September 29 2013 02:02PM
The only thing for sure: cheap tickets in Florida
Over the next few days, we'll take a brief look at the teams in Toronto's newest division. The division is called the "Atlantic" but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division "The Flortheast". We will get team bloggers from each group to profile their teams as we get ready to start the season…
Today's second preview comes courtesy of Alex Calloway of Litter Box Cats, as we take a look at the Florida Panthers...
What is there to say about the Florida Panthers? The team has pretty weak depth, no top-six centers, and no one to play with Brian Campbell. Depending on how the young prospects preform, it's going to be another long season for the Panthers.
They have nice pieces in Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg on the top line, but with Stephen Weiss playing for the Red Wings, the team is likely going to rotate Marcel Goc, Nick Bjugstad, and Scott Gomez on the first line. Unless they move Fleischmann back to center.
Defensively the team is set with Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, and Mike Weaver. All three would be bigger names if they played in other markets, especially Kulikov. Sadly the rest of the defense is Ed Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson, and either Matt Gilroy, Mike Mottau, or Colby Robak. Robak is the best of that bunch, but will start the season in the AHL.
Goaltending is either Tim Thomas or Jacob Markstrom. The other goaltender is Scott Clemmensen, who was the (second) worst player in the NHL by GVT.
Is there a possibility of Sasha Barkov claiming that first line centre position as a rookie? There doesn't appear to be a tonne of NHL-level competition for him.
Head Coach Kevin Dineen likes to shelter his best offensive forwards the same way Alain Vigneault did in Vancouver. Last season he had Huberdeau and Drew Shore (both rookies) start in the offensive zone 60% of the time. The season before, the top line of Fleischmann-Weiss-Versteeg all had Off Zone Start % above 55%. Marcel Goc, however started just 36.6%. With Scott Gomez on the roster, Barkov isn't going to claim a top-six spot. If he does play in the NHL, he likely won't have much to work with.
Last season the Panthers were 20th in the league in score-tied shot differential, despite all the injuries to key forwards. Suppose the team stays healthy, and *suppose* Tim Thomas is half of what he was in Boston two years ago... is there some reason to be optimistic about this group?
Something that might surprise people about the Panthers, is they have had Vezina caliber goaltending since day one (literately). Even if Tim Thomas can post a .947 ESSV% without the Bruins defense and their solid two-way centers, I don't see him doing but repeating what Tomas Vokoun and Roberto Luongo did down here. The only realistic optimism I have for this team is them battling Tampa for sixth.
Another player potentially returning from injury is Sean Bergenheim, who I think is a pretty underrated player. What's his status like coming into the season?
As far as I know, Sean Bergenheim has been skating and is healthy. He should be playing on whatever line Marcel Goc is centering.
|2013 Stats||Florida (Lg. Rank)|
|Points/82 Games||61.5 (30th)|
|Goal Differential||-59 (30th)|
|Corsi Tied||48.1% (20th)|
|5v5 Shot %||5.94% (30th)|
|5v5 Save %||.903 (29th)|
The Panthers were a historically bad team last season, but they were helped by not shooting the puck or stopping the puck particularly well. Getting a couple of key forwards back from injury, and regression, should help bring the shooting percentages close to normal.
An average shooting rate last season would have given the Panthers 22 more goals, worth about four wins.
The Florida Panthers, two years removed from signing half a team on July 1st, will be a test of late September, EA Sports-esque patience in acquiring depth. With the moves come questions, though. Did Brad Boyes ride on John Tavares' coattails? Can Scott Gomez still play at a decent level? Is Tim Thomas still in game shape? Does anybody in Sunrise know that this team exists?
The inexpensive gambles certainly give the team wiggle room in a worst case scenario, with over seven million dollars in cap space that new owner Vincent Viola may be interested in playing with. In the mean time, youth will play a huge part in this team, with the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson, Jacob Markstrom, and Dmitry Kulikov needing to have statement years if the Panthers have any chance of returning to the playoffs. -Jeffler
I'm a bit surprised at how pessimistic Alex was, to be quite honest. While I don't see this team as being close to contender status, I think they have the talent to challenge for a playoff spot. Predictions are unfortunately anchored to their record last year that was brought down by awful injury luck and the lowest PDO in the game. They're probably good enough to finish in the black as far as Corsi Tied goes, and then there's Tim Thomas.
If he's even close to what he was in Boston (his .931 save percentage in his last three years was tops in the NHL) Florida's got a shot. I think Dale Tallon did a great job at adding talent to the roster late in the offseason, getting undervalued players like Thomas, Boyes, Gomez, and Tom Gilbert. Centre remains a problem, but I like this team's wingers and top 4 defence.
The Panthers ranked last on two polls, bringing down their overall ranking. Ironically, one of their last place votes came from Calloway himself:
Since the Thomas signing, they've earned a lot of recognition as a bit of a darkhorse. I don't think they can peak and challenge for the division, but they're a team the Leafs could worry about in the running for a Wild Card spot.