Friday, September 29, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Florida Panthers

GM: Dale Talon (second stint, since 2017). 8.5/10
Coach: Bob Boughner (since 2017). 7/10

2016-17 record: 35-36-11, 81 points, 23rd overall, out of playoffs after finishing first in the Atlantic the year before.

Departures: Tom Rowe (GM and interim head coach), Jonathan Marchessault (C), Jaromir Jagr (RW), Jason Demers (D), Reilly Smith (RW), Jussi Jokinen (LW), Shawn Thornton (RW) Reto Berra (G), Michael Sgarbossa (C).

Arrivals: Radim Vrbata (RW), Evgeny Dadonov (RW), Michael Haley (C), Jamie McGinn (LW).

Top forwards: Aleksander Barkov (65-75 points), Jonathan Huberdeau (65-75 points), Vincent Trocheck (55-65 points), Dadonov (50-55 points), Nick Bjugstad (40-50 points), Denis Malgin (20-30 points), Vrbata (25-30 points), Colton Sceviour (25-30 points).

Must-improve forward: Bjugstad lost the 2C spot to Trocheck, but perhaps he can play as a winger on the top-six and get going again.

Top defensemen: Aaron Ekblad (30-40 points), Keith Yandle (35-40 points), Michael Matheson (20-25 points), Alex Petrovic (20-25 points).

Goalies: Roberto Luongo (87/100), James Reimer (76/100).

Top rookies: Owen Tippett (18 years old, RW, 10th overall pick in 2017), Ian McCoshen (22, D), Henrik Borgstrom (20, C), Michael Downing (22, D), Jayce Hawryluk (21, RW).

Two years ago, the Panthers finished first in the Atlantic on the strength of a roster that GM Dale Tallon took five years to build (technically less, because he won the 2012 GM Of The Year award after a strong finish). But the Cats' new owners were convinced they could do even better with the help of analytics, so they "promoted" Tallon to President and named his assistant Rowe the GM. Rowe proceeded to tear the team down, starting with the defense, as Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov were sent away and Yandle, Dylan McIlrath, and Mark Pysyk were acquired.

It'll likely take Tallon a couple of years to rid his roster of Rowe's acquisitions and insert some talent and grit around or instead of guys who can barely "move the puck forward". Case in point: the Vrbata acquisition seems like simple "hole-plugging" to me, as almost everyone in the hockey world knows he is unable to produce outside of the Arizona Coyotes organization. But you need players to fill jerseys and reach the cap floor, and trade deadline bait to stock up on draft picks, right?

It pains me to say this, but they're wasting prime years from the Huberdeau, Barkov, Ekblad, Trocheck, and Bujgstad core, years during which future Hall of Fame goalie Luongo will only get older.

Heck, now that I think of it, perhaps this team should be down in the basement with the Detroit Red Wings. Oh well, I'll maintain my initial gut feeling:

Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division.

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