Florida Panthers: This Past Season and the Next
This past season was obviously one of the worst in recent memory for the Florida Panthers. The team finished with the league’s worst record by three points and couldn’t even grab the number one pick in the 2013 NHL Draft since they lost the draft lottery. Here’s what I think the Cats should take away from their dismal season.
Yes, the Panthers followed up their first playoff season in twelve years with a last-place finish. However, five players suffered season-ending injuries over the course of the season and one didn’t even play all year, including assistant captain Stephen Weiss, starting goaltender Jose Theodore, first-line winger Kris Versteeg, captain Ed Jovanovski, and speedy Sean Bergenheim. 278 games were missed in total by the entire team, which was more than any team in the league by far.
These injuries, though, provided opportunities for several rookies to gain critical experience that will help the Panthers down the stretch next season. First year players Drew Shore, who played in all but five games, and former first-round picks Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden will surely all be ready when called upon next year.
Now, one may say that losing the draft lottery and only getting the number two pick in the draft makes this past season a failure, but it’s actually a good thing. If Florida had the first overall selection, they would most likely take defenseman Seth Jones, who the majority of scouts believe to be the best player in the draft. Now that the Cats most likely will not be able to draft him, they will be forced to pick one of three forwards: Jonathan Drouin, who I believe to be the best forward, his linemate Nathan MacKinnon, who the team most likely will select, and Aleksander Barkov, a Finnish power forward who is the top ranked European. As aforementioned, I think Dale Tallon and management will take MacKinnon, who is a better pick and fit for the Panthers than Jones would’ve been because the team is already deep on defense. The blueline for next year already will feature Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski (he won’t retire), Dmitry Kulikov (who needs to be traded), Erik Gudbranson, and TJ Brennan, with Alex Petrovic and Colby Robak in the mix for the sixth spot.
At forward, Florida looks to be in good condition for next season. It remains to be known who will return to the team, since it is widely rumored that Kris Versteeg will be traded and Stephen Weiss will leave via-free agency (both of which I don’t think will happen), but second year players Bjugstad, Shore, and Jonathan Huberdeau and whoever the team selects in the draft should mesh nicely with veterans Shawn Matthias, Marcel Goc, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, and Sean Bergenheim. All four forward lines should have a nice distribution of scoring, grit, and playmaking.
The last remaining question is the goaltending situation, which young phenom Jacob Markstrom looks to have locked up for now. Nevertheless, Jose Theodore’s contract is up and Scott Clemmenson is in the last year of his deal, so it’s unknown who coach Kevin Dineen will look to as a backup if Markstrom can’t live up to the hype.
The poor season Florida just displayed shouldn’t be a measure or predictor of how their next season will turn out. Panthers fans should be excited for the future as Dale Tallon’s ‘blueprint’ unfolds even more and the team should make the playoffs in the first year of the league’s new realigned conferences. The only thing fans shouldn’t look forward to is hearing Billy Lindsay doing play-by-play again on Fox Sports Florida.