The Panthers, as per usual, didn’t make the playoffs last season. More than that, they finished last in the Eastern Conference. However, I don’t think they were the worst team in the conference. They only finished one point behind the Islanders and two behind the Senators, and they had a better goal differential than both of them, as well as Atlanta and New Jersey. That being said, there are some reasons for positivity in Florida, mostly because they are barely going to have the same team this season.
Dale Tallon’s rebuilding project took a pretty significant step forward this offseason, as the new additions to the team were abundant. They signed Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall, and brought in Jose Theodore to be their new goalie. They also traded for Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg. Are any of these players likely to have a huge impact? Not really. They got some good players, and a couple of players that could be really good. Campbell, while overpaid, will be their best defenseman. If Fleischmann is healthy, and is Bergenheim can show any semblance of the player he was in the playoffs, they could be nice additions as well.
Of course, some players are gone as well. Theodore is replacing Tomas Vokoun, a net loss for the Panthers. They also had to trade Rostislav Olesz to get Campbell. Plus, they traded Bryan McCabe and Dennis Wideman away last season Still, overall via free agency and trades the Panthers got better. They have other additions as well. When you don’t make the playoffs for years upon years, and you often struggle, you tend to get good draft picks. This offseason, picking third overall, they took defenseman Jonathan Huberdeau. In 2009, they also picked third, and also took a defenseman, Eric Gudbranson. I expect at least one of these defenseman to play this season, and both should someday become good NHL blueliners.
Of the players that were on the roster last season, only David Booth, Stephen Weiss, and the surprise Mike Santorelli were notable offensive performers. Perhaps Booth can find his 30 goal scoring form again. It would be nice after his concussion issue he had two seasons ago. Also, Kevin Dineen is their new head coach.
I feel like this team is moving in the right direction, and at the very least they won’t be the worst team in the Eastern Conference this season. Rejoice, Panthers fans! That being said, I don’t see the playoffs this season. However, I certainly think it is a possibility. They aren’t going to be like Tampa Bay was last season, but they will be better and they’ll be the proverbial “tough out,” as it were. For Florida, that is a major step in the right direction.
Last team up: Carolina Hurricanes
Next team up: Tampa Bay Lightning