As you are probably aware, the Florida Panthers got laughed out of the building last night in a 7-1 road loss to the Washington Capitals. Jacob Markstrom, who was supposed to be the Panthers goaltending savior, allowed two goals on two shots in 3:10 before being pulled. Scott Clemmensen came in and allowed 5 goals on 24 shots, meanwhile the Panthers looked like the injury depleted team that they are.
With the loss, the Panthers now own sole possession of fewest points in the NHL. Their -30 goal differential not only leads the league in awfulness but doubles the goal differentials of the next worst teams, Buffalo and Columbus with -15. Their 90 goals allowed are 10 more than any other NHL team, Buffalo and the Islanders have each allowed 80. After a surprising run to the playoffs last season expectations for this year were high for the first time in a long time for the Panthers.
With the first half of the season coming to a close and the Panthers record sitting at 7-12-5, it is safe to say that this season has been an unmitigated disaster. I could go on for days pointing out the negatives, I could drive myself crazy lamenting about missed opportunities, I could insanely speculate on scenarios where the Panthers turn things around and make the playoffs in the second half, and I could whine and complain about the rash of injuries that have beset the team. But I’m not going to do that right now. Let’s just agree that this season has been awful. At this, the midseason point for the Panthers, instead of harping on the already harped to death negatives of the season, I am going to dig deep and try to come up with five positives from the season so far. It is going to be hard, and I am going to have to dig deep and probably make some stretches but anyway, here it goes:
5 Panther First Half Positives:
1) Panther Rookies:
This one is obvious, the emergence of Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore has been the best thing to happen to the Panthers this season. The two players, along with Peter Mueller have formed the most formidable line on the team. Huberdeau leads all rookies in goals and shots 11 and 67 respectively. Huberdeau is four points behind Tampa Bay’s Corey Concacher (20 points) for the NHL rookie lead. Drew Shore is 9th in points for rookies with 10 and is tied for second in shots with 63.
In a season where nothing has seemed to go right, these two rookies are a reason to tune into the Panthers every night. In addition to Huberdeau and Shore, Florida has a couple other rookies primed to make an impact in the second half of the season. Jacob Markstrom, despite his poor performance last night, looks like he will get most of the starts in net while Jose Theodore is out with injury, and Colby Robak has so far looked strong on defense in his four games with the Panthers this season.
The play of Florida’s rookies is the light at the end of the tunnel. They are a beacon of hope that although Florida is struggling mightily this season, better times await in the future.
2) Jason Garrison:
Its telling how bad this Panthers season has been when the second positive I can come up with involves a player no longer on the Panthers. After Jason Garrison broke out last season with 16 goals and 17 assists in a perfectly timed contract year, it was clear that he would get paid. It was also pretty clear that he would not get paid by the Florida Panthers. Garrison signed a six year contract with the Vancouver Canucks at $4.6 million a season. So far the returns on that contract? Garrison has four points, 3 goals and 1 assist.
Following Garrison during his time in Florida, it was clear that his 16 goals last year were a bit of an aberration and while he is a great player, he would not be worth the amount of money he would receive as a free agent. Chalk that up as positive #2, the Panthers didn’t overpay for Garrison.
One could point to the fact that instead of overpaying for Garrison we overpaid for Filip Kuba, 2 years at $4 million per, but his deal is shorter than Garrison’s and come on! where supposed to be only looking at positives!
3) Erik Gudbranson:
Gudbranson only has four points this year (0 goals 4 assists) and is -11 on the season, so why is he a positive? Well the stats do not tell the whole story. If you watch Gubranson this season, it is clear that he has made improvements over last season. It seemed that in last year’s playoff series, Gudbranson stepped his physical play up to a whole new level, and that has carried over to this season.
Last year, Gudbranson tallied 8 points (2 goals 6 assists) in 72 games played. If you project his four points in 15 games this year over a full season you get 21.8 points, not a bad total. One of the biggest differences between this season and last year is Gudbranson’s ice time. Last year Gudbranson clocked in at 14:11 TOI/G while this year the number is 19:33. The increased ice time has a lot to do with all the injuries to Florida’s defense but regardless, Gudbranson is getting more ice time and more NHL experience, and that can only be a good thing.
4) Home attendance is up (barely):
I said it would be a stretch to find some positives from this season, so bear with me. Last year, Florida averaged 16,628 fans per game while this year the average has been 16,817. An improvement!! The argument can be made that with only half the amount of home games in this shortened season than in a regular 82 game season, demand for tickets would go up and thus attendance would increase. In fact last year’s lower attendance total ranked 21st in the NHL and this years average attendance ranks 24th which bears out the idea that attendance is up throughout the league because there are less chances to go to games. Following that line of thought Florida’s lockout attendance boost was less than other teams as evidenced by their drop from 21st to 24th in attendance. Factor in the drop in attendance that the second half will surely bring as the Panthers get farther and farther out of playoff contention and things could get even worse. Wow, that positive turned into a negative pretty quick! But the attendance number is up so we’ll count it as a positive!
5) The Panthers are not 16th in the Eastern Conference:
Yes, I know a 16th place does not exist, but the point is, it could be worse for Florida, also I could not think of another real positive. But it is true, things could be a lot worse for Florida, and there is still a half season for thing to continue their downward spiral. Jonathan Huberdeau could have gotten hurt and missed the entire year. Drew Shore could have come up and stunk up the ice. Brian Campbell, the Panthers’ most important player, could be demanding a trade at the deadline. Peter Mueller could have suffered from the concussions that have plagued him for most of his career. The team could be re-locating. And on and on and on.
So yea, this season has been disappointing. At his point the playoffs are just a distant dream. But at least there is hockey to watch, at least the NHL didn’t lose the entire season to the lockout, and at least our young players are playing well offering hope for the future. So as we enter the second half of the season we can worry about all the bad things happening to the Panthers or we can instead enjoy whatever positives come our way. We’re Panther fans for crying out loud! If we didn’t specialize in delusion, we would already be extinct.