For the Florida Panthers this year, it’s playoffs or bust. There will be no in-between, and anything short of the postseason will be considered a failure.
We’ve said this over the last few seasons, but it’s really playoffs or bust for the Florida Panthers this year. After the additions they made during this summer’s free agency period, the buck finally stops here with the list of excuses.
Now with a competent coach in charge of this ship in Joel Quenneville, the Panthers now have everything they could ask for. Better yet, this now means that playoffs aren’t only considered as an “expectation” but are more so viewed as the “new reality.”
Of course, booking a spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs won’t be so easy this year considering the level of competition the Panthers will face. More specifically, the Atlantic got stronger with Toronto, Tampa, and even Buffalo all making moves, while others in the Metropolitan like the Rangers and Devils have also made significant strides of their own.
Gunning for a top-three spot in the Atlantic won’t be an easy task to accomplish, as the Panthers will have to beat out at least one of Boston, Toronto, or Tampa for one of those three pivotal spots.
If the Panthers fall short of placing in the top three (which could realistically happen), they’ll have no choice but to fight it out for one of the two remaining wild-card spots. Not only will they be up against teams in their own division, but they’ll also be facing off against teams from the Metro, which means double the trouble.
None of those teams should be taken for granted or viewed as lightly, as any of those teams (especially from the Metro) have the capability of beating out the Cats for one of those two spots.
This means, that to ensure that the playoffs are within the realm of possibility, the Panthers will have to ensure that they get off to a hot start to the season. Any start like last season that is displayed could easily destroy Florida’s playoff chances as early as the first two months.
The East (as a whole) has gotten stronger, and will only get more competitive as the years past. More talent has entered the division, which can only mean that more will continue to arrive as we speak.
For the Panthers, this isn’t good ideally but it only means that they’ll have to buckle up and really put their heads down and focus on the task at hand. Any slip-up could prove costly, which they’ve learned from in the past.
We must not forget, though, the Panthers (like the others) have also gotten stronger and have addressed their primary areas of concern that were never really fixed in prior offseasons.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky should really tighten what used to be the team’s largest hole. Forward Brett Connolly should provide some much-needed scoring at 5v5 from the second or third line (wherever he is placed).
Defenseman Anton Stralman should provide some stability on the back end, preferably from the second pair alongside Mike Matheson. Forward Noel Acciari should provide a reliable presence from the bottom line.
But most importantly, Joel Quenneville will provide the Panthers with a sense of direction and guidance, which is what they lacked from their former bench bosses.
Apart from the notable additions, Quenneville’s impact should be felt the largest and could be the difference-maker in terms of whether the Cats reach the playoffs or not.
Every team that makes the playoffs or goes far has a coach who knows how to organize his team in a structural way. Systems are important, and shouldn’t be overlooked, like in any sport.
Take a look at the Islanders, for example – a team that isn’t the best on paper, but their coach (Barry Trotz) is an experienced individual who understands and knows how to get the most out of his players.
That Islanders roster last year, which was good enough for a first-round exit in the eyes of many, was coached into sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one – a result no one saw coming.
You take a look at the Panthers roster from last year, which was significantly better on paper than the Islanders’ but placed lower in the standings. Apart from the holes they had in net and on defense, the Panthers had more luxury on paper but ultimately lacked an experienced and competent head coach to guide them through the heavy storms.
Coaching, as well as goaltending, can make all the difference as to whether a team makes the playoffs or advances an extra round/two farther. Now with Quenneville, who is regarded as one of the best coaches in the NHL, the Panthers now have that guidance figure to help sail the ship in the right direction at all given times.
This season, it’s expected that Florida makes the playoffs, one way or another. It really doesn’t matter how they do it or in what style, but more so if they make it.
The franchise is starved of a playoff berth, while the fans are righteously anxious to witness some playoff success. Joel Quenneville (among the additions) should make an outright difference, which is primarily the reason why they were brought in.
Overall, it’s playoffs or bust for the Florida Panthers this season. Anything that’s not the playoffs will be deemed as unacceptable, which would lead to some dismissals being made.
Regardless, the Panthers can now not say that they don’t have the tools to make the playoffs, even in a crowded Eastern Conference. The goal (as well as the prime expectation) is to get into the postseason and make some noise. Quenneville will ensure that structure is placed and systems are met. Now it’s up to the players to absorb it and display it on the ice at a successful rate.