Florida Panthers: What is the Aim for the Second Half?

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 21: Teammates congratulate Aaron Ekblad # 5 of the Florida Panthers after he scored a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks at the BB&T Center on January 21, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 21: Teammates congratulate Aaron Ekblad # 5 of the Florida Panthers after he scored a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks at the BB&T Center on January 21, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

To win, or not to win. That is the question for Dale Tallon, Bob Boughner, and the Florida Panthers.

To say that the first half of this season has been a total nightmare would be like saying that the Titanic hitting an iceberg was just a minor concern.

Everything that could go wrong to prevent the high-scoring Panthers from achieving success has gone wrong.

With injuries to key players like Roberto Luongo, Nick Bjugstad, and Vincent Trocheck, the Florida Panthers have been set back time and time again.

The Panthers couldn’t replace Trocheck’s talent, struggling to replace him with multiple different second line centers, but never finding a consistent line.

It didn’t help matters that the organization tried their hardest to be patient with Henrik Borgström, but giving in after a humiliating 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

There have also been a lot of depth players underperforming for Florida this season. Colton Sceviour hasn’t had that same spark that he’s brought in years past, playing his worst hockey as a Panther, and arguably in his NHL career.

Jared McCann is having a better season, but when entrusted to fill some big skates when Trocheck was out, he just couldn’t perform on the second line.

Mike Matheson is coming around, but is ultimately playing his worst hockey in his three full seasons as a Panther, and has been casted as a liability on both ends of the ice.

James Reimer has also failed to find consistency; despite a strong end to November and December, it’s still not certain that Reimer is the answer after Luongo.

Despite the Panthers not being where they want to be in the standings, there have been *some* bright spots to this season.

Aleksander Barkov is just one point shy from averaging point-per-game figures and is emerging as a contender for the Selke award. His most impressive accomplishment has been his ability to draw penalties and stay out of the box, with the captain only taking one penalty this entire season.

Jonathan Huberdeau is above point-per-game measures and stands strong as one of the best playmakers in hockey. With 37 assists on the year, Huberdeau is tied with Elias Lindholm for 12th most assists amongst forwards.

Mike Hoffman has definitely lived up to the hype after his trade in the offseason. The 29-year-old has 23 goals this season in just 48 games, already beating last year’s total of 22 in 82.

The former Senator looks set to smash his career bests, needing just 7 more goals and 13 more points to set career highs.

On the topic of career highs, Frank Vatrano has well and truly had lift-off this season. He already has his career high in goals, assists, and points, and looks to keep riding his hot end to the first half into February and March.

The Panthers currently stand in limbo at 12th in the East. They are 5 points away the bottom of the NHL, yet are only 10 points off a playoff spot.

For the talent that the team has, this is unacceptable, but with everyone back healthy and an encouraging win streak following a torrid month of January, what do they do now?

Win, and reach for this year’s goal of a playoff spot, or lose, admit the season is a failure and reload next year? Neither option seems very priming.

This situation is, unfortunately, deja vu for the Cats. Last season, the Panthers were stuck on 46 points through 48 games, 9 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for a wild card spot.

This season, the Panthers have 48 points through 48 games, 10 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for a wild card spot.

The Panthers would go on to finish the season with 49 points in the final 44 games, finishing just one point shy of the New Jersey Devils for the final spot.

This path definitely restored confidence in the fanbase, proving to the NHL that this talent could win games.

It also bumped the Panthers back from having the 6th best odds at the 1st pick in the NHL draft all the way down to the 15th best odds, which would’ve meant that the Cats would have ended up with Filip Zadina rather than Grigori Denisenko.

No disrespect to Denisenko, but sometimes losing is the better option. It’s the option no fan wants to admit, but losing does eventually lead to winning.

If the Panthers lose enough to secure the 1st pick, they can secure either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, two absolute superstar prospects that can lead the Panthers to glory.

The issue is that the Cats really don’t need Hughes nor Kakko. The issue in Florida is goaltending, not the forward core. Losing out for one of these two may not make sense in the long haul.

However, the best comparison to these two might be the 2016 NHL Draft, where the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets lost enough games to draft Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, respectively.

More from Editorials

Since then, Matthews has brought the Leafs to the playoffs in his first two seasons with the club, while Laine brought the Jets to the Western Conference Finals last season.

The rewards of either side are very infatuating if they are achieved. Either saving this train wreck of a season and competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup in April, or obtaining a young star in the draft lottery.

To those saying that even if the Panthers made the playoffs, they wouldn’t do anything, just take a look at the 2017 Nashville Predators.

They scraped their way into the playoffs and were expected to be laid out in round 1, matched up against the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.

In hockey, the team that finds momentum at the right time always wins, and the Preds swept past Chicago all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

This Panthers team had enough talent to have many experts project them to make the playoffs, so if this much talent catches fire at the right time, who knows? After all, look at the last three wins.

It’s a kind of situation like The Matrix, when Neo is presented with the blue pill or the red pill. Take the blue pill and go back to normal, forget any of the freaky abominations he had seen, and the story ends.

Take the red pill, and “see how deep the rabbit hole goes.” The blue pill is tanking, the red pill is winning.

In the Matrix, Neo took the red pill. But what will the Panthers do?

Next. Tro is Back, But Let’s Not Get Ahead of Ourselves. dark

Thanks for reading! Be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our daily newsletter to keep up with the Florida Panthers.