The Florida Panthers are coming off their third successful season in as many years. It seems that no one has noticed, though.
Seasons of 85, 86 and 85 points in the three years following the lockout haven’t registered much in the national view, or in Panther fans for that matter. This is probably because it hasn’t been good enough to make the playoffs. Also, twice having the Stanley Cup Champion come from their division didn’t help.
The Florida Panthers played to an average of 15,436 fans a game. That’s just over 80% capacity, good enough for 25th in the league (Copper Blue Dreams).
However, fans don’t decide success, and Florida has been successful compared to their pre-lockout results. Teams no longer look at the Panthers as an easy win, and a more productive offense for this team easily wins the Southeast Division.
Defense is arguably the most crucial part to the game of hockey. However, you have to be able to score goals to support that defense.
The Panthers finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in goals scored as well as tied for last in their own division. With their defense ranked sixth in goals allowed, the offense need only jump a few spots in the rankings in order to help this team’s efficiency.
Olli Jokinen’s departure makes the offensive problem even more of a problem, though. With Jokinen goes 34 goals, 37 assists and a ton of leadership. At 29-years-old, Jokinen is now a Phoenix Coyote and still has good years ahead of him.
In an attempt to replace that production and leadership, the Panthers sought out and signed left winger Cory Stillman. Stillman split last year with the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators, scoring 65 points in 79 games.
The only downside to Stillman is that he is getting older. At 34, his best years are likely behind him.
The team decided to buy out center Jozef Stumpel’s contract as well, leaving the center position very weak.
The wings are also weak. The only winger that posted 40 points or more last season was David Booth, with 40.
Richard Zednik and Rostislav Olesz, both left wingers, need to produce more.
Zednik, understandably so, had a rough season.
However, his production has been erratic and low since the lockout. He has bounced to a different team each of the last three years, and maybe being familiar with his surroundings will help his production. Or it could be that the post-lockout style of hockey just isn’t fit for him.
Olesz is only 22-years-old, and has tremendous upside. Being his fourth season in the NHL, all with the Florida Panthers, 2008-2009 could be a breakout year for the winger. That is, if he has capable linemates.
In free agency, Florida didn’t do much on the offensive end. Cory Stillman was the lone star among several unknown signees.
The Defense lost quite a bit of talent as well. Jassen Cullimore and Steve Montador left in free agency.
Both were the anchors to the solidarity on the blue line and will be sorely missed by Panther fans. Cullimore was a plus-21 in 65 games, and Montador scored 23 points (8 G – 15 A) in 73 games. They were reliable and gave what was expected of them every night.
The leader of the corps will now be Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester signed a one-year deal with the Panthers Monday after much debate over whether he would stay or go. He played in all 82 games in ’07-’08 and scored 15 goals and 22 assists.
Nothing else of notability occurred in free agent signings on defense.
Thomas Vokoun is now the leader of this team. He is the backbone, and was largely responsible for the team’s success last season. He played in 69 games and stopped 92% of the shots he faced.
Vokoun’s GAA, 2.68, is a bit high, but it’s hard to argue with what he has done.
Craig Anderson is Vokoun’s backup, and posted good numbers as well. The two combine for the most solid unit on the team.
I think that Florida will have to have a lot of luck on it’s side to break 80 points in 2008-2009. The Panthers have lost key forwards and defensemen, and Thomas Vokoun will not stand a chance in net if his team can’t control the puck.
It appears to me that the management isn’t too concerned about their team, but they should be. With fan support at a near-low in the NHL, they should be doing everything they can to put the pieces together.
Don’t expect those attendance figures to improve all too much, because this year will not continue upon the progress that has been made. That is, unless they can find quality free agents that have yet to be signed or pull off a quality trade or two.