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.