Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the Florida Panthers are up next. Get the lowdown on their off-season, the issues they face this season, and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Panthers!
2009-10: 32-37-13 (14th in East, missed the playoffs)
General Manager: Dale Tallon (1std Season)
Head Coach: Peter DeBoer (2nd Season)
What they did in the off-season:
While Florida made a big splash by adding the architect of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup winning team, Dale Tallon, run to their front office, Panthers fans can't be terribly happy with what has happened since, especially when they look across the state at their Floridian rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There are not a lot of reasons for optimism in Panther-land this upcoming season after the trading of top sniper Nathan Horton (along with Gregory Campbell) to the Bruins for defenceman Dennis Wideman and a pair of draft picks.
Tallon was not done dealing as he shipped defenceman Keith Ballard and forward Victor Oreskovich to the Canucks in exchange for forward Steve Bernier and prospect Michael Grabner in hopes that the young Austrian can provide some of the offensive punch lost in the Horton deal. The disappointing Ville Koistinen was bought out, while Chris Higgins, Nathan Paestch and Mike Weaver were all signed via free agency. While all three are legitimate NHL players, none are what can be considered difference makers. The Cats also exchanged Jeff Taffe for Marty Reasoner from the Thrashers. The good news is that the Panthers were able to hit pay dirt in the draft with three first round selections, however only Erik Gudbranson (picked third overall) is likely to have a shot at a roster spot this season.
Biggest issue facing the team:
While management appears ready to take the patient approach towards development, the team's dwindling fan base want a winner and an uninspiring off-season certainly is not the way to win them back. The Panthers biggest problem might be battling apathy in a sports market that received a major injection of star power thanks to LeBron James' decision to "take his talents to South Beach." The Panthers will face an uphill battle in winning the hearts and minds of the average sports fans who generally only like ice in their drinks.
In addition, losing Horton certainly does not help a team that was already struggling in the goal scoring department. Panthers' brass has to hope that the likes of Grabner and Michael Frolik take a massive leap forward in their development and that David Booth will have shaken off concussion concerns to return to his form of the 2008-09 season where he broke the 30 goal plateau. Unless everything lines up perfectly for the Panthers, it will be another long, long season in South Florida.
Player to watch:
Once again the Panthers will live and die with goaltender Tomas Vokoun. The Czech 'keeper has been a godsend for the Panthers over the past three seasons as he has kept a young and inexperienced team competitive. The 33-year old is entering the final year of his contract that will see him earn $6.3 million this season. He is worth every penny of it to the Panthers and they would undoubtedly like to sign him to an extension. However you have to wonder if Vokoun would be open to the idea as he no doubt would like to play for a contender at some point in his career. This could well become an unwanted distraction for Florida and if it appears that a deal is unlikely, than Vokoun may well be traded at some point before the deadline. He might not be the only veteran out the door as Cory Stillman, Bryan McCabe and Radek Dvorak are all entering the final years of their respective deals and may well be elsewhere by season's end.
For additional Panthers analysis, be sure to read Scott Cullen's fantasy take.