Florida Panthers: Are They Legit Playoff Contenders After Free-Agent Signings?

Sean LarsonContributor IIIJuly 13, 2011

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 31: Michal Repik #32 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal against the Ottawa Senators on March 31, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

This summer, it seemed like the Florida Panthers were like a group of teenage girls who found their dad's credit cards and went on a huge shopping spree. A visit to the Florida Panthers official Web site, and you see an intro page showing off seven forwards, two defenders and a new goalie, all with a spiffy catch phrase.

New players. New passion. New Panthers. We see red.

Well played Panthers marketing department, well played.

Tomas Fleischmann was an interesting acquisition. He was signed to a four-year, $18 million deal with a $4.5 million cap hit. Fleischmann's numbers took a dip last season with 31 points compared to 51 points the year before. If he can get back to that form, Fleischmann could play a key role in getting the Panthers back to the playoffs.

Of all the new Panthers, Kris Versteeg had the highest point total from last season with 46 points. This is my favorite acquisition the Panthers have made. Versteeg is only 25, and has already put up solid numbers.

He is a well rounded player who can be counted on for 20-25 goals and 30 assists. At only 25, the best is yet to come from Versteeg, and he could play a key role in ending the Panthers' playoff drought.

Tomas Kopecky was another solid acquisition. Kopecky had his breakout season with the Blackhawks last year, scoring 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points, all career highs. The 29-year old right winger's numbers have been on the rise ever since he came into the league, and I think Kopecky could turn in the best seasons of his career with Florida in the upcoming years.

On the defensive side, the Panthers made some nice additions, acquiring Brian Campbell via trade and Ed Jovanovski.

Campbell has nice point totals for a defender. He has racked up multiple 40-plus point seasons, and even had as many as 52 points during his first season in Chicago, when he scored seven goals and 45 assists. His numbers have dipped since then, but there's no reason he can't get back to his 40-plus point self.

Ed Jovanovski also has displayed solid point totals for his position. Although his numbers took a hit last year in Phoenix with just 14 points, his point total has recently constantly hung around the 30-35 point level. He even had a 51 point season during the 2007-08 campaign in Phoenix when he scored twelve goals and 39 assists.

However, at 35, his age and risk of injury could lead this deal to backfire.

The Panthers will also have a new man between the posts who will transition to a market where hockey isn't quite as big as his previous market. I stand corrected, the two markets are polar opposites.

Jose Theodore spent the past season with the Minnesota Wild, where hockey isn't just a sport, it's a way of life. Sadly, the same can't be said about hockey in south Florida.

In 32 games with the wild, Theodore had a record of 15-11-3 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.71 GAA. While he has had decent seasons recently, the Panthers will quickly discover one minor problem, he isn't Thomas Vokoun.

The Panthers won't be able to depend on Theodore like they did with Vokoun. I don't think the Panthers solved anything at the goalie position.

So after going on a summer shopping spree, can the Panthers actually contend for a playoff spot?

As exciting as that would be for the Panthers, I don't see a miraculous turnaround for the team who finished in the basement of the Eastern Conference just last season.

While I don't think they will make the playoffs this season, I believe they have made some improvements, and they have definitely caught the attention of the league.

I don't think they'll finish in last place again this season. They won't crack the top eight, but they could finish a few places better than they did last year.

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has been making noise, and fans are responding. Ticket sales have been spiking, and more and more people have been asking how to purchase season tickets.

Everyone will be keeping a close eye on the Panthers this season to see if the shopping spree actually pays off. Fans will need to keep in mind that the team is in a rebuilding process, and winning won't happen right away.

But maybe, just maybe, we could see magic in Florida in the coming years.