2008-09: 41-30-11 (9th in the East – Missed the playoffs)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 15th
General Manager: Randy Sexton (Interim)
Head Coach: Peter DeBoer (2nd Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
The Panthers have been surprisingly active, considering they have been without a general manager since Jacques Martin joined the Montreal Canadiens in June. With Randy Sexton acting as the defacto GM, Florida acquired Steve Reinprecht from the Coyotes in exchange for Stefan Mayer. Sexton was then able to turn the rights to Jay Bouwmeester into Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick from the Flames, so they were not left high and dry by their inability to trade the blueliner prior to the trade deadline. Reinprecht and Leopold were both locked up, as was promising sniper David Booth and veteran Radek Dvorak.
Florida took a dip in the free-agent pool by signing 'keeper Scott Clemensen to back up Tomas Vokoun and added Ville Koistinen for depth on defence. Nick Boynton, Karlis Skrastins, Craig Anderson and Steve Eminger were all deemed expendable while Richard Zednik and Ville Peltonen returned to Europe. After all that activity, Sexton deserves a raise if not a change in title.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
The team's young talent is coming along nicely in year two under Peter DeBoer. Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Keith Ballard all enjoyed career years in DeBoer's initial season in the Sunshine state while Nathan Horton appeared to be headed in that direction before injuries took their toll. Michael Frolik was able to thrive in his rookie campaign and the Panthers have several top shelf prospects on the way in the form of Shawn Matthias, Michal Repik and Keaton Ellerby. This is clearly a team on the way up.
And it's about time. The team is mired in a nearly decade-long playoff drought and has been repeatedly forced to deal veteran talent near the deadline. Things should be different this year in South Florida as expectations are higher than they have been at any time this decade. Losing out on a tie-breaker with Montreal, the team finished outside of the final playoff position in the East. If the Panthers' young players continue to take steps forward, a playoff spot should be the minimum of the franchise's expectations. A good young coach along with a solid skilled nucleus and some veteran experience in the form of Cory Stillman, Tomas Vokoun and, to the shock of Maple Leafs fans - Bryan McCabe - means that better days are on the horizon in Sunrise, Florida.
Player to watch:
While Stephen Weiss set career marks in assists, points and plus/minus, he had a season that left most observers wanting more. While he is far from a bust, he has repeatedly heard his name mentioned in trade talks and has yet to have the breakout season that seemed inevitable when he was selected fourth overall in the 2001 NHL Entry draft. Entering his seventh full season in the NHL, the time is now for Weiss to pull it all together. He is a gifted playmaker that has ample scoring power around him.
Weiss built some nice chemistry last season with linemate Cory Stillman and really helped in the development of rookie Michael Frolik, however he would undoubtedly like a chance to skate on the top line with Horton and Booth now that Richard Zednik is gone. If all three players continue on their current career path, this could be one of the most explosive lines in hockey.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
The loss of Jay Bouwmeester may be seen as devastating to the Florida Panthers in some circles, it's entirely possible that the Panthers have more depth on the blueline now and will contend for a playoff spot once again, which should mean some decent fantasy production.
If the Panthers are going to challenge this year, they need a return to form from power forward Nathan Horton. Horton started last season at centre and had a couple of injuries on his way to 22 goals and 45 points in 67 games. The 24-year-old has 108 goals over the last four seasons and has twice bettered 60 points, so production at that level is a fair expectation at this point in his career.
Read more of Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis of the Panthers, including a look at Florida's projected depth chart for next season.