is no different. While it might not be the same exact players who lead the way this year, the Panthers definitely need to have players step up big again. Below, I am going to list the top three players I believe will have a big season in the 2012-2013 campaign.

Number Three: Kris Versteeg

2011-2012 Statistics:

GP: 71

Goals: 23

Assist: 31

Points: 54

Dec. 13, 2011: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Kris Versteeg (32) reacts after scoring a second period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Now I know that right now Versteeg and the Panthers are having trouble negotiating a contract. The two sides are having so much trouble trying to come to an agreement that Versteeg actually had to file for arbitration. However, I believe that these two sides will eventually figure everything out before the start of the season. Last year, Versteeg had a career year, finishing off the season with 54 points, which made him the third highest scorer behind Stephen Weiss and point leader, Tomas Fleischmann. The only problem Versteeg had last season, was some health issues. Even with the health issues, he was still able to keep his production up. Versteeg is arguably the most versatile player on the Panthers. It is crucial that he is back in a Panther uniform next year. His offensive value is just too much for the Panthers to lose and with the team not making any major moves in this year’s free agency; it is a must that he returns to the team as soon as possible. After all of the distractions are out of the way, Versteeg, if healthy will continue to make a huge impact towards this team’s production. His value is through the roof for this team. Look for him to return as an improved player from last season.

Number Two: The Goalie

Yes, the goalie. In the past few months, this has been one of the biggest questions for the Panthers. The funny thing is the position isn’t even a need for Florida. The Panthers have found themselves in the midst of a goalie controversy. Speculation about where All-Star goalie Roberto Luogno will begin next season has completely taken over the NHL. Some say it will be in Toronto, while others say Florida, even the Chicago Blackhawks have found themselves in the middle of these rumors. Last season, the Panthers brought in former Vezina Trophy winner, Jose Theodore. People thought that he was past his prime, however, Theo proved everyone wrong. Jose helped lead the Panthers to hockey’s second season due to his tremendous play throughout the year. Coming into this offseason, Florida fans were excited about the goalie situation here, but now, were just sick of it. The original plan seems to be in jeopardy because of the whole Luongo situation. As of now, they’re four possibilities for next season, Jose Theodore, Scott Clemmensen, Roberto Luongo or Jacob Markstrom. This ordeal is giving everyone in South Florida a headache. Despite the controversy, whoever is in between the pipes for opening night against the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to have their A-game. Goalie is one of the most important positions for any team in the league. So with that being said, next year, which ever goalies are on our roster, they will perform to the top of their ability and ultimately have a great year.

Number One: Stephen Weiss

2011-2012 Statistics:

Games Played: 80

Goals: 20

Assist: 37

Points: 57

Finally, the weight has been removed from Stephen Weiss’s shoulders. The player who was the internal captain of this team for years, but could never quite lead his team anywhere has finally got what he deserved. For ten seasons, Weiss tried everything he was able to do to help the Panthers make the postseason. After constantly coming up short, Weiss was the talk of the trade deadline as many people thought Florida was going to try and move him. When the buzzer sounded last year and the Panthers clinched a spot in the playoffs, no one was more relieved that Stephen Weiss. After being swarmed by reporters post game, it finally settled in that he was in the playoffs. It is a big accomplishment to finally reach your goal after ten years. A lot of pressure was removed for Stephen Weiss. He is now no longer “the guy” on the team that has to always go out and have a big game. With the great talent around him, he can finally play his game. This is huge for the Panthers because Weiss is a great talent and he has proved that before. But with all the pressure faded away, Weiss can now comfortably play hockey. With the monkey finally off his back, Weiss is poised to have a big year. The Panthers need him to consistently play great hockey in order for this team to be great. With all the young talent on this team, Weiss will not only be a player, but a mentor, and that is just as important as his on ice production.

Thanks For Reading!

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Tags: Brian Campbell Chicago Blackhawks Dale Tallon Florida Panthers Jacob Markstrom Jose Theodore Kris Versteeg New Jersey Devils Nhl Pavel Bure Roberto Luongo Scott Clemmenen Tampa Bay Lightning Tomas Fleischmann

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