Panthers Preview 2009-2010


The Florida Panthers were in the playoff race until the last game of the season last year, only to lose out by ONE point to the Montreal Canadiens, finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference.  41-30-11 for 93 points was a pretty impressive showing, yet not enough making it eight years in a row that the Cats have missed the playoffs.  While not going into all the reasons for last year’s shortcomings, overtime losses, shootout losses and a slow start were the major factors in sending this group to the golf course instead of the playoff hunt.  Can this year be different?

Here’s the breakdown:

Offense:  While a top line scorer was not added, again, it is expected that David Booth, Nathan Horton and second year winger Michael Frolik will provide the scoring  and are actually expected to improve on what they did last season.  Booth is quickly becoming a fan favorite and is one of the hardest working Panthers on the club, will be looking to hit the 35-40 goal plateau after scoring 31 goals in his second season last year.  Horton on the other hand has yet to even scratch the surface with his talent, scored 22 goals last season playing mostly center, will be moved back to wing.  Coach Peter DeBoer and the rest of the organization hopes that his move will re-energize Horton and catapult his production.  He has the talent to score 40, he just needs to get the lead out every night!  Frolik was a pleasant surpise after not making the club out of camp, but was given the chance to play and quickly found himself playing top six minutes.  More will be expected of Frolik this year and he must avoid a sophmore slump for the Panthers to even have a chance.  Stephen Weiss the 4th pick overall in the 2001 draft is the number one center on this club and that disturbs me.  Weiss, many feel is solid defensively and has good passing skills, yet for my taste and many I have talked with is too small to take on the number one centers of opposing clubs on a nightly basis.  Last year Weiss had his best season point wise accumulating 61 points, and he too is expected to get even more.  This will be Weiss’s 7th full NHL season, he has never scored more than 20 goals and has had some naggin injuries in his career.  He must step it up for the Panthers to be successful, but due to his size, he would be better utilized as a second line center instead of a number one, however due to the fact that there is no one else, this is what we are dealt with.  The rest of the scoring will come from veterans Cory Stillman, Steven Reinprecht and a host of other grunt players.  Offense will be a challenge for this team as they lack a true sniper, a role Horton could fill, and a true number one center.

Defense:  While former GM Uncle Jack was revamping the defense last year, he ignored the offense.  Now this year with four players missing from last year’s unit, the defense is looking suspect again.  The loss of Jay Bouwmeester is going to hurt from the fact that he ate alot of minutes and was utilized in every situation you could imagine.  Toughness is gone as Nick Boynton was allowed to leave via free agency, although he seemed to hurt his chances of staying after a late season tiff with DeBoer, and shot blocker Karlis Skrastins was also allowed to sign elsewhere.   While Jassen Cullimore who was a signed after the season started wasn’t as good as he was the year before, the Panthers are not bringing him back either, and as of this weekend it looks like Jassen will be getting a tryout with the Anahiem Ducks joining Boynton.  So, who is going to fill these roles?  It is expected that either first round pick in this year’s draft, Dmitri Kulikov, or number one pick from the 2008 draft Keaton Ellerby or Jason Garrison will make the team.  Last year Keith Ballard came over from Phoenix as part of the Jokineen trade will be the new leader and I would also like to see him named captain as well.  In addition Bryan Allen will be back from injury, Jordan Leopold acquired in the Bouwmeester deal from Calgary and Ville Koistenen who last year played in Nashville will round out the unit along with Bryan McCabe who escaped the horror of his Toronto experience and had quite a nice year for Florida.  Revamped again, and not quite as solild as last year’s bunch spells trouble.  Martin Skoula and Christian Backman will be training camp invitees hoping to make the sqaud.

Goaltending:  This was a strong suit last year with Tomas Vokoun as the number one and Craig Anderson as the 1A if you will.  Many felt that Anderson who ended up signing with Colorado should have been kept and that Vokoun should have been traded, however this year the 1A  job goes to Scott Clemmensen who had a very solid year for New Jersey while filling in for the injured Martin Brodeur.  With this defense we will find out if that was a product of a solid Devils sqaud, or is Clemmensen really that good.  Vokoun knows that he must avoid another slow start and also must stay sharp throughout the season.  He came to Florida a month earlier this summer to start training and is determined to prove his number one status.  The amount of shots that this duo faces will determine the fate of the Panthers.  Even he best can’t stop everything.

Coaching:  Peter DeBoer in his first season as an NHL coach last year received rave reviews for almost getting the Panthers in the playoffs.  It took about 20 games for everyone to feel comfortable and “buy in”, but after that  things seemed to be very positive.  DeBoer is going to do things his way and is very demanding and will hold players accountable, something that wasn’t seen with his predecessor Uncle Jack.  I like to call Deboer a young version of Iron Mike Keenan, just a little gentler.  That could bode well for this franchise as his expectations are to challenge for the Stanley Cup at some point.  He will need to get blood out of a turnip this year however and his patience is going to be tested.

Overview:  Eight years in a row of not making the playoffs should have a sour taste in the  mouths of the players.  However without the additions of a goal scorer and a number one center and what looks to be a pourous defense, could mean another year of early tee time.  As the roster sits right now, the playoffs are going to be a difficult achievement.  A tenth place finish seems more likely at this point especially with all the improvements that other teams have made in the conference.

Thanks for reading