And let the games begin! After a two-week layoff from NHL action, the Florida Panthers will finally resume play, with a sprint of 24-games until the finish line – it will make for some interesting hockey.
While it is a long shot for Florida to be playing in the postseason this season, it doesn’t mean that their season is over or that their games don’t count. It is the exact opposite actually. The Panthers can play the role of the spoiler – the underdog that can change a contending team’s fate when it comes to the playoffs.
With a handful of games against teams that have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, Florida can destroy the dreams of one of those teams by stringing some wins and finish the season on a hot note.
It doesn’t appear that the Panthers will be ‘sellers’ at the deadline, as in all honesty only Brad Boyes and Tim Thomas would attract attention – and the return wouldn’t be enough to make it worthwhile, not when you could bring them both back the following season.
Two players that will determine how the season will finish will be Tomas Fleischmann and Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau was last year’s Calder Trophy winner for the being the league’s top rookie, but has suffered through the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’.
He is currently on pace to tie his rookie season point total (31), and do it over 80-games where as last year he reached it in only 48-games. The fact that he is still eighth on the team in scoring shows to the team’s struggles as a whole.
Fleischmann has a little more pressure on him than Huberdeau to produce, as he is the highest paid forward (in the third year of a four-year $18 million contract) and has seen his point totals drop each season he has been here.
After scoring a career high 61-points his first season in Sunrise, Tomas saw his totals drop to 35-last year and is only on pace to score 32-this year. A far cry from the production you want to see out of a player with his skill, and his cap hit, Fleischmann will have to regain his confidence that has been noticeably lost.
With Alexander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky out indefinitely, the Panthers will be missing 36-points from their lineup – a big number for Florida. Nick Bjugstad will get the assignment of being the top line center while Barkov is out, but he has arguably been the team’s best player recently.
So Florida will need added help from Huberdeau and Fleischmann if they want to end their season on a good note.
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