Florida Panthers: Without Personnel Moves, the Most Important Season in History Could go up in Smoke

RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 23: Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville looks on during an NHL game between the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes on November 23, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 23: Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville looks on during an NHL game between the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes on November 23, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers have arrived at a crossroads. This was a season where they made big promises and talked a big game.

They spent like they’ve never spent before, and made decisions with urgency. For a franchise that has spent 80% of its time in the league missing the playoffs, these decisions were welcome ones.

But stop if you’ve heard this before: they talked a big game and failed to back it up with results. Even with their best October record in 23 years, they sit out of the playoffs in mid-December in their natural habitat as perpetual underachievers.

Their issues were preventable, their problems fixable, and yet they were too complacent to fix them. And when it became clear that those problems could be fatal, they reacted far too late to address them. In a season that is so important, it’s a disaster that these chronic problems are cropping up again.

Up until recently, the excuses were all around Sergei Bobrovsky and his poor play. Those concerns were more than legitimate. In his last five games, he’s been exactly what the Florida Panthers paid for, playing his best hockey yet in Sunrise. His team has won only two of those games, losing their last three only scoring four goals and giving up seven (plus two empty netters). As the goaltending has rebounded, the offense has gone totally dry, and the defensive issues have persisted. Their puck possession play from the start of the season has vanished, and they now not only play from behind but play from behind the puck almost every night. The longer the season goes on, the more that early start looks like fools gold.

Since their second four-goal comeback of the season against Anaheim, the Panthers are 3-7, including 3-4 on this homestand. They have yet to win more than two games in a row in regulation this season, and their longest winning streak at all is three games. Too many of their standings points have come from shootouts and loser points, meaning that they lose tiebreakers to everyone. As of this writing, the Panthers are fifth from bottom in the Eastern Conference because of that, though they’re only four back of the second wild card and second in the Atlantic. While the rest of the Atlantic Division was tripping over its shoelaces, the Panthers should have been able to consolidate their position. They’ve done exactly the opposite.

No one in the organization can escape blame for these problems. Joel Quenneville had one of his worst coaching weeks in his career with his team looking overmatched against the Lightning, Islanders, and Bruins. Bobrovsky, as mentioned, is playing his best hockey of his fledgling Panthers career, but right as the team in front of him falls apart. Both are new to the circus, so they cannot be the center of the problems surrounding them.

What surrounds them is a litany of bad personnel decisions that have been left to fester into bigger and bigger problems. For all that the Panthers did to add Mike Hoffman and Brett Connolly, they still rely far too much on the top line for offense. Vincent Trocheck has not come anywhere near close to reaching his heights from two seasons ago and was moved to the wing, leaving a gaping hole at the center position with not enough depth to fill in the gaps.

Adding Anton Stralman was a band-aid for a defense corp that is not anywhere near improved enough to be playoff-caliber. MacKenzie Weegar, in spite of his wonderful run of play earlier this season, is a solid depth defenseman, but not anything more. Mike Matheson, Mark Pysyk, and Josh Brown are all major liabilities, even when Pysyk plays as a forward, and against good teams, they are exposed. These were all problems from a season ago that could have been addressed this offseason but were not, and they are paying the ultimate price for it.

Dale Tallon and his front office are dangerously close to squandering the most important season in franchise history because of those moves are current indecision. Their failure to identify problems at center and on the blue line could well cost this team a playoff spot in a weak Atlantic Division, and those problems could have easily been solved well before it reached this point. Trading for Taylor Hall, a rental winger whose cost would pillage the farm system of what little it has left, would not appreciably fix these structural problems in any way.

It’s well past due for some of the Panthers’ top prospects to be given a chance with the big club. Owen Tippett needs to be in the Panthers lineup. Henrik Borgstrom, when healthy, should be in the Panthers lineup to add spark to the offense. Riley Stillman has proven he needs a longer look at the NHL level, and based on the way some other D are playing at Springfield, they deserve a chance too. It’s clear that these players would add something to the roster that the current players cannot provide, and their self-inflicted salary cap problems shouldn’t be an excuse to keep that powder dry.

Tallon should also be in the market for solutions from outside the organization. Defensemen that are available include New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen, Buffalo’s Marco Scandella or Colin Miller, Detroit’s Patrik Nemeth and others who would not be cost-prohibitive to acquire and could fix some major issues on the blue line.

He should also be looking for help at center, especially if the team continues to experiment with Vincent Trocheck on the wing. A center depth chart of BarkovBoyleMalginAcciari is not going to cut it. Tallon will not survive if they miss the postseason for the seventh time in nine seasons under his watch, and without any major alterations to the roster, that’s what the Panthers are on track for.

The Panthers must act with urgency because their situation is urgent. One three-game losing streak took them from second in the Atlantic to fifth from worst in the East, and they haven’t played their best hockey in more than a month. They are alive in this race not by their own doing, but by others misfortunes. They have too much at stake to rely on other teams stumbling. If they don’t act with urgency, they’ll miss the playoffs for the 21st time out of 26 seasons. That’s beyond unacceptable and incompetent, it’s offensive.

They have an opportunity to re-write this season’s story, but they’d best make personnel moves now before it’s too late.

Florida Need to Separate Themselves from Rest of the Pack. dark. Next

If any of these issues sound familiar to you, don’t worry, it’s not Groundhog Day. It’s just the Florida Panthers.