Sunday, September 25, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Florida Panthers

What happens after your team hasn't made the playoffs since 2000? Change. And in the Panthers case, there is a lot of it. From the majority of the roster, to the PA announcer and the color of the seats at the Bank Atlantic Center, this has truly been a "Redvolution" (Just for you Yormark), for the Panthers. Now, the question is, will this radical change net in an actual playoff birth?

Strengths: To be brutally honest, last year, this team was no better than an AHL team. And because of that, at the trade deadline and this offseason, numerous faces were let go, but not too many of them will be major losses, sans one. To fill all of those spots on the roster, the Panthers went out on a spending spree. Here a just a few of the new faces sporting Panther red this season: Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Kris Vertsteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley, Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, and Jose Theodore. That's a lot of new talent coming in, and most of them are here as good veteran influences and possible scoring threats to go along with the host of young players the Panthers are bringing up. Two Panthers mainstays did stay on though, David Booth and Stephen Weiss, and they are the players who will most benefit from this. Weiss has been very consistent in his career, and Booth has been a 30 goal scorer in the past. The young kids are the ones that the Panthers are really excited about, especially Keaton Ellerby, Evgeny Dadonov, Jack Skille, and many others. In net, Jose Theodore comes over from Minnesota, and should be a decent stabilizer in net.

Weaknesses: The problem with Jose Theodore, is that Tomas Vokoun left to make room for him, which is a downgrade. Vokoun was incredibly solid for the Panthers, and the only blemish on his resume was not making the postseason. Theodore has a lot of pressure on him to perform, or at least wait until the talented prospect Jacob Markstrom is ready. The other question surrounds the ability of the many new faces to gel together under new head coach Kevin Dineen, and whether they will be able to effectively is the major question surrounding this team. They will improve their offense, but a legitimate number 1 scoring threat needs to emerge.

Any Help Coming? This "Redvolution" has also had a dramatic effect in the farm system, which for the Panthers is now arguably the best in hockey. C Jonathan Huberdeau is an offensive wizard, and is completely well rounded as an overall player. He has a chance to make the roster this year, but he'll likely go back to the QMJHL. G Jacob Markstrom is the best goaltending prospect in hockey, and is incredibly skilled and mentally tough. D Erik Gudbranson is a Chris Pronger type defenseman who can hit hard, and is a future captain for this team. And those are just the top 3.

Outlook: Even if they don't snap their playoff drought this season, this season will be one to remember in Florida. Just the scope of the overall changes to the roster and the promise of the amazing farm system which may only get better with time. This is a team on a meteoric ascent, and the playoffs are not out of the question this season, even if they will be tough to get to.

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