The Season Preview will be a running column on questions and thoughts for the upcoming season. Individual teams will be highlighted in each post. CLICK HERE for the full list of Season Previews.
I’m not going to bother with a history lesson on this one. All that bears mentioning is that this team had a miracle run to the finals in 1996 and have been sucky every other year of its existence. They’ve been to the playoffs once in the last thirteen years, by winning the Southeast Division in 2011-12 (which we can all agree doesn’t really count as a division, right?). In an era that’s supposed to be defined by parity, the Panthers have been remarkably and consistently bad.
But that’s enough about the past, because the Panthers are all about the future. Okay, one more joke at Florida’s expense. (Cue drum roll) The Panthers are so bad… How bad are they?… Olli Jokinen is still their franchise leader in goals and points. Alright, I’m not doing this to bully, but I guess it speaks to the average Florida resident’s ability to form short-term memories that they even still get the occasional fan in the building (or perhaps they just go to get rid of their excess rubber rats).
I’m serious this time, enough kidding around. The joke that is the Florida Panthers is over. They have a really good cast of young stars and prospects. How good are they? So good that Hockey’s Future has them listed as having the best prospects in the NHL. They have several that appear to be can’t miss, especially at center with Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Alexsander Barkov. Their depth at defense is also solid, with Erik Gudbranson and Dmitri Kulikov already established in the NHL and Alex Petrovic set to play a full season this year. Either Jacob Markstrom and Jonathan Huberdeau appear to be the future in net as well.
Problem is, their veterans stink for the most part. Brian Campbell is as good as it gets for them, Jovanovski is on his way out and suffering from injuries, and Mike Weaver is consistent but unimpressive. And defense is the good news! Their veterans at forward? Guys Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, Tomas Fleischmann, and Scottie Upshall are all good role players, but that’s it. Role Players on a good team. But in Florida they’ll be counted on as mentors for the future generation and leaders until the torch is ready to be passed. Even with a strong collection of youth, there is no Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby ready to come in and turn around the franchise; just some good young kids that need time to develop and a cast of veterans that would be hard pressed to find similar roles on another team. So, even with the signs of growth and improvement, this is still a team with some big holes up and down its lineup. There’s no other team more dependent on youngsters coming in immediately to fill major needs. That’s not a strategy that’s likely to work, at least for another few years.
Settle in for another painful season Panthers fan(s). But the end of the bad days are coming to a close. It just may take another top 5 pick or two.
Optimism rating (out of 5): 1.0