Playmaking center Stephen Weiss led the team in scoring for the second straight season. The former fourth overall pick broke the 60 point plateau also for the second consecutive season and nearly doubled his goal scoring in the process. Newly appointed GM Dale Tallon and the Panthers will hold onto his rights until 2013 at a very reasonable 3.1 million cap hit. If you play in a deeper league with three or more centers, Weiss seems poised to give you at the very least 25 goals and 60 points. Interestingly enough, Weiss produced this year without winger David Booth for most of the year and with wunderkind Nathan Horton hitting the injured reserve for over 15 games each season.
Perhaps surpassing both of the injury prone wingers would be 21-year-old Michael Frolik. The scoring winger already amassed 42 goals in two full NHL seasons. He surely already passed the former top pick Rostislav Olesz, who continues to show an inability to score consistently. His best season came during his sophomore year, four years ago.
Veterans Cory Stillman, Steven Reinprecht and Radek Dvorak clearly plugged holes in the lineup, performing their roles as expected. They represent stopgaps for promising prospects Evgeny Dadonov, Shawn Matthias and Michal Repik who may all be NHL ready next season. The Panthers will get younger in the next season while probably adding some younger pieces as they move forward.
Captain Bryan McCabe led his team’s defensemen in scoring with eight goals and 43 points– fourth on the team overall. McCabe remains a steady option on your bottom pairing but lost production as the season progressed. The veteran displays an excellent vision while on the powerplay, feeding on the weak defenses in his division and helping promising blue liners Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison in the process.
Crease crasher Keith Ballard tied for eight goals while playing a gritty, two-way game. He displays a ruthless edge which the Panthers need more of, but generally will not score enough to consider rostering. Top prospect Keaton Ellerby and Roberto Luongo-trade holdover Bryan Allen round out the defense which on paper seems to be a strength. However, most players on this list remain unproven and need to stay healthy for a full season to be judged accurately.
Although the Panthers hold the third overall pick in the draft and could take any defenseman possible, they could take another forward to add scoring depth.
Tomas Vokoun played a fantastic game on your fantasy roster and in real life despite his dismal record. Similar to his predecessor Luongo, the Czech native needed to stand on his head to win consistently. He finished the season with a fantastic .925 SV% despite an average 2.55 GAA. Even though he continues to help his team win, he remains a possibility to be traded. Backup Scott Clemmensen showed promise as a starter while top goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom just signed an entry-level contract.
Whether Vokoun will remain the Panther netminder or he will land with a true contender, he remains a top ten selection. Chances are that if the Panthers continue letting him see so many shots, he can continue keeping pucks out of the net but expect less wins than say Jon Quick or Tuukka Rask.
On the Bench:
Pete DeBoer will return for his third straight year behind the bench, looking to improve on last year’s totals. During his first year, DeBoer nearly broke the Panther’s all-time points record, finishing just five points behind the 1999-2000 team. Through his tenure, the former OHL standout coach cannot be blamed for his team’s record– they did lose their second overall point producer for the majority of the season.
If the Panthers continue to show little improvement on making the playoffs, DeBoer may be shown the door. However, Jacques Martin and Mike Keenan before him failed to be fired after only two years of failure.
The Bottom Line:
The Panthers struggled this season and it showed. Relying on Horton, Booth and Weiss proved unsuccessful and perhaps proved to management the current young players in place will not be right for the future. At this point Tallon stated that he will be looking for young NHL players who can play right away and fit into a system.
Seeing as Tallon only needed three years to transform Chicago into a contender, he may be well on his way to improving this team dramatically. He certainly finds himself with a more talented roster than those teams and should lead this wounded franchise back to the playoffs.
|Number 30||Edmonton Oilers|
|Number 29||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Number 28||Florida Panthers|
|Number 27||Columbus Blue Jackets|