Florida Panthers: Should this Slow Start Lead to a Change?

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 20: Florida Panthers Head coach Bob Boughner of the Florida Panthers looks on during third period action against the Detroit Red Wings at the BB&T Center on October 20, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. The Red Wings defeated the Panthers 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 20: Florida Panthers Head coach Bob Boughner of the Florida Panthers looks on during third period action against the Detroit Red Wings at the BB&T Center on October 20, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. The Red Wings defeated the Panthers 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

Last year the Florida Panthers were one of the strongest teams in the NHL after the All-Star break, coming out of nowhere to finish a single point out of the playoffs.

The Florida Panthers finished so strongly that many of the NHL pundits slotted the Cats into the playoffs predicting them to finish in the 3rd or 4th spot in the Atlantic Division with a chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Panthers’ run to the Cup in 1996.

However, for those taking a realistic and close look at what led to the Panthers success, there was also a reason for caution. The Panthers run was fueled by 5 or 6 players who played unsustainable minutes each night.

As evidenced by the fatigue at end of the season, even if the Panthers made the playoffs, they would’ve likely been blown out in the first round from mere exhaustion.

Coming into the 2018-19 campaign, it was not realistic to believe that Trochek, Barkov, Dadonov, Huberdeau, Yandle, Ekblad, and Matheson could log those kinds of minutes on a nightly basis for 82 games.

Thus, the formula which led to such an overwhelming second-half success had to be changed. But there were reasons for concern.

The success of the Panthers came from overplaying its stars. The Panthers had to go at least three, if not four lines deep on offense and be more evenly balanced on defense to succeed over the long term.

However, this was not Coach Boughner’s trusted game plan for victory. In fact, over the course of the season, we saw something very alarming about Boog. He didn’t like, or trust, playing his young players.

Players like Dryden Hunt, Maxim Mamin and worst of all Henrik Borgstrom were brought up to the big club during the year.

Given the league-wide acknowledgment that the Panthers farm team has perhaps the greatest depth at forward in the league, it was cause for excitement. But Boog would have none of it.

When he did play these players, they generally played less than 10 minutes a game, but most often they were scratched.

Boog’s intransigence proved even more harmful when the Panthers burned a year of Borgstrom’s Entry Level Contract at the end of the year by signing him, rushing him to the main club and again, having Boog put the future star on the bench.

In fact, Boughner seemed to have two serious flaws. First, he was unwilling (and in fact too impatient) to allow the young players to develop.

Second, he displayed a misplaced loyalty towards older players like Micheal Haley and Derek MacKenzie who took up ice which was better suited towards more faster and skilled players.

Haley would regularly play 6 minutes which included at least one fight to help render the fourth line, even if Boog was inclined to use it, basically without meaning.

Second, if the Panthers had a flaw on the ice, it was on the blue line. Most telling was Boog’s loyalty to ironman Keith Yandle, a player who has played nearly 800 consecutive games because he plays a wise game of self-preservation.

Yandle rarely hits anyone, doesn’t get into fights, and spends most of the time on the ice masquerading as a defenseman who is better suited to play forward.

The problem with Yandle last year was turnovers. His blue line leading 48 assists made some overvalue his contributions because, on almost a nightly basis, he had more turnovers and plays of defensive malaise than his 56 points justified on the top pair.

Make no mistake, Yandle is a solid second or third pair player who should be on the power play, but in no way is Yandle a top pair player, and even worse, should never, ever, be out on the ice on a penalty kill.

Yet, Boughner played Yandle 25 minutes or more nightly and still does. Further, Boog has stunted the growth of Aaron Ekblad by placing him with Yandle, a pair that regularly surrenders odd man rushes and breakaways, often as a result of blind passes and an inability to keep pucks in at the blue line.

Yandle regularly shoots into defenders and then lacks the physicality to keep the opposition’s top players from scampering or bullying by him.

The 2018-19 Panthers came into the season with very high hopes. The team was loaded up front and the addition of Mike Hoffman made the top-six as good as anyone in hockey.

The prospect of a third line that would feature the highly skilled Borgstrom with the speed of Vatrano and Malgin; and a fourth line of McCann, Maxim, and Sceviour looked like a team that would exhaust anyone on the ice and which had the potential to get scoring from all four lines.

But Boog didn’t think Borgstrom was ready. It’s an excuse we heard all last year with every young player.

He favored the 33-year-old Troy Brouwer, who is a useful 4th line player at best over the faster, stronger and much younger Maxim Mamin.

Further, there is very little doubt that if Derek MacKenzie and Micheal Haley were healthy that the fourth line would be the impossibly slow combination of Brower, D-Mac, and Haley forming a line that would play no more than 8 minutes per game and pose no chance of scoring.

The Panthers’ greatest struggles this year have been on defense. The blue line, except for Alex Petrovic has been horrible.

Yandle continues to give the puck away like an excited parent at their door on Halloween. Michael Matheson, perhaps the best blueliner for the team last year, is playing as he did at the beginning of year 2: timid, afraid to clear the puck, hit another player or take charge.

Aaron Ekblad has been inconsistent. MacKenzie Weegar’s lack of defensive concentration yielded the go-ahead goal against Detroit.

Finally, Bogdan Kiselevich looks like a 28-year-old defenseman who hasn’t been in the NHL for a reason. He just doesn’t appear to be that good, regularly getting outmuscled and out-skilled.

So, did the entire blue line get terrible overnight or is it scheme?

Panthers defensemen are regularly out of position, being too far from their goalie on defense, too far in on offense, allowing for fast break chances and are constantly being outworked.

It’s hard to believe that the entire team got lousy overnight; however, this wasn’t hard to see coming.

Overplaying your stars for half a season without bothering to develop the bottom-six or your youth is a recipe for a one-shot run.

However, the season isn’t over. This team can still recover, but not with this coach. Or perhaps its General Manager.

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During the offseason, the Panthers had two needs: defense and goaltending. They had an abundance of riches up front and did nothing except sign the ‘to-date’ mediocre Kiselvich and curiously allow Harri Sateri – who’s surprising and confident play spurred the Panthers’ run – to leave for Detroit, instead opting for Michael Hutchinson and choosing to do nothing about future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo who hasn’t been able to play a full season in quite some time.

Except for Evgeni Dadonov, Tallon hasn’t made a single offseason move in the last several years that, to date, has yielded results.

We have no idea how good our draft picks can be, because Boog refuses to play them. In fact, Tallon’s failure to make any significant moves in the offseason to get this team over the hump indicates that he too, may be asleep at the wheel.

This team is far too talented to be dead last in the league, even this early in the year.  They have not played a single game where they played 60 minutes.

They have surrendered multiple second period leads. Boog changes line combinations without rhyme or reason.

The defense has been awful and Boog refuses to break up the Yandle/Ekblad pair this year (we note that Boog put Ekblad and Matheson together as of yesterday; however, earlier in training camp Boog’s patience lasted for all of one period), much the way that he trotted Haley and MacKenzie out night after night last year, despite that pair constantly hurting this team.

He refuses to roll his lines and worse yet, is not only not helping the development of the Panthers’ future stars, he is in fact, hindering their development.

It’s not too late for these Panthers. They can still get to the playoffs and develop into a great team, but not with this coach. And perhaps not with Mr. Tallon.

The easy solution is to promote Jack Capuano from the bench. Even more enticing is promoting Chris Pronger to head coach.

While Boughner played defense during a solid NHL career, his ability to coach defense has been poor.

Pronger, an NHL Hall of Fame defenseman, is the essence of the model blueliner that the current Panthers defensemen need for scheme, confidence, and development.

This team might be significantly better with pairs featuring Ekblad/Matheson, Petrovic/Yandle, and McCoshen/Pysyk, but they need the right guy coaching them.

Second Periods Remain the Death of this Team. dark. Next

This is a playoff hockey team. Unfortunately, their biggest need right is now is a playoff hockey coach.