The Florida Panthers have been wandering in a hockey wasteland for years now. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2000, and given the way the organization has been run they have received exactly what they have deserved over that time. It has been ugly.
They are the worst run organization in the NHL—and that’s quite the accomplishment given some of the teams in this league. Recently, though, they have finally shown signs of life.
Most significantly, last year they hired Dale Tallon as their general manager. Tallon is the guy that quickly turned a lousy Chicago team into a Stanley Cup winner through brilliant drafting and great player management. He’s a brilliant hockey mind. He made a good choice in hiring Kevin Dineen, a feisty player turned solid coach, to take over the team in this offseason.
Florida Panthers Offseason Moves
If you want a sign that Tallon wasn’t happy with what he saw in his first season with the team, there are no fewer than seven new forwards on the team this year.
He kept his offensive foundation of Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Mike Santorelli, but pretty much everything around them will change. There are no stars among the new additions, but guys like Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg,and Sean Bergenheim all have real potential if they can rediscover old form or can lift their game to new levels. Tallon knows Kopecky and Versteeg well from their shared time in Chicago, so their signings are positive signs.
The defense was overhauled as well. Ed Jovanovski was brought back for another tour in the sun, and the team traded for Brian Campbell—another former Blackhawk. Those two vets will elevate the play and responsibility of the defense, and they will have to because the goalie position has definitely been downgraded.
They were forced to trade away the brilliant Thomas Vokoun after he refused to resign with the team, and are going with newly acquired Jose Theodore instead. To say that Theodore is no Vokoun is a serious understatement.
2011-12 Florida Panther NHL Outlook
When a team is so bad for so long you can be sure that the pervasive attitude around the team is not a winning one. Changing that is far from easy, but the aggressive overhaul Tallon has taken is a big step in that direction.
The team still lacks the talent of a lot of teams, but that does not necessarily mean they can’t compete. A well-built, focused young team can outplay their expectations if they are on the right page. You can’t really argue on how Tallon is building the team, so it comes down to whether Dineen can instill the confidence this team has lacked for more than a decade.
In Chicago Tallon built around young stars like Toews, Sharp and Kane. Thanks to some bad years there are some very strong prospects to build around here as well. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft and should be a part of the defensive picture for the team this year. He actually made the team out of camp last year but couldn't work out a contract. He’s signed now, and should benefit from being able to play alongside guys like Campbell and Jovanovski.
They also had the third pick last year, and took forward Jonathan Huberdeau. He has had a very strong camp and could be a part of the picture this year. Like Quinton Howden, another first rounder from 2010, will be back in junior this season, but is another big part of the picture going forward.
Losing Vokoun hurts, but if you are an optimist you can find a bright spot. When you have an elite keeper like Vokoun the defense can get lazy because they know that the guy behind them can bail them out. With a more mortal player like Theodore between the pipes the defense should be more focused on the importance of their task.
They have the talent and the leadership to be better than they have been, and that will only help this team out. Obviously it would have been better to keep Vokoun, but this is not all bad—especially if Theodore can be at his best.
2011-12 Florida Panthers Schedule
October 18 could be an interesting game early in the season for this team. That’s when they travel to play in Washington for the first time this year. That means facing Vokoun, and doing it with former Capital Theodore on their side. There is a strong revenge angle here.
Florida Panthers NHL Futures Odds (from Bodog)
2011-12 Florida Panthers Predictions
If the Panthers were a stock I would be buying it now because the team is going to be on the rise in the hands of Tallon and with the talent they have in the wings. That being said, the short term is not going to be pretty.
They just are not good enough to compete with the good teams in the East, and there are at least 10 good teams that will be fighting for the eight playoff spots. That will leave Florida on the outside. The good news, of course is that that means more strong draft picks to build around. By 2015 or so this is going to be a very different team than it is now.
Doc’s Sports is very excited for this upcoming NHL season. Visit our home page to access all team previews, as well as more sports articles, betting odds and full coverage on the 2011-12 NHL season.