Everything Else

Frank Rekas has been our Cats guy for as long as we can remember (which admittedly is only a few days). You can follow him @FrankRekas. 

The Panthers started out the season rough, but seem to have turned it around. What was the problem earlier?  

In typical Florida Panther tradition, the season started slowly. As it always does. Last year took the Florida Panthers approximately 30 games to figure things out under a new coach, with a new system.  The second half finish was tremendous and most thought that it would just naturally continue into this season. Knowing that another slow start couldn’t happen, they did just that.  First of all, no one could have predicted the freak leg injury to the ageless wonder, goaltender Roberto Luongo that occurred in the season opener. We all know a team plays differently depending on who’s in net, and the Panthers are no stranger to that. The play of James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson was below average to poor depending on the night. The inability to make a key save, or steal a game was missing. While there weren’t many games that the Panthers were blown out of, one of the goaltenders needed to find a way to make that “key” stop. Additionally, playing a full 60 minutes was also a trouble spot. Specifically the Panthers had issues with the second period.  For whatever reason the middle frame saw them become lethargic, mistake prone, and defensively erratic. Taking poor penalties at inopportune times  and defensive mistakes led to the downfall of games during the middle frame. It’s kind of funny in a way that it took a 39 year old goaltender to return from injury to get things back on track.
Evgenii Dadanov and his extraneous I might be the quietest player to be averaging over a point per game. How good is he?  
In his second tour of duty with the Panthers after playing in the KHL for 5 years, Dadonov has come back more rejuvenated, and skilled and fun to watch than anyone could have imagined. He was a huge question mark when Dale Tallon signed him prior to last season as a free agent. But as Tallon often does, this signing earned Dale a gold star. “Daddy,” as Panther faithful often refer to him as, has been nothing short of brilliant.  He’s not afraid to shoot, plays with energy and passion, and scores goals that count at the right time.  He’s been one of the Panthers most consistent players in the past two seasons, and is averaging almost a point per game so far this year. 22 of his 28 goals last season came 5×5, and 7 of 9 have been scored that way this season. He finds the right areas to be in, and never seems to take a shift off.  His consistency is a breathe of fresh air. No reason he can’t keep that pace up playing with Aleksander Barkov and Mike Hoffman.
First impressions of Mike Hoffman? 
My first impressions of Mike Hoffman when he was playing for Ottawa were, if the Panthers (or Hawks for that matter) ever had a chance to get him, they should as he caught my eye a while ago. That being said in another “kidnapping” by Tallon, Hoffman arrived with a background as a player that has skill, a dandy wrister, and a goal scorers mentality. So far, he has not disappointed. He loves to shoot, and on this team that’s a great sign because there are a few players who aren’t as “selfish”.  He got off to a bit of a slow start, and at one point saw himself on the 4th line. But that’s old news now, and as I prepare this on Tuesday night, Hoffman has put together a 1- game point streak. Not at all surprising for a guy that’s known as a goal scorer. He’s displayed a nasty shot on a few occasions, and that’s what this team has needed for years. When the puck touches his stick it has a pretty good chance of getting on net, and possibly going in. He’s going to be huge part of the success of the Panthers, and now that he’s on the top line, his numbers could become even better.
 Nick Bjugstad seemed to have something of a breakout year last year. Is he a full-time winger now?

Now that center Vincent Trochek has had an unfortunate leg injury, it would have appeared that Nick Bjugstad would have gone back to centering the second line. Surprise as that’s not the case at least in the game against Tampa on Tuesday night as “Big Nick” as some like to call him was on the wing with Jared McCann getting promoted to take Trochek’s place. Center is Nick’s natural position and he’s performed rather well there in the past, especially during the 2014-2015 season. But a back injury and concussion derailed his progress. Until last season, when the Bob Boughner line blender was looking for the right combination, found that putting Nick on the wing with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov seemed to be the perfect recipe. Bjugstad produced his best season to date playing the wing, and was extremely effective in his role. There are some questions though that seem to linger. Does he have a higher gear? Can he or why doesn’t he use his big body more? He has a good shot, but it’s not accurate at times.  Why?  The subject of trade rumors during the past two offseasons, Nick is a player that he Panthers believe in, and are hoping that he reaches his potential. One of the most likable players on the team, Bjugstad is talented, and is someone that everyone roots for.  It’s up to him now, as he is being given a chance to prove how good he can be.  And with Trochek out for an extended period of time, Nick is on the list of players that bigger things will be expected from.

Game #24 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We figured not that much has changed in two weeks. 

Frank Rekas is the editor of PantherParkway.com. Follow him on Twitter @FrankRekas.

Let’s start with just what “the plan” is in Florida. They fired all the guys they hired to take the team in a more modern and analytic direction after about 12 minutes, and brought back Dale Tallon. But the team doesn’t appear to be any better and in fact there have been a couple bewildering decisions. What’s going on here?

The Florida Panthers are good at one thing: Being consistently inconsistent.  When Dale Tallon came to town in 2010 he had his “Blueprint” which was going to steer the Panthers in a winning direction.  Within two years the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and went to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.  It’s been said they they may have peaked too early, or that a lot of players had career seasons that year and it was just luck.  Regardless, that was as fun of a season as South Florida had seen in years.  But good things in South Florida don’t last forever and that season was followed by the lockout year, and then the wheels fell off in 2013-2014 and Kevin Dineen was fired because, why not?  It must have been his fault.  It was a roster that was put together with duct tape and staples.  Nothing went right other than re-acquiring Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline.  With new ownership in place, changes were going to be made and they were, starting with a new head coach Gerard Gallant.  The team improved by 25 points in Gallants’ first season behind the bench, followed by another division championship and playoff birth in 2015-2016. THAT’S when the demolition began.  The executives lead by what some of us call the Army Math Team and Pentagon Trading LLC decided that even though the team had it’s best season ever, they needed to make changes cause of analytics.  I’m personally not a fan of Corsi and Fenwick, but I do know that it’s a part of hockey.  They don’t measure however things like character, hockey sense and leadership.  After that season, the Panthers traded fan favorite and an up and coming leader in defenceman Erik Gudbranson.  This pissed off Gallant to no end, but he dealt with it. Until he was fired.  Replaced by then General Manager Tom Rowe, who is about as qualified for either of those positions as any one of us is.  We could likely have done better.  The 2016-2017 season was a dumpster fire.  Now to the present, where Dale Tallon is back in as the General Manager left to fix the mess that Rowe left behind.  The Tom Rowe experience in my mind has set the organization back at least two to three years.  The defense is young and inexperienced, except for Keith Yandle who doesn’t play much defense.  If you can stop the top line from scoring, you pretty much have the game won, and they aren’t tough to play against.  Beyond all this, things are great.  We’ve been told to be patient, which I responded with this,
On the plus side, Vincent Trocheck is over a point-per-game and on his way to a career year. Any difference in his game for this or riding the percentages a bit?
Trocheck is one of those special players.  He’s not big by NHL standards, but he plays like he is.  Never takes a shift off and is probably the real heart and soul of the team.  As one of my favorite former NHL coaches would have said, he’s gone through the “maturation process” and he’s producing like he should.  He’s on pace for a career year at a point per game clip so far, and if he had any decent wingers to play with, who knows how much he’d produce.  But he needs help.  This pace that he’s on can’t last with the linemates that he’s been given.  Hopefully that changes cause Vinny is a good kid that deserves better.  It’s been fun watching him progress and develop into the player he is today.  He has a very bright future, but will that future be here?
We tend to separate NHL coaches and GMs on a binary scale, either Idiot or Not An Idiot and that’s it. What is Bob Boughner?  
Well I’m not fond of his attire, something I joke about on Twitter and have offered to take him shopping.  That being said, it’s 21 games into the season, and he doesn’t really have much to work with.  While it’s too early to say he’s one or the other, he’s made some questionable moves for sure, and insists on keeping Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad together as the number one defensive pair.  Do you remember when the Hawks had Doug Smolek and Brad Brown on defense?  Dirk Graham was the coach for the Hawks that year and we know what happened to him. For a coach that played defense during his career, Boughner hasn’t been much of an influence.  He needs a better roster, and there are a few players that need to look in the mirror.  Otherwise Boughner is trying to get blood out of a rock.  There are some nights he looks like he’s in over his head.  Learning on the job isn’t fun, especially in South Florida.
Jared McCann has some pretty impressive underlying numbers so far. Did the Cats steal this kid from the Canucks?
I think it’s too early to tell on this one.  Last season he clearly wasn’t ready, and this year, up until his recent injury he looked much better.  He’s been back for a couple games, but he’s also suffering from a mixed bag of linemates.  To be honest, I’d like to reverse the trade.  Gudbranson brings more to the table, despite his poor analytics, than McCann.  The Panthers need Gudbranson’s heart, soul, and toughness.  Let’s see a full season of McCann before we pass judgement on his value.
What’s it going to take for the Panthers not to just spasm a playoff berth every so often, but to be a consistent playoff team to build a platform to something more?
They need to stop with all the changes and decide on a direction, other than a consistent swirl down a drain, only to come up for air once every few seasons.  It’s hard to attract players and coaches to an organization when there’s so much change and a history of turmoil.  Yes, it’s sunny South Florida where there’s no state income tax, but honestly, why do you think so many over 35 year old free agents like it here?  No media attention, South Beach, perfect weather during the season, and a great place to retire. Which some players have done while still under contract.  But there’s no pressure to win.  Mediocrity and complacency are being touted as patience.  With the deal the team has with the arena, they aren’t going anywhere, yet with attendance down again, and the team unable to string together three consecutive wins, it’s depressing.  The owners haven’t been afraid to spend money, that’s not the issue.  It’s how they’ve spent it that’s the concern.  That unfortunately is a much longer discussion. The other issue is that the cupboard is thin.  No one in the minors appears to be ready to step in and contribute.  After having been touted as having a plentiful minor league system just a few seasons ago, there’s nothing.  The fan base deserves and wants more.  Patience is thin.  What’s it going to take?  It’s going to take an attitude that losing isn’t acceptable for starters.  Players will need to be held accountable no matter how much money they’re making.  And it’s going to take a change in culture.  The team has no chemistry and it shows.  They were on the way to respectability just two seasons ago.  But ownership apparently isn’t aware of one of the most common phrases:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Unfortunately they thought things needed to be fixed and they were wrong.