NHL 2011-2012 Predictions: 5 Reasons Florida Panthers Are a Playoff Team

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NHL 2011-2012 Predictions: 5 Reasons Florida Panthers Are a Playoff Team
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

In all truth, it's hard to find an image from last season of the Florida Panthers celebrating a goal to headline this article, since they truly didn't get to celebrate too much, in the first place.

The Panthers eventually finished last in the Eastern Conference with only 72 points, marking the tenth consecutive season they've finished outside of the playoffs and the second time in a row they've ended the year among the bottom two teams in the conference.

Their miserable 30-40-12 record led to yet another overhaul of Florida's perpetually rebuilding roster at the trade deadline, letting Cats fans know that, once again, there was a new, probably-fruitless youth movement going on in Sunrise. But, as it turned out, what happened back then in late February was nothing in comparison to how recently-added general manager Dave Tallon handled the start of free agency.

Tallon rocked the hockey world by coming out of the blue in a small market and signing or acquiring 10 different out-of-town players. Tallon handed out 33 years worth of contracts totaling over $120 million and utterly re-created an entirely fresh Panthers roster faster than it takes the U.S. Government to agree on something.

The snowball of moves has received a lot of coverage by many analysts across the league already and taken plenty of admiration and denigration alike, as would be anticipated. However, putting the money aside (which was, for the most part, so the team could reach the ever-increasing salary floor), all of these transactions have done exactly what they was intended to do; they put Florida back in the continental spotlight, added boatloads of experience and talent to the lineup, and, most of all, delivered an earthquake of change to a franchise that's just never been able to get its act together before.

Not only have the Panthers improved from a makeshift, still-developing team to a club that, what it perhaps lacks in the chemistry that comes from playing together, makes up for it in sheer skill that suddenly transverses throughout the entire roster. Florida isn't just a better team than they were in '10-'11, they have gone from the very darkest part of the league's cellar to a quite respectable, legitimate playoff team in one summer...and here's why.

Note: This slideshow is Part 1 of a four-part series looking in-depth at a few specific teams who we believe have become new Stanley Cup contenders or new playoff teams with their offseason moves.

 Part 2, portraying why the Florida Panthers will be a playoff team in '11-'12, can be found here. Part 3, looking at why the Los Angeles Kings are Cup contenders next season, can be read here. Part 4, stating our reasoning behind calling the St. Louis Blues a postseason team, is available here.

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