Hockey

Well there are a couple of quite familiar faces, aren’t they? The departed namesake and an instant hall of fame coach will try to bring a level of sustained competitive hockey to south Florida that they haven’t seen since…well…ever. As batshit as it sounds, Uncle Dale and Joel Quenneville never even spent a full season together here in Chicago, but they’re going to try to make this thing work in Sunrise even if it kills them both. And it just might, but at least now they’ll leave behind nice bronzed and pickled corpses.

2018-2019

36-32-14 86 Pts, 5th in the Atlantic
3.22 GF/G (9th), 3.33 GA/G (28th), -13 GD
49.42% CF (16th), 48.45% xGF (20th)
PP 26.8% (2nd), PK 81.3% (10th)

Goaltending: In a full 180 from a trick they had been pulling for the couple seasons previous wherein the Cats got solid netminding from an aging Roberto Luongo and James Reimer filling in whenever something fell off of him, last season the Panthers got absolutely no goaltending to help out what was a pretty spiky offense. Luongo started 40 games last year and arguably posted the worst numbers of his era-spanning career with an .899 overall and only a .906 at evens. Reimer was only a hair better at .900 and .909 respectively. Luongo decided that was enough to call it a career, and did so officially which hilariously dicked over the Canucks in having to eat the recapture penalty for the contraband contract they signed him to. Reimer took whatever he’s got left in the tank up the coast to Carolina, leaving Uncle Dale to have to revamp his entire goaltending infrastructure. Fortunately for him, there was an aging veteran in Sergei Bobrovsky who couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of Columbus and take the bags and bags of money everyone knew Dale was going to throw at him. Bob got a max seven-year term from the Panthers at $10 million per, which should take him until he’s 37. Even with the goaltending career curve being far more protracted than other positions, there’s always a risk of Bobrovsky’s crotch detaching given the high wire style he plays, and Joel Quenneville isn’t exactly known for his judicious management of goaltending workloads.  Still, the Panthers were looking for an infusion of excitement both by landing a name and by potentially making some noise in the post-season. Bobrovsky certainly should get him there even if a) his overall save percentage numbers have been in decline for three years while staying healthy, and b) only last season did he have even a representative playoff run, having absolutely shat himself with the Jackets two trips previous. As of right now, 22-year-old Sam Montrembleaut will get first crack at the backup role, but it could be a rotating cast of thousands if Bob doesn’t play 70 games. Which he just might.

Defense: Once again Joel Quenneville will have an honsest-to-god #1 defenseman to work with, in this case it’s Aaron Eklbad, who somehow is still only 23-years-old. Q likes his top pairing guys to be able to do everything, and Ekblad is certainly capable. Over the past few seasons his overall possession rate isn’t necessarily one that’d be associated with a do-it-all blue liner, but when taking into consideration that he’s had the toughest starts out of necessity and has been paired with Keith Yandle for two years, the picture starts to get a little clearer. And the fact that Quenneville hasn’t personally drowned Yandle with his barehands in some secluded corner of the Everglades and then chopped up his body on a fanboat is truly an upset. Anton Stralman moved a little east from Tampa to Sunrise in the offseason, and while he’s always been a textbook 2nd pairing puck mover, last year he finally started to show some signs of wearing down. No one is quite sure what it is Mike Matheson does or who he is, but Dale is paying him a fairly hefty salary at $4.75 mildo to do it until the entire state is submerged. Mark Pysyk is a hold over from the Computer Boys era, so Quenneville will hate him and put him at forward. At the very least he’ll call him Mike Kostka if only out of spite.

Forwards: Sasha Barkov is probably the best kept secret in the league, and if Q and Bob have any kind of positive impact on this team, that probably won’t be the case for much longer. Barkov is probably the second best two-way player in the league behind Patrice Bergeron now that both Toews and Kopitar have aged out of that level of effectiveness. Barkov absolutely erupted for 96 points nobody saw last year when he finally had two competent full time linemates in a healthy Jonathan Huberdeau and the very shoosty Mike Hoffman, who had 92 and 70 points themselves respectively. Evgeni Dadonov was a nice surprise (albeit at 30) with 70 points of his own despite the fact that a hurt Vincent Trochek only played 55 games last year, and was hindered when he did play. If he bounces back to his formerly reliable 50+ point output, particularly with Brett Connolly here to now provide a bit more scoring depth, the Cats could have a little bit more bite (GET IT?) to an offense that was already top-10.

Outlook: Barring injuries, or Sasha Barkov turning to dust under the workload Quenneville is certain to give him, the Panthers have made enough improvements to interject themselves into the playoff picture in the east, more than likely as a wild card, as the top three spots in the Atlantic seem fairly secure in Tampa, Boston, and Toronto. There are enough “ifs” here to not make it a completely foregone conclusion, but if Bobrovsky is even slightly above league average as he declines, Quenneville’s system is one of the few in the league that produces actual, tangible results almost immediately, and the Panthers weren’t that far off the playoff pace last year. And January 21st at Club 1901 is sure to be a highly emotional reunion, count on that.

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Carolina

Columbus

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New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Everything Else

In yet another litmus test between old school hockey red asses and the computer boys, the Florida Panthers chose to revert to entrusting their future once again to the former in the person of this site’s namesake, and all it got them was sitting at home again in the spring once again. For the most part the Cats have remained quiet this off season in part due to financial constraints and also due to the fact that aside from the big ticket item that came to the division, the free agency market mostly sucked out loud. But given the landscape of things within the division and the conference, being judicious still might not be enough.

’17-’18 Season: 44W-30L-8OT 96PTS 248GF 246GA 18.9%PP 80.2%PK 49.19%CF 7.63SH% .9236SV%

Goaltending: Roberto Luongo enters this season having just turned 39 in April, and even at this age, still posted a .929 overall save percentage propped up by a .933 rate at even strength. Borat’s longevity has now become another attribute on what is a surefire hall of fame resume, playoff collapses be damned. However, unfortunately for the Panthers, he started 33 games last year due to a variety of aches and pains commensurate with being able to soon qualify for AARP. James Reimer got the bulk of the action and was slightly below average with a .913 overall and a .915 at evens, which simply isn’t going to cut it in the modern NHL. Reimer is capable of more, as his career mark at even strength is .925 even factoring last season’s dip, but it’s any guess how much he’ll be asked to play given Luongo’s health status or if his play understandably drops off this late into his career. The Cats are carrying a third goalie this year in the form of one-time New Sensation Michael Hutchinson after Connor Hellebuyck finally took the full time gig in Winnipeg. Hutchinson at this point is going to be a career backup but has been known to find the Devil Inside on occasion (particularly against the Hawks), but if he needs to be relied upon too much Florida is going to need a serious Kick elsewhere in the lineup.

Forwards: Over the past few years, the Panthers have compiled a very solid group of forwards that seem to produce both on the score sheet and territorially, and none of it ever seems to make a damn bit of difference. They added to that corps this year by trading for another player like that in Mike Hoffman, fresh off the drama behind the scenes on the set of The Real Housewives of Ottawa. Regardless of who is to blame in that sordid affair, the Panthers added another solid scoring winger to a group that already has the positionally dominant-if-ouchy Sasha Barkov and running mate Jonathan Huberdeau, and one of the more unhearalded #2 centers in the game in Vincent Trochek, whose 71 points nearly earned him a spot on the All Who-Gives-A-Shit team. The Panthers get solid contractual value out of all of these guys as well, having committed them all to reasonable long-term paper, but there’s no transcendent star here, and this is more of a star driven league than most observers are willing to admit. Nick Bjugstad certainly has all of the tools and the behemoth size to become one, but he hasn’t put it all together yet, and the questions are now beginning to get louder regarding if he ever will. The bottom six features a smattering of bums and has beens such as Troy Brouwer and Jamie McGinn and Micheal Haley, and of course franchise fixture and GRITHEARTFART captain Derek MacKenzie. If a forward grouping can manage to be top-heavy while also lacking gamebreakers, it’s this one.

Defensemen: Obviously this group begins and ends with former #1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad, who is entrusted with the most difficult assignments and zone starts and expected to also produce offensively. Ekblad was below the team rate in shot attempts for the first time this past year at 48.01%, but he spent the vast majority of his time covering for the cowboy tendencies of partner Keith Yandle, who can still slightly outscore his positional deficiencies, but at 32 as of tomorrow, his wheels could soon not even get him to the places he wasn’t sure he needed to be in the first place. The Cats are high on both Alex Petrovic (as evidenced by letting Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith go in the expansion draft to be able to sign him) and Mike Matheson, but it’s not exactly clear what either of them do, and Matheson somehow just received nearly $5 mildo against the cap for eternity to ply whatever his trade is.

Outlook: While it’s unclear whether or not Bob Boughner is a Moron or Not yet (and his playing career would heavily suggest the former), what is clear is that he’s going to need to get a lot more than the sum of the parts that he has here to threaten for a playoff spot let alone advance. Counting on a nearly 40 year old goalie to continue to defy his age and mileage is also not a long-term recipe for success, but that’s never been something that’s been synonymous with the Panthers anyway. The same thing that always happens will more than likely transpire this year, where the Cats will make it interesting in mid-March, but ultimately miss out on the post season by the hair on their ass once again.

 

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Wade County: Litter Box Cats

As if Florida in and of itself isn’t fucking weird enough, this is the first year in nearly anyone’s memory that the Hawks are out east over the Thanksgiving weekend thanks to the long overdue demise of the animal rights violation spectacle that was the Ringling Brothers circus. So it’s a little odd that the Hawks are in Sunrise tonight to take on the Panthers (who are also weird) rather than catching the ass end of a back to back in LA after a Friday afternoon in Orange County, but again, Florida is inherently weird to begin with.