Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Florida Panthers. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
The Panthers failed to make the playoffs for a record tenth straight year in 2010-11 but this year's roster will bear little resemblance to last year's record-breaking team.
Offensive leaders Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Mike Santorelli will all be back but playing with new linemates. GM Dale Tallon brought in seven new forwards, either via trade or free agency, in an attempt to improve the team's offence.
The defence will also have a new look this year. Tallon dipped into Florida's past in signing fan-favourite Ed Jovanovski, and traded for former Blackhawk Brian Campbell. Top prospect Erik Gudbranson also has a good chance of making the team.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Additions: LW Sean Bergenheim, RW Matt Bradley, D Brian Campbell, LW Tomas Fleischmann, C Marcel Goc, D Ed Jovanovski, RW Tomas Kopecky, G Jose Theodore, RW Scottie Upshall, RW Kris Versteeg.
Subtractions: RW Niclas Bergfors, RW Steve Bernier, LW Darcy Hordichuk, LW Rostislav Olesz, C Marty Reasoner, LW Sergei Samsonov, G Tomas Vokoun
Prospect Report: Gudbranson, selected third-overall in 2010, made the team's roster in the 2010-11 pre-season, but couldn't come to terms on an entry-level deal and was sent back to his junior team. That won't be the case this year as Gudbranson signed on early and, despite an up-and-down year in the OHL last season, should secure a spot on Florida's blueline.
Florida's top prospect on offence is Jonathan Huberdeau. And while Tallon made it known that Huberdeau will have a chance to make the team's roster this pre-season, he may also be returned to the juniors for another year to put on some size. Quenton Howden, another first-round pick of Tallon's, may be the more NHL-ready prospect. Howden impressed at the World Juniors, helping Canada to a silver medal, and was the first prospect signed to an entry-level deal this off-season. A reward, the Panthers said, for his strong play in 2010.
Breakout Player to Watch: Of all the big contracts handed out to free agents by the Panthers this off-season, the biggest went to forward Tomas Fleischmann. After he was traded to Colorado, and before his season was cut short due to a blood clot, Fleischmann was a near point-per-game performer (21 points in 22 games). If the 27-year-old can stay healthy all year, he could lead the team in scoring.
Marquee Match-Up: Oct. 18 at Washington - The Panthers made it known they wanted to re-sign goalie Tomas Vokoun this off-season, but he spurned their larger offer for a chance at the Cup with the division-rival Capitals. Florida would love it for Jose Theodore – an ex-Capital and the goalie signed to replace their former starter – to help them win in Washington and let Vokoun know he isn't missed.
Other Dates To Watch: Nov. 10 – First of three trips all the way to divisional opponent Winnipeg. Dec. 1 – Panthers take on Mike Richards, who injured Booth with a questionable hit two seasons ago, and his new teammates in Los Angeles.
Reason To Get Excited: For a team that has missed the playoffs for 10 straight years, the future is usually the only thing to get excited about. Tallon has stockpiled a number of highly-ranked prospects in his two seasons on the job, the first of which - Gudbranson - will likely suit up in the NHL this year. The talented young defenceman represents a glimpse of what could be a strong future in Florida, and lets fans know that that strong future could be coming sooner rather than later.
Home Hardware: If Gudbranson sticks with the big club throughout the season, he may have a shot at the Calder. He will certainly have his struggles, but he'll also have plenty of support from veterans like Campbell and Jovanovski. Huberdeau could arrives with plenty of Calder hype as well.
On The Hot Seat: Despite being a team leader for the past several seasons, Weiss has been the subject of trade rumours since Tallon took over GM duties; rumours which could continue into this season. A number of new forwards were brought in by the Panthers this off-season, and some players may have to be moved as the team's prospects start to join the club.
It's Your! Call: Will the Panthers off-season spending spree pay off with a trip to the playoffs?
Florida took part in their most active off-season in team history, bringing in a total of 10 players that are expected to make the team's roster to start the season.
With nearly half the roster comprised of first-year Panthers, building team chemistry will be imperative in the pre-season. After Tallon's off-season spending spree, Florida could be a better team in 2011-12. And if the new acquisitions play up to their contracts - or something coming close to that - the Panthers could end their 10-year playoff drought.
Will the Panthers have to wait for more of their blue-chip prospects to mature, or has Tallon compiled enough talent for Florida to snap their record playoff drought this year?