Florida Panthers: Change is Needed to Save this Sinking Ship

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates away after the Tampa Bay Lightning score in the third period at Amalie Arena on November 21, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates away after the Tampa Bay Lightning score in the third period at Amalie Arena on November 21, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images) /

After an embarrassing 7-3 loss in Tampa, the Florida Panthers are at a crossroad in not just their season, but with their history.

No Florida Panthers team in two decades has had more expected of them, and yet this team falls back into its old habits of promising a lot but delivering nothing.

They sit last in the East at Thanksgiving, seven points out of a playoff spot. Only they can dig themselves out of this hole, and they must make bold decisions in order to do so. But not only do they seem incapable of making those bold decisions, but they also seem afraid of doing so.

Will they blame injuries for another wretched start? Roberto Luongo missed about a month of time and the Panthers only won twice during that stretch.

Plenty of other good teams, including the Lightning, seem to do just fine when their No. 1 goaltender is out injured, so why can’t the Panthers?

Will they blame Vincent Trocheck’s freak injury for any future struggles? Sure, his loss is massive, but other teams lose critical players and seem to be doing just fine.

The Maple Leafs have been without their No. 2 center for the last month and they’re still one of the best teams in the league.

Every team has to deal with injuries to important players and they don’t make the same excuses the Panthers always do. Last year, with their top seven scorers only missing a combined 11 games, they still missed the playoffs.

Defensively, this team is a complete mess. In their last four games, they’ve given up 23 goals and left their goaltenders out to dry.

The new defensive pairings have worked as a temporary stop-gap to some of the earlier bleedings, but the same awful gap control, terrible plays at the blue line, and turnover issues still plague this team no matter the pairings.

Are these players bad, or are they not being put in positions to succeed? Bad goaltending can only skate as an excuse for so long, and Roberto Luongo will tell you that firsthand after what happened in Tampa when none of the six goals he gave up were his fault.

What excuse will they trot out for why they can never back up their talk? Is it running into a hot goalie? Is it being on the wrong end of bad calls? Is it injuries to key players at the wrong time?

When the play goes sideways, the Panthers always find someone else to blame instead of themselves. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to look in the mirror because they’ll be terrified at what they see.

Whenever they are asked tough questions, they always shy away from giving any sort of meaningful answer and fall back on one or more of these very clichéd excuses.

At this stage in the Panthers development, there should be no excuses. The Tom Rowe disaster is two years in the past. Barkov, Ekblad, Huberdeau, and any number of other very good players are in the prime of their careers.

The East should’ve been ripe for the picking this year with how it played out last year and through the first quarter of this season.

And yet here the Panthers are, with only one more point at Thanksgiving than they had last year and they’re still rooted to the basement of the East, which to be frank, is where they belong.

So how do the Panthers get themselves out of this mess before they’re looking more at Jack Hughes than April hockey?

First, they need to make changes to the coaching staff. Bob Boughner has done many positive things, but he is beginning to skate on thin ice.

In order for Boughner to get a life-preserver, he needs to make a coaching staff change and Jack Capuano must go.

This team is making the same mistakes over and over again defensively and there’s no sign that necessary changes will be made.

That may buy Boughner a little time, but with four coaches already fired this season and a certain three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach available, the Panthers have to be bold if they want to right the ship.

They could call up their prized prospect Henrik Borgstrom to fill the top-six role they envision for him instead of waiting for the ‘future,’ another nebulous excuse they throw out when things aren’t going well.

Borgstrom is an eminently better fit for the #2 center role than McCann, Malgin, Bjugstad or Lammikko, and they may go through all of those options before making the correct decision.

He may have had a bad training camp and he may be playing well in Springfield, but at this point, the season is on the line, and bold decisions need to be made.

Borgstrom may be green defensively, but his offensive skill set is necessary for this team to compete, especially if they can’t defend.

Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers /

Florida Panthers

They could make a trade. They have assets to move and a few players other teams might covet. They desperately could use a fresh face on the blueline and a better deputy for Roberto Luongo than James Reimer.

Trading might be difficult to do right now, but Dale Tallon has never shied away from making a move, and his team could desperately use one right now before ownership is forced to make their own move, and one they already made once (with disastrous results).

But even simpler decisions could be made to fix some of this team’s woes right now, like better deploying the personnel they do have.

Putting Barkov and Huberdeau back together might balance their lines better. Changing up the D pairings and playing Bogdan Kiselevich might help alleviate some of the more obvious errors.

Scratching Micheal Haley and playing better players (instead of sending them to Russia), could also be a quick fix that at least temporarily stops the bleeding.

This franchise is once again at a crossroads, and the patience from the fanbase has run out. No one is buying the excuses anymore, and the team is squandering a group of talented players that they’ve not had in a generation and may not get again for that long with the same mistakes they made when they barely could afford to keep the lights on at the BB&T Center.

There is no future without a present, and this team isn’t like Ottawa or Detroit (both of whom have more points than the Panthers do) or even the LA Kings. They were expected to take the next step forward, and instead, they’ve gone backwards again.

They can control their own fate as they head to another fork in the road. What they decide to do will say to the fans and to themselves whether they want to win or make more excuses as to why they can’t.

The choices they make will determine the future of a franchise that has no past, very little at present, and an incredibly uncertain future.

Defensive Collapse Leads to Blowout in Tampa. dark. Next

It’s up to Vinnie Viola and everyone on down in Sunrise to decide what that future is, and time and patience are running out.