Latest posts by Mike Gallagher (see all)

After a disappointing season, multiple personnel changes and injuries, the Florida Panthers are hoping for better in 2018.

Last season was not kind to the Florida Panthers, after getting off to a slow start, Panthers’ managament decided to axe Gerard Gallant, allegedly making him take a taxi after a game in Carolina, and General Manager Tom Rowe took over himself as the head coach of the team. In his time as head coach, Rowe compiled a 24-26-10 record with Florida finishing sixth in the Atlantic Division and ultimately missing the playoffs. Panthers’ owner Vinnie Viola has thus attempted to correct his mistake by bringing Dale Tallon back as the General Manager and letting Tom Rowe go. Now Florida was back to looking for a new head coach. Again. However, this problem was quickly fixed by the Panthers bringing in Bob Boughner. Boughner had previously spent the last two seasons serving as an assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks. Tallon only had great things to say when speaking of the Panthers’ new bench boss.

“He sees the game in a modern way and is eager to work with our young players,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. “During the interview process, Bob blew us away with his preparation, his passion, knowledge and dedication to the game. We believe that he is the right leader to get our team back to competing towards our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.”

The Panthers offense will need to be better should the team aspire to make the playoffs this season. Not only did they lose Jaromir Jagr, yes I know he’s 45, but they also lost Jonathan Marchessault to the Vegas Golden Knights during the Expansion Draft. Regardless of the fact the fact he’s only scored 30 goals once in his career and it may be a fluke, you shouldn’t lose the player with the most goals on your team for nothing. However, the team must move on and make up ground seeing as the Panthers finished 2017 with the seventh least amount of goals scored (205).

For starters, Florida has decided to bring back an old face in Evgeny Dadonov. Dadonov, 28, was originally drafted by the Panthers seventy first overall in the 2007 Entry Draft and spent three years with the club before bolting to the KHL due to being stuck in the AHL. While not as successful in the NHL, Dadonov played exceptionally well in his five years in Russia recording career highs last year where he collected 30 goals and 66 points in 53 games. En route to winning the Gargarin Cup, the KHL’s version of the Stanley Cup, Dadonov also tallied 9 goals and 19 playoff points in 18 games. If he can translate his recent success back to the Panthers, than that could make up for some solid offense.

Florida should also benefit from having a full season of both Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Both of these players had missed time last season, Huberdeau only appearing in 31 games, and when healthy are the catalyst for much of the Panthers offense. Barkov, 22, was drafted second overall by the Panthers in 2013 and has been getting better each year. Last season, Barkov was limited to 61 games due to injury, but was able second on the team in scoring tallying 21 goals and 52 points. In his four NHL seasons Barkov has yet to play a full 82 and I believe that if he does next season, he could eclipse the 30 goal mark for the first time in his career. Huberdeau, 24, has had an injury riddled career as well since being drafted third overall in the 2011. To date Huberdeau’s only full season was in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season where he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s best rookie. Since then Huberdeau has been able to produce consistently for Florida, but never remain healthy enough to play a full 82 games. Last season Huberdeau was limited to just 31 games where he collected 10 goals and 26 points. If both of these players can remain healthy for a full season, there’s no stopping what the Panthers’ offense can do.

Like Florida’s offense, the Panthers’ defense will need to improve should the team hope to make the playoffs in 2018. Leading the charge is Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad, 21, was drafted first overall by Florida in 2014 and has been steadily developing into the franchise defenseman they hoped he would be. Last season was a down year for Ekblad, missing time from a concussion and dropping his point totals to 10 goals and 21 points in 68 games. However, now that Ekblad is fully recovered and ready to go I expect big things out of him. As a player who not only is a regular leader on the ice, but could very well be the next captain of the Panthers, Ekblad is one of the better young defenders in the game today.

Supporting Ekblad is a solid group of players including Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, Mark Psysk, Alex Petrovic and Michael Matheson. Yandle, 30, has been one of the more offensive minded defensemen on the Panthers’ backend and will continue producing well into the years of his contract. After having being traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the New York Rangers, Yandle produced excellent numbers including 52 points in 2015 and 47 points in 2016. After signing a seven year deal with the Panthers Yandle has continued to produce at a high level. Last season Yandle led the Panthers in defensive scoring totaling 5 goals and 41 points in 82 games. Although a dip in his numbers are evident, it may be related to the coach shuffling and up and down that Florida had last season. Hopefully under a full season of Boughner and the Panthers clicking as a whole, Yandle can get back to the 50 point range.

Goaltending is my biggest concern for Florida heading into next season. The Panthers currently have a goalie tandem of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer. Both of these players are locked up for at least the next four years and I am slightly concerned about Luongo’s age moving forward. Despite Luongo compiling a decent record of 17-15-1 last season, he is 38 going on 39 and not many goalies can play exceptionally well into their late 30s and 40s. Although, we aren’t talking about any goalie. Luongo is currently fifth all time in wins by a goalie and fourth in games played, but the real question is will he be able to play 50-60 games? James Reimer is a good option should Luongo fall to injury or begin losing his grip, but if the team in front of them plays good enough I think Luongo should have at least one or two years of being a starting netminder in him.

PREDICTION: The Panthers have made some additions and subtractions this offseason, but I don’t think it’s necessarily improved or hurt the team dramatically. Should Dadonov continue his success in the NHL he’ll make up for much of the production lost by Marchessault. The real “X” factor in the Panthers making the playoffs is health. If their stars can stay healthy then they have a solid chance of making the playoffs. I don’t think they’ll finish at the top of the Atlantic Division, but will be a bubble team fighting for a spot as the season comes to a close.