Last season’s Southeast Division Champions, the Florida Panthers, will improve upon last year’s success. However, the competition this year will be tougher.
The Panthers have been in the league for 18 seasons, only making the playoffs three times before last year’s efforts. They were a team that has finished fifth in their division two seasons in a row, only to surprise everyone by winning the Southeast Division. The lack of dominance within the division makes it one of the more fun ones to watch, but also, one that can see one season’s success overshadowed by the next season’s failure to make the playoffs.
“We gave it our best shot and we were a goal away from moving on,” Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon spoke on their double-overtime loss to the Stanley Cup Finalist New Jersey Devils. “Who’s to say what would happen in the next series? We don’t deal in hypotheticals. We had a good year. We’re very positive going into the offseason, but we’re not satisfied.”
Last year the Panthers changed their look from the top down. Kevin Dineen was named Head Coach after spending six seasons as the Head Coach of the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates. Further, the team added 10 new players to the roster. The changes obviously worked.
The team will look mostly the same, with points leaders Thomas Fleischmann (61P), Stephen Weiss (57P), Kris Versteeg (54P) and Brian Campbell (53P) all returning. New comers Filip Kuba (D), Peter Mueller (C) and tough guy George Parros (RW) will have their respective roles. Additional support from Tomas Kopecky (RW), Scottie Upshall (RW) and veteran Ed Jovanovski (D) will also provide good depth.
In net, the Panthers look good with both Jose Theodore (22-16-0) and Scott Clemmensen (14-6-6) sharing time. Reports on current Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo are circulating of his wish to return to the Panthers. Luongo played five seasons with the club from 2000-2006, never once making the playoffs during that time. The closer we get to a season, the less likely he will land in Florida.
The Panthers have a good mix of players of age and skill, but will be tested even more this year within their division. The Washington Capitals may make a better push now under new, offensively minded, coaching of Adam Oates. The Tampa Bay Lightning hope the addition of Anders Lindback in net will solve their goalie worries while the Winnipeg Jets may be a little more used to their new hometown, and the travel. Lastly, the Carolina Hurricanes hope their new additions in the off-season, most notably younger brother Jordan Staal of Team Captain Eric Staal, will provide the depth and spark needed to play a full 60 minutes each night.
The Florida Panthers will be a fun team to watch on a nightly basis, improving their play from last year. But with a “you never know” Southeast Division, they could win the division just as easily as coming in last place.