Friday, September 28, 2007
Mike from [ Southeast Shootout] previews the Florida Panthers for us:
2006-07: (35-31-16) 86 Points
Playoffs: No dice
Player to watch:
The Florida Panthers finished with 86 points in the 2006-07, again improving the point total (albeit by one point) from the previous season to the next. However, even another December to April run by the Panthers and Eddie the Eagle was not even enough to save them from the horrors of Alex Auld and November (rumors abound that Alan Cohen and the managing board of the Panthers are petitioning Gary Bettman to remove the month of November from the NHL schedule; No word on the NHL’s response, yet). As Olli Jokinen and Co. sat down for another long off season, there was a sense in the community that perhaps, the Panthers finally had a level headed GM with a plan. There were inklings of this throughout the 2006-2007 hockey season. Limiting players like Chris Gratton’s playing time due to inability to catch up to the new NHL, bringing up David Booth, and trading away Gary Roberts for one of the Penguins own rising stars, Noah Welch.
There was a clear need for the Panthers this offseason:
- Get a good goalie.
- Lock-up the core players to long term deals.
- Add speed, grittiness, and depth to the roster.
- Draft a bluechip defense prospect, and whatever else you can get.
As the Panthers sister team, the Anaheim Ducks, marched to Stanley Cup glory (and thereby, ensuring the Cup spends another summer in the Sun Belt!) Jacques Martin, Randy Sexton, and all the boys set out to make their mark on this long suffering fan base’s thirst for stability and the playoffs.
The Panthers had several UFAs after the season ended. Among them included Jozef Stumpel, Ed Belfour, Martin Gelinas, and Ville Peltonen. The first domino to fall on the UFA list was Panthers forward Ville Peltonen. After a slow start last season, Peltonen became one of the more solid players on the team and showed the team they had a secret weapon (well, besides Steve Montador!) in shootouts. Pelts boasted 17 goals and 20 assists along with plus 7 rating. Most of his success came later in the year as he became more comfortable in the North American style and was finally healthy of his dislocated shoulder, suffered in training camp.
Quietly for the rest of May and the start of June, the Panthers began negotiating on a long term deal for the key core players identified by Martin, Sexton, and key offseason front office signing, Joey Nieuwendyk. Defenseman Bryan Allen, who paired with Jay Bouwmeester, would at times dominate opponents for long stretches when on the ice together. It was clear after the season ended that Bryan was a key component and the only validation left to trading away Roberto Luongo. In the middle of June Bryan signed for a 5-year deal worth about 14 million. Later on the same day, the Panthers traded Chris Gratton to the Tampa Bay Lightning for several draft picks. Not much more than a week later, Nathan Horton, who had again set new career highs in all his stats (31 goals, 31 assists, +15) signed for a 6-year deal worth $24 million, proving that not all GMs in this league are just there to throw money at bodies.
June 22nd, the evening of the 2007 draft: Several rumors are flying around attaching the Panthers to trading for players such as San Jose backup goaltender, Vesa Toskala and Anaheim backup goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov. However, using a couple of the second round draft picks gained through trades (Bertuzzi to Detroit; Gratton to Tampa) and a first rounder in 2008, the Panthers picked up Nashville star goaltender, Tomas Vokoun. When the news broke, cheering erupted at the Panthers Draft Party. With a swift stroke, Jacques Martin had righted the wrong of the evil taskmaster, Mike Keenan.
The pieces began to fall into place. Jozef Stumpel signed a two-year deal worth about $5 million dollars or so and the Panthers didn’t qualify notable players like Alex Auld and Juraj Kolnik. The Panthers signed backup goaltender Craig Anderson to a two year, $1 million deal, thus assuring that Eddie the Eagle wouldn’t soar over Miami (and the requisite night clubs) anymore. On July 1st, the Panthers struck fast and hard, signing Richard Zednik and former Panthers first round draft pick Radek Dvorak to two-year deals respectively and signed former Avalanche centerman Brett Maclean to a three year deal. All three players not only added depth to the roster but speed, grittiness, and defensive responsibility. While the Panthers didn’t end up signing players like Daniel Briere and Slava Kozlov, they did add depth and chance deals. Both Dvorak and Zednik have the talent and ability to reach 20 goals again; however, if both aren’t healthy then the team will cut their losses with only two year deals. Maclean has the ability to post 15-25 goals consistently, and look for him to improve further under Jacques Martin’s system.
The rest of the offseason moves continued to show why Jacques Martin is a very patient and level-headed GM:
- Steve Montador, resigned to a one year deal
- Stephen Weiss, resigned to a six-year deal worth close to $19 million
- Signing Cory Murphy out of the Swedish Elite League to play Power Play Quarterback (next Brian Rafalski? Only time will tell.)
- Qualifying players like Janis Sprukts who have a lot of potential but have no room for on the roster and want to play full-time in Europe
- At the draft, the Panthers selected Keaton Ellerby first, fulfilling their blue-chip defensive prospect need. Others drafted included two possible steals in Michael Repik and Evgeni Dadonov who were both rated much higher than their draft position would indicate.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|TBD (likely Kamil |
|Jay Bouwmeester||Bryan Allen|
|Mike van Ryn||Ruslan Salei|
|Noah Welch||Cory Murphy|
|Slava Mezei||Steve Montador|
Five years of improvement in the overall points total and the Panthers still haven’t made the playoffs. This is the year that South Florida has been waiting for. Eerily coinciding with the year of the rat again on the Chinese calendar, the Panthers will look to resurrect that great and memorable team this year. It began with the reunion game. And this year, without a doubt, it shall end in the playoffs. Going out on a limb, with the improvement of all the young players, the development of JayBo into a serious Norris Trophy contender, Nathan Horton and Olli Jokinen hitting the 40 goal plateau and possible 100 point plateau for Olli, and the acquisition of elite goaltender Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers will win the Southeast Division this year. It is my duty as such, since the rest of the world wide publications vastly underrate the team itself, to boldly call for the Panthers rise to their first division title in the short history of this franchise. Go Cats!
At first glance it seems like same old Panthers.
But actually the more you look at it, the more it seems in the realm of possibilities that the Panthers could put something together.
Oli Jokinen is the real deal. But his supporting cast is mud.
If Peltonen and Horton step up, the goaltending may be solid enough for them to make a late season run.
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