Now we come to a team that I had a lot of trouble placing. Upon further inspection though, the advantage in goaltending may help them stay out of the Southeast basement.
2008/09 Record: 41-30-11, 93 points, 9th in East
Subtractions: Jay Bouwmeester—D (Trade w/Calgary), Karlis Skrastins—D (FA), Craig Anderson—G (FA), Nick Boynton—D (FA), Richard Zednik—F (FA), Ville Peltonen—F (FA), Jassen Cullimore—D (FA)
Over the past two seasons there have been a few constants with the Florida Panthers.
On the bright side of things, they’ve made mid-season pushes to playing spring hockey, culminating in a near-miss on the post season last year by losing the tie-breaker to the Montreal Canadiens.
The down side however, is that they were constantly dealing with questions about their disgruntled franchise defenseman who didn’t want to be in Florida anymore.
How the team’s fortunes change from that trade however will have the Panthers wishing J-Bo liked getting a tan just a little more.
Hey, ho, see ya J-Bo….
While he may not have made many friends with the way things fell out towards the end in Florida, and the jury may be out on just how overrated Jay Bouwmeester is, one thing is for sure: He’s not easy to replace.
Although his stats have been down over the past two seasons, the offensive prowess that Bouwmeester possesses and the vision he has to get the puck out of the zone make him a very special player.
Although Ville Koistenen possesses some offensive gifts, he’s no replacement for Bouwmeester. If given the icetime and opportunities, Koistenen could surpass 30 points over the course of a season, but he’s a player motivated by ice time and if that shrinks (or he becomes benched) he’s proven to let those around him know he’s unhappy.
What works in the favor of Koistinen though, is his all-around ability.
Koistinen has been able to utilize his shot at all levels of competition (both in North America and overseas), but he’s also moved the puck well at the same time. If the Panthers choose to use Koistinen as a setup to Bryan McCabe’s heavy point shot, then the Finn will rack up the assists. Otherwise, his puck-moving and shooting abilities will be perfect to quarterback the second power play unit.
If both Koistinen and McCabe (who bounced-back with 15 goals last year) are used as point men on the powerplays, then expect to see Keith Ballard (who will also assume a lot of Bouwmeester’s vacated ice-time) to play set up on the first unit, and Jordan Leopold to get some time setting up the second unit.
With a shortage of quality NHL defensemen, it seems like as good a time as any to give Keaton Ellerby a full-on shot at the NHL.
If Ellerby can slide in on a lower pairing this season and start to learn how to use his size at the NHL level, then the Panthers won’t be without a franchise defenseman for long.
Alongside him though, it’s a question of who will round out the defense. Bryan Allen still possesses a wealth of potential, but he was sidelined for 80 of a possible 82 games last year due to a knee injury.
If Allen can’t get back to where he was, then it’s up to Clay Wilson, Jason Garrison or recent draftee Dmitry Kulikov to fill in on the Cats’ defense.
To the Kissing Booth or the Tim Horton(s)?
Up front the Panthers have a load of talented youngsters.
Both David Booth and Stephen Weiss led the team offensively (while Weiss also led the team as an alternate captain last year), and they seem to be the perfect compliment for each other: Booth let loose a total of 246 shots last year, connecting on 31 of them, while Weiss led the team with 47 assists.
Nathan Horton will be back and at full strength after a series of injuries took him out of a handful of games last year and will be able to provide the team with a truly balanced presence, easily capable of a 30/30 season (35/35 could be very likely this year).
In the “scoring veteran” role for this team will be Cory Stillman who can still put the puck in the net and create a little offensive as well, despite being 35. Stillman is by far the oldest player on this team however, as youth continues to dominate the Panthers.
In his rookie season, Michael Frolik was able to provide the team with 45 points, and that production can only increase as he slides into a comfort zone on the second line. If he makes the team, Kenndal McArdie will bring a spunky game along with some scoring panache, while Shawn Matthias may get a chance to crack the lower portion of the lineup and utilize his big, power-forward frame—perhaps putting all of that promise into on-ice production finally.
With Gregory Campbell, Rostislav Olesz, Michael Repik, and Kamil Kreps also battling for time and roster spots in Florida, one might soon forget about the few veteran presences littering this roster in the forms of Steve Reinprecht and Radek Dvorak, both of whom can provide some low-key scoring options for Florida.
See my ‘Koun skin cap?
Of any of the goalies in the top-ten of shots-against from 2008/09, Tomas Vokoun allowed the fewest goals against of all of them, at just a mere 138. Even more impressive is the fact that he played in the fewest games (59) of any goalie to face 1800 shots or more, and he had the highest save percentage at .926.
Needless to say, Tomas Vokoun played some great hockey for the Panthers last season.
This year, there’s no Craig Anderson to rely on.
Over the past few seasons, it was widely believed that Craig Anderson was the best backup in the NHL, and like every man to wear that crown before him, Anderson left this offseason to take his shot at starting in Colorado.
Now, Scott Clemmensen will get his opportunity in Florida, with many people piling on the accolades after last year’s virtuoso performance when he replaced an injured Martin Brodeur.
However, let’s not get too carried away. The fact is, Clemmensen is 32 and (going into last year) had never played more than 13 games in an NHL season. Also, aside from a 4-game stint in 2003/04, Clemmensen provided disappointing results statistically.
Last year was a different story, as Clemmensen had (by far) his best statistical season. At 32 though, he’s relatively untested as a backup goalie (he only broke ten games in a season once) and he seemed to make up for it all in one year.
Maybe playing behind a goalie who doesn’t play 75 games in a season will help Clemmensen, and prove that he’s more the goalie we all saw last year than the one of the past. Then again, maybe nothing will change and last year could be an aberration.
So what does it all mean...
With all of the youth on the roster, the Florida Panthers still need some experience to go along with that. For a team that has needed homegrown offensive talent for so long, they’re on the verge of seeing the fruits of their labor with names like Horton, Weiss and Booth lighting up NHL scoreboards for bigger and bigger numbers.
Defensively there are a lot of questions, and a lot of contributions that need to be replaced. Not just Bouwmeester, but Nick Boynton as well as Karlis Skrastins.
The defensive woes combined with the unknown entity of Clemmensen backing up Vokoun this year could be a very big setback for the Cats.
4th in Southeast
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.
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