Florida Panthers: Many Positives Were Made Despite Missing the Playoffs

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: The Florida Panthers celebrate their shootout win against the New York Rangers at the BB
SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: The Florida Panthers celebrate their shootout win against the New York Rangers at the BB /

While missing the playoffs brought some disappointment to the organization, many positives can be pulled from their season and surprising run.

Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov was a participant in the NHL All Star Weekend for the first time in his career. Not only was this a very significant moment in his career, but also for his team’s organization itself. While the All-Star break was definitely a milestone for the Finnish forward, this point in the season had importance for other reasons.

Obviously, the organization and fan base wasn’t expecting a franchise season after the previous offseason departures. After sending away multiple top-six forwards in Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and Jaromir Jagr, yet another hole was dug for the Cats, leaving expectations lower than they’ve been for a while.

But, once this labeled halfway mark of the season arrived, the Florida Panthers received the spark they were begging for. They made a few adjustments in their defense, their attitude, and the biggest one perhaps being splitting two of the most talented forwards they have, being Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. The new mentality was in motion, and that mentality meant doing everything you can to win every game, in order to claim a playoff berth for the second time in the past three seasons.

As the remainder of the season progressed, chances started getting better, odds were getting higher, and the destiny of the team seemed brighter than ever. Since that break during the weekend of January 26, 2018, the Cats went on an incredible run, inserting themselves right back in the race for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They posted a record of 25-8-2, the most wins of any team in the NHL, with the President’s Trophy winning Nashville Predators right on their tail for that record.

Even though this was a more than impressive run for the Panthers, they ended up just short of the postseason, finishing one point away from the eighth seeded New Jersey Devils. While their run was spectacular, leaving the entire league in shock, the organization is nothing but dissatisfied. Of the disappointed includes Panthers’ General Manager/President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon, when questioned about missing the playoffs, he said he was not only “Pissed off,” but he also felt “Not satisfied, but [the team had] come a long way.”

Even though predictions were not so high in preseason, the organization and fan base were definitely expecting more from their almost playoff destined team. The players fought hard, the coaches coached effortlessly, and the team came just short of the storybook ending to their run for the money. As this shortcoming may be upsetting for many, there are various positives that can be drawn from the season altogether.

For starters, Panthers’ star forward Evgeni Dadonov has proven to be by far and away the best free agent signing of this past summer. Dadonov was originally drafted by Florida in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, selected at 71st overall in the third round. He competed in three condensed pro seasons in the NHL, until he departed to take some time in the pro hockey league of Russia, playing for Donbass HC and St. Petersburg SKA. This departure for the Russian forward left him time to develop and grow not only as a player, but as a person. The following summer, after an impressing final season in the KHL, Dadonov decided to make his return to the NHL.

Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers /

Florida Panthers

On June 30, 2017, the Panthers had finally agreed to take up their former drafted KHL superstar, Evgeni Dadonov. They came to an agreement consisting of a three-year deal, with an average annual value of $4 million dollars, very reasonable when looking back on the season that he had. In 74 games played, he posted 28 goals and 37 assists, totaling 65 points, which was more than what was expected from Dadonov himself. This signing is just one of the positives drawn from this past season.

Another great thing from the year was noticed not on the roster, but behind the bench. During the offseason, the Panthers finally solved their head coaching issues. They finally moved on from interim head coach Tom Rowe, and brought in former San Jose Sharks assistant coach Bob Boughner. Boughner, former NHL player for teams like the Buffalo Sabers and Colorado Avalanche, supposedly blew away the organization with his plan for success.

According to Tallon, Boughner was the man for the job after he “Blew us away with his preparation, his passion, knowledge and dedication to the game.” He went on to state that he thinks Bob is the man to lead the team for success, mentioning this by emphasizing “We believe that he is the right leader to get our team back to competing towards our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.” This mentality has lived up to its potential so far, as this past season was deemed very successful to the organization, despite missing out on the playoffs.

With Boughner’s new strategies and ideologies, the Cats broke records, developed inside and out, showing promise in the near future. They posted a franchise record in home wins at 27, and worked to let the roster achieve career-highs for most of the players in various categories. Based on the new implemented system behind the bench, success has been brought to the ice which will probably be present continuously for years to come.

To continue, another positive from the season has to be the advancements accomplished by the roster. Improvements came across all the lines, with career-highs being present for most players. Of these players, included: Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, and Aleksander Barkov, being part of the core made the organization want these individuals to improve even further.

For example, Panthers’ forward Nick Bjugstad, as described by fans dodged a bullet when he was protected by the Panthers from the expansion draft, taking away a possible move to the Vegas Golden Knights. The 2015-16 campaign may have been the most disappointing for the Minnesota native, only posting four goals in his limited amount of games. But, under the new system and line combinations, this past season (2017-18) was a bounce back for Bjugstad, posting 19 goals, which was second to his breakout season in 2014-15 with 24 goals (career-high). This was one of many of the career-highs in the roster for the Cats, another positive drawn for the most prior season.

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From the roster to the organization to the fan base, even though the Panthers missed the postseason, this past season for the Cats was filled with many accomplishments, hinting to a bright future. With first failing to eventual success, the team has learned that they have the capability to be a dominant team in the NHL. As this season consisted of minor disappointment, many positives can be drawn out from this past season.