Florida Panthers: At what point can they not “trust the process” anymore?

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 17: Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon speaks during a Q
MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 17: Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon speaks during a Q /

Former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie forever ruined the word “process” in the sports sphere when telling Sixers fans to “trust the process” during a long rebuild. “Process”, in a hockey sense, means the way a team is playing outside of results, and usually refers to a team’s advanced numbers and style of play.

For the Florida Panthers, the process and style of play under new coach Bob Boughner was an open question. What would he try to do to get the most out of not very much? At the outset of the season, it was take shots from anywhere, no matter the consequences. It worked, but only temporarily.

Then, injuries took a bit of a toll and the Panthers were leaking shots and goals left and right, culminating in a disastrous game in Carolina in which the Cats were mauled at even strength all night and looked totally lost. At this point, all Panthers’ fans could wonder is how bad would it get, seeing as the playoffs looked like a pipe dream.

But since, the style of play has been much better and so has the “process”. However, it’s only lead to three wins and three losses since that game against the Hurricanes, and the Panthers are stuck as the second-worst team in the East, only ahead of lowly Buffalo. At what point in what’s fast becoming another bottom-feeding season does the “process” become better not matter, if it matters at all?

After the games on November 19th, according to Corsica, the Panthers are 19th in the league in CF%, have an xGF+/- (expected goals for – expected goals against) of 0.06 and a PDO of 99.58. This suggests over the course of their 20 games, they’re not dramatically underperforming or over performing their underlying numbers and aren’t really unlucky, or in other words, to quote Bill Parcells, “you are what your record says you are”.

In their last six games, they’ve been at the very worst even at score adjusted possession at even strength, and their PDO is 98.53, which is to say they’re playing fine and a touch unlucky. In the six games before the Carolina debacle in which they went 1-3-2 and the lowest shot total they allowed was 34 (and were horrific in possession), their PDO was 99.37, suggesting then they weren’t unlucky either, just flat bad.

Their play has improved when push comes to shove, and if they consistently play like this, better results will no doubt come. But when a team is 7-11-2 at Thanksgiving and the team is closer to Rasmus Dahlin than the playoffs, does it really matter?

On one hand, yes. Bob Boughner has remarked multiple times this year is about the team’s lack of forward depth, and whatever you think of the offseason moves made by Dale Tallon, there’s no denying that. Behind the masterful performances of Barkov, Huberdeau, Dadonov and Trocheck, who have 80 of the teams combined 165 points for active players, there just isn’t much of anything, even with Jared McCann returning.

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Rumors have spread about Tallon wanting to add scoring wingers, which is great, but probably doesn’t help the team this year to save it from the depths they’re in. So the uptick in performance and the fact that overall, the team isn’t Buffalo or Arizona bad in underlying numbers is suggesting that something can be built here, but it’s probably not coming until next year.

On the other hand, the Panthers have never dealt well with prosperity and after their two recent playoff appearances any semblance of momentum was squandered, turning the fan base from patient and excited to pretty angry, pretty quickly.

And after last year’s clown show in which it wasn’t evident who was actually running the team, Panthers’ fans are certainly more burnt out than ever by usual Panthers fare of “dominate team X, get punished for few mistakes they do make and turn opposing goalie into Jacques Plante” over and over again.

Clearly, those who said the Panthers were in a Stanley Cup window after their division title in 2016 were slightly off base and this year is more of a rebuilding year than the Panthers wanted to admit, or aren’t admitting right now. There are 62 games left and this team with little forward depth and some awful contracts on its books can’t really do much to dramatically improve until the offseason.

Although, there is some light at the end of this long, dark tunnel which is this entire franchise. Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett will absolutely be on this team next year from night one and with another year in the system, and the Atlantic division shaping up quite well for the team going forward, this could be just a one year blip.

In that sense, the team’s process improving in spite of obvious personnel deficiencies (and playing Micheal Haley every night for reasons only understood by hockey fans in 1976), is a positive, even if the team is once again bad. But add a good draft, continued great play by one of the most underrated lines in hockey featuring certain players wearing 11, 16 and 63, and this team can be where it probably should be next year in its development.

Next: Florida Panthers: What’s holding them back from succeeding?

This does not make the last 62 games of the season any less agonizing and painful to sit through, especially with Jamie McGinn on the power play. But, there are enough reasons to be hopeful considering the play is improving, albeit slowly, and there are good players waiting to wear Panthers colors next season.

As for the ultimate question, whether “trusting the process” is going to soothe the nerves of angry Panthers fans the rest of the way through another lost season, the answer here is: it depends on your point of view. Panthers’ fans are a naturally fatalistic bunch, and why wouldn’t they be, but what is happening this year may only be temporary.

But then again, when have we all heard that before?