I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 season.
Let's get a move on with the Florida Panthers, who play in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference.
The Florida Panthers joined the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1993 along with the Anaheim Ducks. The expansion cousins have a few things in common; they were initially owned by Disney (Anaheim) and Blockbuster Video (Florida), both have been since sold to new owners, and both have played in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Panthers had initial success whereas the Ducks' has come more recently. The Ducks have been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice (2003 and 2007) and won one championship.
The Panthers made it to the finals in only their third year of existence, but that's where their success ended.
In the 15 seasons of their existence, the Panthers have made it to playoffs three times (1996, 1997 and 2000). It has been eight seasons since the playoffs have seen the light of day in Sunrise, Fla.
The waters off the coast of Southern Florida became really rocky during the offseason. Former general manager Jacques Martin grabbed the first boat he could find out of Florida and headed for Montreal.
As of yet, the Panthers have not appointed a new general manager, instead allowing assistant GM Randy Sexton to assume the control of the day-to-day hockey operations.
Second-year head coach Peter Deboer did an amazing job leading last season’s group of Panthers despite the uncertain future of the franchise’s best player, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Then-GM Martin decided to go for broke and try to reach the playoffs, but fell short with a ninth place finish. They actually tied the Canadiens in points but lost out in the tie-breaker.
The Panthers made a few changes during the off-season, but how will they react to the loss of Bouwmeester to free agency? Let’s take a look at the 2009-10 version of the Florida Panthers.
The unrestricted free agent deals that were signed to join the Panthers this season are as follows: Scott Clemmensen (New Jersey), Jordan Leopold (Calgary), Steve Reinprecht (Phoenix) and Ville Koistinen (Nashville).
The unrestricted free agents that have moved on from Florida are: Craig Anderson (Colorado), Jay Bouwmeester (Calgary), Nick Boynton (Anaheim), Anthony Stewart (Atlanta), and Karlis Skrastins (Dallas). Both Ville Peltonen and Richard Zednik have signed contracts in Russia.
The only remaining Panther yet to sign a deal with another franchise is Jassen Cullimore.
The Panthers currently have 17 players under one-way contracts: 10 forwards, five defensemen, and two goaltenders.
The six leading candidates to also join the Panthers are Michael Frolik, Jeff Taffe, Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, Shawn Matthias, and Michal Repik.
The Panthers' current salary cap sits at $54.2 million with 23 players on the opening day roster, but they may look to make more moves for cheaper, more experienced players to help fill out the roster.
Top Young Faces in the Organization
Here are some of the other top young faces that will be looking to impress the Panthers' management this season.
Florida's second-round pick (31st overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft has played with the Brynas IF Gavle of the Swedish Elite League for the last two seasons.
He is likely to continue to play in Sweden for at least one more season before coming over to North America.
According to Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb, “Jacob covers the net well and plays with a lot of confidence. He plays the butterfly, but sometimes has a tendency to go down too quickly. He has an impressive, quick glove and he uses his size to his advantage.”
Going into the ’98 Entry Draft, Markstrom was the highest-rated European goaltender and was the third goaltender selected behind Chet Pickard and Thomas McCollum.
The Panthers’ first pick (14th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft spent last season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Bordeleau, “In his first year (in the QMJHL) he’s been an all-around good player. He’s a great skater; he can carry the puck and shoot the puck well. He’s strong too, he can take big hits and they don’t seem to bother him.
"What we saw this year is likely what we are going to see from Kulikov in the future; he’s going to play the same way in the NHL. He knows when to join the rush, he plays defense first, but recognizes the holes.
"He can shoot the puck well on the powerplay and I wouldn’t be surprised if he played in the NHL next year.”
As of today, Kulikov has still not signed his first NHL contract.
Detroit's second-round pick (47th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, was traded to Florida as part of the Todd Bertuzzi trade back in 2007. Matthias split last season between the Panthers and the Rochester Americans of the AHL. It was his first as a professional and he has 20 games of NHL experience.
According to hockeyfutures.com, Matthias is a hard worker, who is a big, strong forward with a good nose for the net. He is able to turn innocent plays into scoring opportunities. Matthias has a very strong hockey sense and is a capable penalty killer.
Florida’s second-round pick (40th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft spent last season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
Just before Christmas, Repik played five games with the Panthers while they were on their longest road trip of the season, including three games in Western Canada.
According to hockeyfutures.com, Repik is a shifty skater with good acceleration; he seldom loses speed through lateral movement.
He shows good anticipation and puck skills. He plays a confident game, and has been clutch on occasion. Repik has the talent and the character to become a second-line winger in the NHL.
Florida’s first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Ellerby played his first professional season with the Rochester Americans last season.
During his junior career, he played for the Kamloops Blazers for four seasons and the Moose Jaw Warriors for the final 53 games of his junior career.
According to hockeyfutures.com, Ellerby is still a raw talent. Ellerby plays with a chip on his shoulder, and his rough and tumble tendencies sometimes casue him to take unnecessary penalties. He has decent hockey sense and is still honing the skill areas of his game.
According to NHL.com, Ellerby is a cousin of Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan; Keaton Ellerby is a playmaking offensive defenseman that also finishes his checks well.
He stands 6'4" and weighs 186 pounds and is a good skater with great mobility. He handles the puck well and uses his long reach effectively. Ellerby won the hardest shot competition (95.6 mph) at the 2007 CHL Top Prospects Game.
Recap of 2008-09
The Panthers were third in the Southeast Division and finished tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 41-30-11, good for 92 points.
They had the exact same record as the Montreal Canadiens but lost the season series with the Canadiens, which is the third tie-breaker in the playoff tie-breaker scenario.
The Panthers' offense was lead by Stephen Weiss (61 points) and David Booth (31 goals and 60 points). Booth is coming off a career year, after setting career highs in goals, assists, and points.
His numbers have increased in each of his three years in the NHL. The Panthers’ had three players break the 20-goal plateau and 11 players finished with double digits in goals.
The Panthers offense was 17th in the NHL with 231 goals for. Defensively, the Panthers were 10th in the NHL and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers gave up an average of 34.5 shots against per game, goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson were second and third behind Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas in save percentage, .926 and .924, respectively.
The Panthers' power play ranked 24th in the NHL, clicking on only 16.6 percent of their chances but ranked ninth in killing penalties (82.6 percent).
Outlook for 2009-10
After last season in Florida, the Panthers’ disappointment of just missing the playoffs was quickly met with the realization that their franchise player Jay Bouwmeester was not returning to Sunrise.
The Panthers were able to receive a third-round pick and the rights to Jordan Leopold—who signed a UFA contract with the Panthers on July 2—from the Calgary Flames.
Since the end of the season, the Panthers have lost double-digit scorers Bouwmeester, Zednik, and Peltonen. Their defensive group also took a beating with only Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen and Bryan McCabe returning to the blue-line for the Panthers this season.
Back-up goaltender Craig Anderson, who played like a No. 1 at times last season, moved on to Denver to play with the Avalanche.
The Panthers appear to be moving in a youthful direction again, with currently only 15 players on one-way contracts. There may be a lot of movement of players between Rochester and Sunrise, but the organization has some talented prospects in the AHL.
The acquisitions of Reinprecht, Leopold, and Clemmensen will help with some of the departures, but on a team that has always given up way to many shots in the past the goaltenders will be under siege again.
If second-year head coach, Peter DeBoar can continue to change the culture and the environment around the Panthers, they may be on the cusp of making it back to the party. However, I don’t think it will be this year.
I foresee one more season of being on the outside looking in, but they aren’t that far away. I believe the Panthers will finish fourth in the Southeast Division, but they will take a step back in the conference.
On Aug. 29, I will be reviewing the Los Angeles Kings as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.