Florida Panthers: Who Would Have Thunk? A Season in the Toilet

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 15: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers chats with teammates Mike Hoffman #68 and Evgeni Dadonov #63 during a break in the action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BB&T Center on December 15, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 15: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers chats with teammates Mike Hoffman #68 and Evgeni Dadonov #63 during a break in the action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BB&T Center on December 15, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Do not be fooled by the lack of media spotlight. The neglected stench you are smelling is the rotting leftovers of past offseasons coming from the BB&T’s Front Office kitchen fridge.

It’s just as bad as Gallant getting the taxi and the GM-coach who had the ability and authority to neither GM nor coach.

Inaction is often as damaging as brash action.

It’s quite comical by now– out of necessity. A fanbase that laughs as tension pent-up over seasons must release someway — and why the effort to find anger when the franchise in ties or CCM Tacks repeatedly chooses to mail it in for ‘tomorrow.’

Is it the Head Coach that sounds like the pinnacle of bender intermission interview banter? Bob Boughner was hired in an airport terminal because he convinced a Goldman Sachs exec he was one of the hockey men who could stat.

Reading Jim Montgomery discuss his players and their roles in smart and clear language to former Cats beat Matthew DeFranks made me think of what could have been for Florida fans.

But then again, Montgomery walked away from the Florida Panthers. A penny for his thoughts on what scared him off. A penny– about all you’d get out of these Panthers.

Is it the Associate Coach, nee failed Islanders coach, who was out-coached by the dead-man-walking Gallant in that too distant playoff round?

Since Jack Capuano has come to town, the defense has been instilled with offensive shot and goal quotas. Or at least they play like it. Something that has warped the woven fabric of team play to zig when they should zag.

Is it the goalies who consume too much percentage of the cap for too long? But who would have foreseen that a large and long contract to a tinman free agent goalie would turn south?

Or that Luongo’s body would fail him at 40 as those new team docs trot him out early from most injuries multiple times a year?

Nothing better describes the Panthers’ organizational predicament and patterned responses to it than maligned defender Mike Matheson. A player who on the way up was put in a position to fail.

Matheson, a 23rd overall first round defender with a USHL-NCAA development track, was a lotto ticket for a top 4 NHL defender.

In all likelihood, at the time the lotto ticket was punched (the draft), it was a low percentage he’d pan out.

Closer to 15% than 50%– a reality of prospects, especially defenders and in my opinion prospects who do not play in pro leagues early, or even play in the more nurturing Canadian Hockey League (the WHL, the OHL, and the QMJHL).

After three years in college, perhaps a year too long like all their NCAA prospects, Matheson went to the AHL where he was slow played into the professional ranks. Healthy scratches and bottom pair minutes.

Matheson was given little support, ice time, and opportunity. He needed to earn it, and they wanted to go with the guys who got them there–even at Kinnear’s AHL level. Sound familiar?

Matheson played well enough in limited time to catch Team Canada’s eye and in the World Championship was their best defender.

At this point, it was clear Matheson was making good on the lotto ticket purchased by Dale Tallon and nurtured over those NCAA years.

Matheson was blooming as an offensive left-handed defenseman who could quarterback a power play. How did FLA position Matheson to jettison the WC success into the following NHL season?

By trading for and signing an offensive left-handed defenseman who could quarterback a powerplay Keith Yandle to a no-one-else-was-gonna-even-come-close-to-that contract.

The signing meant Mike Matheson would unlikely quarterback any powerplay for… oh, seven years. Yandle and Aaron Ekblad had first dibs. Matheson was also hammered and chiseled into an ill-fitting defensive-defenseman to keep him off the third pair.

Nowadays Matheson is neither an offensive or defensive-defenseman and most nights doesn’t look like an NHL defenseman.

But who can blame him or any of these prospects or players who were start stopped, set up to fail, stuck behind an underachieving vet or bad signing/trade return?

They are so spun around by this organization I’m surprised they don’t fall over as much as this franchise’s best defenseman, Ekblad.

Matheson was on the road to being something the Cats were/are lacking, and they submarined it out of sheer?… well, it’s hard to tell what, if this isn’t on purpose.

Time’s ticking. Every year lost is a waste of underpaid, prime aged production of the two best players in franchise history: Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Doubt me when they are #1 and #2 in franchise points before their next contracts. When Barkov and Huberdeau make bank it won’t be here, because of the losing or the lack of money.

If that happens, the franchise might as well move. They will have been given enough chances and draft picks.

There are enough prized apples here to save it and make good on Barkov and Huberdeau’s contracts, and Viola’s intent to be competitive. 

The long write-up two weeks ago on the 5 Steps Florida should take to turn things around pronto is still relevant even if the NylanderToronto trade talk may not be.

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But none of that matters if Vinny Viola, or his checkbook, doesn’t decide to make a good faith effort to put a legit contender on the ice.

It means not being a billionaire who is afraid to spend a few million on solutions– a small percentage of the franchise’s operating budget, his other companies and hobbies’ budgets, and his own personal budget.

When the team’s coaching options aren’t limited to the bottom of the field or new to the field because of salary, that’s when real change will occur.

When the changes aren’t only spoken and superficial but applied and executed (and the ink dries on that budget line number), that’s when real change will occur.

When the team’s general manager candidates aren’t solely composed of family friends, Army connections, and the guy you promot-i-fired maybe the team will have a plan to move forward.

It’s clear right now that they don’t have a plan and are instead throwing things at the wall, while we throw remotes.

If it wasn’t obvious for fans before, it is now. Anthony Greco on the second line for a game; Henrik Borgstrom’s delay then rush back for Hockey Night in Canada. But same defensive pairs and structures.

Florida needs a new game plan. Even with Herculean game-stealing efforts from Barkov, Huberdeau, and the occasionally healthy Luongo, the team needs to fix their systemic problems at the root and find new bench managers who read and react to the ice better.

They are out of ideas and it seems like they’ve tried little new. A clear sign they are not and maybe never were the right people for the job.

It’s gonna take money to get out of this. No matter your personal armchair GMs dos and donts for FLA, a lot of the fixes they need will require spending money to clear out, and spending money to bring in.

There’s only one person who decides that, and so far his passionate words and the chatter of his disciples haven’t matched up to what has transpired off the ice to fix what makes us all (including him) mad, on the ice.

Next. Barkov’s Hat Trick Saves the Cats from Embarrassment. dark

Vinny– Do you want to be a bit poorer but a winner or a wealthier loser?

Right now, you are one rich write-off.