Our Florida Panthers 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
The Florida Panthers have had a tumultuous last few years. Just when things are going well, they get knocked back a few pegs. Let’s recap.
In 2015-2016 the team set a franchise record with 103 points. They were first in the Atlantic after missing the playoffs for three straight seasons. They lost to the New York Islanders in the first round, and Gallant was a runner up to the Jack Adams coach of the year award. The subsequent season, head coach Gerard Gallant was fired early in the season when the club started the season 11-10-1. Obviously not a great start to the season, but seriously? To fire the head coach, beloved by his players, who coached the team to the best season ever and fire him with an essentially .500 record just a quarter of the way into the season? General manager Tom Rowe himself stepped in and took over as bench boss and the team finished sixth in the Atlantic and missed the playoffs.Gallant on the other hand, was named the first head coach of the brand new Vegas Golden Knights. In Vegas, Gallant turned a team of misfits into Stanley Cup contenders and led the team to the best ever debut seasons of an expansion team in North American pro sports, which was good enough to earn him another nomination for the Jack Adams. This time he won the award.
The Vegas and Florida connection hurts even more for Florida fans because two of the Golden Knights top line forwards came from the Panthers roster. Vegas general manager George Mcphee selected Johnathan Marchessault from the team in the expansion draft, and also flipped a fourth round pick for Reilly Smith. Marchessault and Smith went on to have career years in Vegas, while Florida struggled with secondary scoring and missed the playoffs again.
Unfortunately this year the Panthers missed playoffs for the third straight season, which earned head coach Bob Boughner the boot out of town. It’s a shame for Boughner, as the team was competitive, and finished the season quite strong, but a sub par goaltending tandem could not get them over the hurdle of making playoffs. It’s tough to evaluate how much better of a job he could do. The goaltending duo of 39 year old Roberto Luongo, and James Reimer did not perform adequately this season. Luongo played had 40 starts, 18 wins, a goals against average of 3.12 and a save percentage of 0.899. These were Luongo’s worst stats since his rookie season in 1999. The backup, Reimer, was equally as bad with 29 starts, 13 wins, a goals against average of 3.09 and a save percentage of 0.900.It’s not like the team was not giving them any help either. Florida had the 9th best goals in the league, and had the 28th worst goals against. It’s hard to win hockey games with goaltending that poor, and its surprising that the Panthers still finished 5th in the Atlantic and had 86 points. It must be mentally tough on the skaters to have no confidence in the goaltending to stop anything. You cannot justify taking a risk out there if you know your goalie can’t and won’t bail you out most of the time. Boughner, like most coaches, are the first to blame for poor results, even if the problem lies elsewhere.
Thankfully this time the front office team did not elect to fill in as head coach. Instead, they brought in an absolute legend…Joel Quenneville. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon spent some time in the Blackhawks organization and actually hired Coach Q head coach job back in 2008. It’s neat to see the two return to the same circumstance of general manager and head coach in a different organization more than a decade later. Quenneville is the second winningest NHL coach of all time with 890 wins. He also has three Stanley Cups from his time in Chicago. Coach Q is so good that when he was fired by the Blackhawks, there was massive speculation as to where he would end up. There was no debate about whether he would get another shot, it was simply a matter of where and when. Quenneville will surely bring back the winning mentality that was lost when Gallant was fired. He’s a no-nonsense, energetic coach on the bench, who will get the best out of everyone on the roster. By joining the club, Quenneville will inject some energy into the organization as a whole. He’s got a reputation for favouring veteran players somewhat over younger, faster players, but Florida does not seem to have many veterans for him to favour.
The Panthers were very active this off-season and will be looking to make a deep playoff push in order to call this season a success.
James Reimer (CAR)
Roberto Luongo (retired)
Huberdeau, Barkov, Dadanov. What an absolutely disgusting top line. Aleksander “if you’re underrated for years and everyone agrees are you even underrated?” Barkov had 96 points last year, which was an 18 point jump from the year prior. Jonathan Huberdeau had 92 points, a 23 point increase. Yevgenii Dadanov had a career high of 70 points. All three of them produced, all three of them led by example, and all three of them played all 82 games. If they can replicate their performances, this team will be on pace to be in the top 10 again for goals scored.
The top line will need support still though. The second line is pegged so far to be Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trochek. Hoffman had a career year last year with 36 goals and 70 points. Trochek was injured for about half the season and will be looking to bounce back with a vengeance this season. He played in 55 games and earned himself 34 points. Slotting in on the right wing will most likely be Brett Connolly, who as the pattern is going, had a career year last year with 22 goals and 46 points. Connolly was great in Washington, he has a Stanley Cup pedigree and knows how to contribute up and down the roster for the team. He outplayed the cap space available in Washington at the end of the season, and took the opportunity in Florida for more money and more ice time. He played on all four lines at some point last year in Washington and showed that his shot is deadly. He could very easily play on the second line and increase his point total with better linemates and more powerplay 2 ice time. A wing pairing of Hoffman and Connolly would have lots of options for shooting the puck. Combining those wingers with Vincent Trocheck’s stick handling ability and puck control could prove very effective for the Panthers.
Owen Tippett will be looking to make his NHL debut this year. The big winger was a 10th overall pick of the Panthers in 2017. If he’s ready to play, he could bump Connolly down to the third line. Either way the Panthers are set to have a pretty great top six forward lineup.
Outside of the top six, the forwards will be looking to shut down and create energy. This off season the Panthers added unrestricted free agent Noel Acciari who spent the last four years with the Boston Bruins. Accari looked great in Boston’s cup run last year, and will bring some grit and hard working talent to Florida’s bottom six. The bottom two lines are rounded out by Henrik Borgstrom, Frank Vatrano, Colton Sceviour and Denis Malgin.
Additional Panthers prospects could be injected into the lineup, due to their performance at camp, or if injuries happen down the road. Aleksi Heponiemi has looked impressive in the Finnish Liiga and international play. He could make the jump this season to play on North American ice. Jayce Hawryluk played over half the season last year at the NHL level, and could be looking to crack the roster for good. Same goes for Dryden Hunt who played 31 games for the Panthers and looked impressive in the AHL.
Troy Brouwer, who was with Quenneville in Chicago, did get a professional tryout with the team, and if he makes it, he could get a few more minutes than he’s worth by being a familiar dependable guy to the head coach.
Lots of forwards had career years, so if regression strikes, it could be particularly nasty. However, the Panthers depth at forward is one of the real strengths of this team, and scoring goals will not be a problem.
With a new goalie, the defense will look to have a bounce back year. With some average to above average goaltending, I would predict that the defensmen on the team have a resurgence and play with more confidence.
The top pairing is set to be Keith Yandle on the left and Aaron Ekblad on the right. These guys will be making some great breakout passes and are sure to jump into the play, especially Yandle, who had 62 points last year.
The second pairing of Mike Matheson and Anton Stralman has a definite shutdown capability. Matheson is best known for ragdolling Elias Pettersson to the ice last season, but can actually play some solid defense. Newly acquired Anton Stralman will provide some great defensive play too, and is no stranger to jumping into the play offensively. Last season in Tampa Bay he was a healthy scratch as Tampa rotated some defenseman in the press box. He was injured for a large chunk of last season, and injured again in playoffs so it’ll be interesting to see how he comes back and if he will be capable of playing a full season once again. Stralman and Yandle are the only two defensemen over 30 on the squad.
The bottom pairing will be held down by Mark Pysyk and Mackenzie Weegar, but we could see some young players like Riley Stillman, Brady Keeper, Thomas Schemitsch or Ian McCoshen in the lineup at times.
As I mentioned above, Luongo and Reimer were bad last year, real bad. It was no surprise that Sergei Bobrovsky ended up in Florida, as rumours were coming out all season that he was considering Florida and there was almost no chance he was staying in Columbus.
Bobrovsky cashed in after coming off his most successful season, which happened to come in a unrestricted free agent year. He finally won his first playoff series and cast off the playoff choker label. He’s always had amazing regular season numbers, but getting that monkey off his back was huge to increase his value this off season.
All Bobrovsky needs to be in Florida is good, but it’s likely he’ll be great. He’ll have better run support than he had in Ohio, and Florida won’t be tied to the concept of winning low scoring games like Tortorella defensive trap hockey.
The real concern for Florida this season is the backup job. When Bob does have an off night, or need a break, who will step in? Sam Montembeau is a 22 year old goalie who played 11 games last season for the Panthers. It didn’t go particularly well and his AHL numbers are still rough. This off season the Panthers signed Philippe Desrochiers who served in the Dallas Stars system. His numbers are better but he’s still unproven, even at the AHL level. If either of these guys can fill in and do an okay job, the Panthers will be fine.
Alarmingly though, a potential issue could arise if the Panthers do not have a viable backup and are forced to play Bobrovsky too much. We as fans see it almost every postseason where a goalie plays too much in the regular season and gets tired in playoffs. Florida would do well to avoid that situation entirely.
Florida Panthers 2019-20 Prediction
3rd-5th Atlantic Division
The Panthers were seemingly just good goaltending away from playoffs last season. Now that they have a legitimate starter in Bobrovsky, they will be aiming for playoffs this year. The team bolstered its offensive firepower and will give the defense and goaltending enough support to win hockey games. Joel Quenneville will provide a welcomed breath of fresh air into the team and will provide some structured hockey strategy to win hockey games. Despite the Atlantic still being a tough division, the Panthers should be playoff bound this year.