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Which Veterans Will Be Left To Aid Tallon’s Young Guns?

April 14th, 2014 Comments off

In General Manager Dale Tallon‘s end of year press conference he concluded that the veterans on the team did not live up to expectations. Some veterans where traded at the deadline (Goc, Weaver), some demoted to the AHL (Whitney, Gilroy) and a couple remain on the active roster. At the same time Tallon was positively surprised by the contributions by some of the up-and-coming young stars on the team (Bjugstad, Barkov).

As the Panthers continue to expect growing pains, as youth is seasoned in to the sharp learning curve that is the NHL, the role of mentor of the veterans of the team becomes crucial. They need to set the example of hard work and professionalism, a mentality of “never say die” and “only winning is good enough” as well as little tidbits of wisdom and tricks of the trade that can be invaluable to a budding career.  The question then lends itself to be posed: “Who are these veterans that will bring all this to the table?”

Tallon did mention in his presser that he wants the addition of up to five veterans to next years line-up. If chosen carefully they could have a crucial role in Florida’s revival. However, it his hard speculating as to who these five players might be. More useful might be to look what we have and which we’d like to retain.

Starting with the Captain of the team Ed Jovanovski. Who better to personify perseverance, hockey wisdom and love of the game? To anchor the team and help in the development of youth, Jovocop must surely be essential – especially if you consider he still has a year left on his contract. However, Tallon did not seem convinced Jovanovski had overcome his injury woes and would be ready for another grueling season, stating: “There’s a lot to discuss there as far as his conditioning, his fitness and his health.” It could be that Ed is bought-out of his remaining year on the contract to make way for youth and the veteran signing Tallon wants to bring in on defense. Personally I think it would be a huge mistake. Better to keep Jovocop around for his last year as a 7th defenseman. He might get limited games but would still be useful in his role of guiding the young defensemen.

Another key defenseman and veteran head on the back-end is of course Brian Campbell, who had a good season – playing top-minutes with a solid production and good plus/minus to boot. Maybe not the most vocal leader, but he will continue to be a key performer and someone who can lead by example while his huge contract winds down. 

On the forward side Scott Gomes seems to fill a similar role as Jovanovski on the back end. The difference in my mind is Gomes’ lackluster point production and the fact that the Panthers are brimming with talented centermen that have proved to be better than the wily former Devil. Other veterans on the forward side have shown greater ability and could help fill the void with the possible aid from off-season acquisitions. Players such as Brad Boyes and Scottie Upshall have the potential to be key veterans on the team. I do see a need to add someone here that can perhaps bring the intangibles of a Scott Gomes to the locker-room but with greater production. Hopefully there is such a player available this summer that wouldn’t mind coming to Florida.

In goal, the return of Roberto Luongo gives some credibility to the franchise as well as much needed consistency between the pipes. Tallon hopes Luongo’s name and profile can help attract other big names to South Florida which will be key if the rebuild is yield any success in the near future. He will also be a good voice to have in the dressing room, even if there is no heir-apparent to groom in the system (with Jakob Markström having gone in the opposite direction to Vancouver).

While this low-down shows that there are veterans that can be instrumental in helping the promising youngsters of the Panthers to find their way into the big time. It also highlights the need to add a couple, especially if Ed Jovanovski and Scott Gomes head for the exits this summer. If so, we need veterans equal or better to aid the young guns at this critical time of transition. Tallon as much said so in the press conference when stating that the talented kids are the bright future of this franchise but “we also have to have people around them that are going to help them find their way”.

Without these savvy veterans there is a risk that the right mentality will not spread through the system and no matter of raw talent can trump experience and mental approach in the cutthroat competitive environment that is the NHL.

In Tallon We Trust

August 9th, 2012 Comments off

When Dale Tallon took over the General Manager role with the Panthers we all knew our luck was changing. After all that he had accomplished with the Chicago Blackhawks—taking them from the bottom and molding them into a Stanley Cup contenders (eventual winners)—Tallon seemed like a perfect fit with the floundering Floridians.

It seemed at the time of Tallon’s appointment that he would try and utilize the core of promising youngsters that the Panthers had collected over the years of high draft picks and busted expectations. As time would tell however, Tallon wanted to put his own stamp on the franchise and its playing staff. The change of direction began in earnest with the addition of his own draftees; starting with the 2010 entry draft.

While the 2010 draft was widely seen as a success by the Panthers, it would still take time to translate in to on-ice success. In fact, apart from 3rd overall pick, Erik Gudbranson, the true effects of this draft have yet to be felt on the NHL-level.

The subsequent 2010-2011 season also saw the all-too-familiar failures as the team again finished as the third worst team in the league. However, the following summer and up-coming season of 2011-2012 would change all of this…

 

Dale Tallon must have realized during his first season with the team that it simply was not good enough and needed to be blown up. This he did, gathered picks and prospects, and then went all-out in an overhaul that shook the league in its sheer audacity and scope.

To begin with Head Coach Peter Deboer was let go and replaced with AHL coach Kevin Dineen. While Deboer, it could be claimed, was not alone to be blamed for the results of the lackluster Panthers during his reign; after all he had very little in the way of top-end talent to work with (and he’s done pretty well with the Devils after landing there). It could, however, perhaps be claimed that his voice was becoming stale in the dressing room and was possibly also on the verge of losing the respect of players; most notably goalie Tomas Vokoun (who was later let go to free agency after snubbing the best contract offer he was to get that summer) and forward Shawn Matthias. Who knows how many other, less vocal, players he had rubbed the wrong way?

Either way, a new voice was needed, and Kevin Dineen was Tallon’s choice for the role. Somehow the league managed to overlook Dineen’s fantastic season with the Panthers this summer, but his inexplicable Jack Adams snub does in no way detract from what he achieved here last season. It was nothing but a miracle he accomplished in taking Florida to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years!

Next Tallon added his number two Mike Santos and let him take over the responsibility for the Panthers new/old/ AHL affiliate—the San Antonio Rampage. Again this turned out to be a masterstroke as Santos was able to retool the affiliates and make them competitive. The Rampage made it to the second round in the playoffs for the first time last season and gave its budding Panthers prospects some much needed playoff experience.

The most notable, and bold, move was however to go out on a free agency shopping spree that echoed around the league. Few believed that such a drastic retool of the Panthers could give immediate effect, but under the inspired guidance of Dineen they managed the impossible in not only making the playoffs with a virtually new team, but also pressuring the eventual Eastern Conference winners New Jersey all the way to the buzzer—losing only in a heartbreaking game 7.

Tallon always claimed he had a blueprint he was following all along. At first he was doubted, perhaps even scorned by cynical fans and critics around the league, but he has proved them all wrong.

Whatever happens this coming season, just in taking the Panthers to the playoffs—he has done what everyone else failed in doing during the previous decade, and has thus earned our trust.

New Beginnings

August 9th, 2012 Comments off

Having been away from this blog-project for quite some time, I now think it’s time to begin again. Having had a job that consumed most of my time and energy, I now feel that I have more of the both to pour in to this blog. Hopefully you will find it of interest and keep reading!

Categories: Panthers Hockey Tags:

Digesting Florida’s Titanic Season; How the Panthers Sunk without a Trace

April 15th, 2010 Comments off

”It’s like turning around the Titanic and not a rowboat.” – Panthers GM Randy Sexton.

When your General Manager uses Titanic references to describe the team that he is responsible for putting together; then you know something is horribly wrong.

Once again in 2009/10 the Florida Panthers has been at the wrong end of the table and the butt of many hockey fans’ jokes. This latest setback makes it ten years now since the team last had a taste of the playoffs.

Randy Sexton, since the conclusion of the season, has been busy deflecting culpability from his own actions—preferring to highlight the injuries suffered to David Booth and Nathan Horton instead.

Truth however, is that it is not that simple.

There is no one single reason to blame this unmitigated disaster upon. There is, rather, a whole clutch of explanations. Injuries to key players, is only the tip of the iceberg.

So, let us now do what the new owners are claiming to do; sit back and “digest the season”.

• Blue-line Reshuffle, Lack of Defensive Solidity

When the Florida Panthers in 2008/09 made a credible playoff push and was foiled only by less W’s in the win column by the Habs, the Cats had a strong roster with seasoned players that we’re willing to play their hearts out for the club. Many of those disappeared in the offseason to pastures new.

On the blue-line the Panthers lost their franchise defenseman Jay Bouwmeester at the draft to Calgary. Two other top defensemen in Karlis Skrastins and Nick Boynton also left for the Western Conference.

In came Jordan Leopold, Dennis Seidenberg and Ville Koistinen.

While Leopold and Seidenberg played big minutes they were still not able to fill the void from previous campaign—without rendering the D in a weakened state. At the deadline they were both moved. Koistinen meanwhile, lost his place to rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, was played out of position at forward and then finally waived and sent to the minors.

Apart from late acquisition Seidenberg, the only defensive defenseman in the line-up was Bryan Allen—who was just coming off a year of season-ending knee surgery.

Considering this it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the Cats were utterly unable to keep a lead when entering the final period of games. They simply lacked that defensive solidity to see games out.

Had it not been for the stellar performances of goalie Tomas Vokoun behind this haphazard looking defense, the Cats would surely have been steamrollered and left for dead much sooner than the Olympic break.

• Offensive Ineptitude, Injury Crisis, and Lack of Depth

“On the assumption we’re healthy, I’m pretty happy with our top five forwards” said Randy Sexton when analyzing the poor offensive output by the forwards this past campaign.

Most likely, Sexton is the only one happy with any player—let alone five—on the inept forward compartment that comprises the Florida Panthers.

Losing David Booth to that sickening hit from Mike Richard’s of the Philadelphia Flyers was undoubtedly devastating to the season and significantly impacted this team’s chances of being competitive.

The unfortunate puck that Seidenberg tried to dump into the offensive zone which hit and sidelined Nathan Horton for eight weeks with a broken leg—added misery to an otherwise already dangerously anemic Florida offense.

Other niggling injuries to the forward compartment forced the Panthers to call up half a dozen players from its Rochester affiliate of the AHL.

While those American Hockey League players certainly did their best to help the cause and did in fact inject much needed energy and enthusiasm to the team, they couldn’t contribute consistently toward the scoreboard.

Rather than trying to use these injuries, in thinly veiled attempts by Randy Sexton and coach Peter DeBoer to make excuses for this poor offensive Panthers showing, one must see the results for what they were; a clear indication that the Florida Panthers are not offensively strong enough to compete at this level.

Compelling evidence to that statement was how many times the Panthers managed to miss the empty net. Not even with virtually the whole goal unguarded to take aim at, did the Cats manage to find themselves that elusive goal to further their cause.

In addition to not having enough talent and skill on the offensive part of the team, they also clearly lacked depth within the organization to deal with the injuries to the first team.

Whose fault, at the end of the day, is that Mr. Head Coach and General Manager?

• Specialty Teams Trailing the Yellow Bus

A poor offense and leaky defense can sometimes be overcome by great specialty teams and a gritty determination to be successful no matter what.

The Panthers had none of that.

Again this year the Panthers specialty teams found themselves lodged among the worst respective power-play and penalty killing teams of the NHL (29th on the PP and 23rd on the PK).

And for the second year in a row assistant coach Jim Hulton was in charge of the specialty teams.

Does anyone else see a pattern emerging here?

Hulton has had two seasons to try and rectify the embarrassing play of the specialty teams, especially the poor power-play. But, rather than getting better they just seem to be getting progressively worse.

Most embarrassing of all, is all the wasted 5-on-3 opportunities that the Cats have had. I cannot for the life of me remember us scoring even once on such a glorious opportunity.

Something else I can’t remember us doing is scoring in the dying minutes when playing 6-on-5 or 6-on-4. I do however; vividly remember plenty of empty netters being scored by the opposing teams.

Do you think this might have anything to do with Coach Pete DeBoer’s propensity to pull the goaltender with several minutes left to play?

No, surely not…

Jim Hulton’s contract meanwhile is up for renewal after this season. Knowing the Panthers management—they’ll do just that.

• Missing: Grit, determination, toughness, and heart

Hockey is not just a sport comprised of speed, skill, and big hits. To be successful any team will need a lot of other intangibles as well. The mental aspect of the game cannot be underestimated.

The Florida Panthers have been missing these intangibles on the team for a long time. At the same time they have missed the playoffs for a record nine seasons.

Is there a connection, perchance?

Apparently not, if you are to believe Panthers management over the years, or why else would they not attempt to rectify this glaring deficiency?

In the 2008/09 season the team actually had some spunk about it, for the first time in many years, some willingness to get dirty and fight for success. Rather than lethargically sitting back and hoping a puck will bounce their way—which seemed to be the attitude on display this season.

So what happened?

Well, the Panthers in all their wisdom decided not to renew the contracts of players such as Karlis Skrastins, Ville Peltonen, Nick Boynton, and Richard Zednik. These were players that oozed professionalism and infected everyone in the dressing room with the same desire to accomplish something.

No one has since stepped up to firmly take the mantel and show the way.

Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton—to their credit—did try, but their efforts on the ice did not inspire other players to do the same. If indeed, those other players were ever able to do so in the first place.

Especially sorry to see was that none had the guts to stick up for David Booth when he got injured or help rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov when he was being targeted by opposing teams.

General Manager Randy Sexton has himself publicly noted and criticized the players for what is evidently a missing element of mental fortitude.

A lack of team chemistry he has called it.

Sexton is of course right. But just who does he think is responsible for puzzling this team together in the first place?

That—to me—is what remains the most puzzling mental exercise in this whole sorry situation.

• Ownership Flux and Mismanagement

The season started with rumors of the franchise being sold. And to add to the unfortunate situation the organization took their sweet time in trying to find a new General Manager after Jacques Martin’s early summer exit to Montreal.

In the end management did nothing. Instead they simply removed the inter-rim tag from former assistant GM Randy Sexton’s title.

It would seem Randy became the new GM by default.

One can only assume this management paralysis and ownership uncertainty handcuffed what Sexton was able to accomplish in the summer of 2009.

In the free agency he signed players mainly to one-year deals: Jordan Leopold, Dominic Moore, and Dennis Seidenberg. All three were eventually offloaded at the trade deadline.

The only exception to this shortsighted strategy was the signing of Ville Koistinen, to a two-year $2.4 million deal. Undoubtedly this was the worst signing of the bunch as coach Pete Deboer clearly didn’t want to have anything to do with Koistinen—who was soon waived and sent down to the minors.

So much for communication between management. You know; everyone being on the same page and all that, which we hear Randy Sexton frequently talking about.

There was also a glaring lack of any real action from coach and GM when it soon became clear that this team was not going to live up to expectations.

There were no trades or other affirmative moves from management to try and jump-start the team—until it was already too late.

When the franchise finally got a new majority ownership there were yet more pretty words of “accountability”—but yet again—no action.

In an effort to be open with the fan-base the new owners instead made the naïve move of lambasting the players in an open letter. Little wonder then that the team folded in and hastily gave up any preemptions of going out fighting.

The season rather whimpered out with an embarrassing double-defeat to cross-state rivals Tampa Bay instead.

The management now had the poor taste and sheer lack of class, which it has become notorious for, to shower the players and fans with confetti after the final blow of the horn (which we’ll have to scratch down as another striking resemblance to the sinking Titanic).

Apparently to the Panthers management, with COO Michael Yormark at the helm, this season is to be considered a successful one and should thus be celebrated as if we just won the Stanley Cup.

There is, at this moment, no word if they are also planning a parade. But, when the Panthers caravan rolls around your way, be sure to renew your season tickets. The money will go to giving the management a healthy bonus—which no doubt they worked very hard for.

OK, the latter paragraph was sarcasm, but the all the previous is regrettably true.

• Separating Cause from Effect

When looking at the Panthers’ poor season record, you might be inclined to blame it on the team’s glaring inconsistency all season long (which naturally presents us with a fine paradox in itself).

Well played games and surprising victories against teams such as San Jose, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, was never followed up by a consistent run of good form. In fact the Panthers never won more than four games on the trot at any point in the season—if my memory serves me right.

In addition, the Panthers failed to give fans anything to cheer about. The Panthers were the worst team in the NHL on home ice, only managing to win a paltry 14 times at the B.A.C.

However, when sorting through all these stats and opinions about why the Panthers were so poor, one must separate cause from effect.

The meager numbers are an effect of the Panthers being such a poor team. So is the number of shots on goal and blocked shots. The inconsistency of the team and inability to win games on the trot should be seen in the same light as well.

If you are not a very good team, you won’t win many games and are unlikely to win consistently.

What I have outlined in previous points, however, is what I believe are the main causes behind this rollercoaster of a season. A campaign which conspicuously ended with a nosedive down the standings—not finding firm ground under their paws until the third worst record of the league had been secured.

Now, the solution to these consistent problems that keep thwarting any Panthers progress is a completely different matter, and I’ll save that specific can of worms for another day.

I will, however, say this: If the club is ever to get better, it must first be run and maintained in a professional and dignified manner. When the foundation is rotten, you can’t expect any growth.

And it is here that change must come.

The underpinnings of the entire franchise must be rebuilt. Patching the worst holes is not going to secure its long-term survival.

The Florida Panthers need a new core to its structure.

A President of the franchise that knows and understands hockey is a good and necessary start.

From there and on, it can surely only get better.

Panthers Move to Disneyland; Celebrate Mediocrity with Confetti

April 13th, 2010 1 comment

First off: I don’t mean to insult Disney or their first rate entertainment business by comparing them to possibly the worst run sports franchise in North America; the Florida Panthers.

But, quite frankly, it’s hard not to make the link—if only on a tongue-in-cheek derisive level.

Whilst there might be a couple of other strong contenders for the dubious honor of being the worst sports franchise in North America, hidden among the other continental underachievers in pro sports, there really is no competition within the National Hockey League itself.

Ten years without a playoff in South Florida is twice as much as the also long-suffering Toronto Maple Leaf fans have had to wait. Not even perennial deadweights such as NY Islanders or Atlanta Thrashers come close to being as dreadful as our beloved Cats.

Thus, it is no wonder that a certain popular rodent comes to mind when trying to find words for how poor and dysfunctional this “Mickey Mouse organization” of a hockey franchise really is.

Putting the team logo in the urinals for everyone to take a piss on was the low point for sure. But the theatrics of showering the home sides’ players with confetti, as if they had just won the Stanley Cup, after in fact just having lost the final game of the season—to cross-state rivals Tampa Bay Lightning no less—really isn’t that far behind in sheer and utter lack of class and respect toward the players and fans alike.

Sometimes one wonders why one even bothers at all?

Why do Panthers fans still come out regularly to watch the increasingly sorry spectacle that is Panthers hockey?

I honestly don’t know anymore. All I can come up with is that just as when you are in love you can’t quite explain why either and no matter how hard things get—you still can’t stop caring about the one you adore. And to keep on cheering for the Florida Panthers sure does take a lot of love; because the rewards simply are nonexistent otherwise.

Ending the season with the league’s third worst record is, or at least shouldn’t be, a surprise to anyone. Except, apparently, the CEO (Michael Yormark), General Manager (Randy Sexton), and Head Coach (Peter DeBoer), who all prior to the season commenced sounded very optimistic about our chances of being a “competitive team” in the NHL.

One can only hope this was simply more hogwash of the empty brand of PR talk that the Panthers fans have had to get used to over the years, and that they really didn’t believe that drivel themselves. If they really did, that should—in itself—be a valid ground for them being axed from their respective positions.

To quote the big headed queen of Alice in Wonderland: “Off with their heads!”

And the really sad thing is, instead of realizing the mess the club was in, prior to the commencement of the season, and thus blooding the clubs burgeoning youth movement in the big league—like the Islanders and Avalanche have done with some measure of success—the organization instead went with the strategy of signing a few low-end veteran free agents to cheap one-year deals.

This wasn’t a complete waste of space, however, as these players fetched a couple of second round picks at the trade deadline.

A complete waste of space on the roster though was the team’s entire third and fourth lines. Players like Rostislav Olesz, Gregory Campbell, Kamil Kreps, Nick Tarnasky and Radek Dvorak were utterly unable to either check the top lines of opposing teams or generate any consistent secondary scoring for the Panthers.

Subsequently their combined role on the team was reduced to blocking shots of opponents that gleefully took the opportunity to park their bus in the Panthers’ zone meanwhile. Their only other usefulness was to give the top two lines, eh, who am I kidding—the top line, some time to rest between extended shifts.

What is mind-boggling here is that neither the General Manager (Sexton), nor Head Coach (DeBoer), did anything to try and jumpstart these under-performing and well paid players.

No one was held accountable and made a healthy scratch for a period of time. No one was traded. And only poor Ville Koistinen (defenseman playing out of position as a forward) was waived and sent down to the minors.

All the while these so called character guy’s of the Cats were eating up valuable icetime that could—and should—have been given to some up and coming young talents instead.

These promising rookies, stuck for the most part in Rochester of the AHL, could have been cultured and formed from the know-how of playing a year at the NHL level. This experience probably would have speeded up their learning curve drastically as well.

At the end of the day these young players would almost certainly have found it hard to do any worse than the current load of dead weights and freeloaders that embarrassingly whimpered out with the season and finished third from the bottom of the standings.

So, yet again, the story at the end of the day is that the fans are left scratching their collective heads at confounding and confusing—if not downright shoddy and cheap—promotional, managerial, and coaching decisions.

And what could possibly be worse than to cheer for a perennial loser?

Well, believe it or not, but it just got worse for many Panthers fans.

In recent years we have been able to draw some sadistic solace from the fact that there actually was a worse run organization—just across state—in form of the shambolic Bolts.

Sadly for us that is no longer the case. After all, it’s sad to be alone—whilst all the merrier of course for the people on the West Coast of Florida.

Tampa Bay has had the good fortune of getting a real businessman at the helm of the franchise in Jeff Vinik. He knew, probably with a quick glance, that the organization—in order to be successful—needed to be torn down and rebuilt from its shaky foundations and up.

Thus, the Head Coach and General Manager were fired the day after the conclusion of their season. He will now appoint a new CEO who’ll appoint his preferred General Manager; who in turn will appoint a new Head Coach.

Meanwhile, the new majority owners of the Florida Panthers, Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner, are literally paralyzed and have done nothing of importance to change the losing culture at the club so far. Rather, they seem to be sitting back and are currently “digesting the season”.

If anything, their damning letter about the players’ performance prior to the transfer deadline only helped to heap more misery on the club and create an atmosphere where the players no longer seemed to play for the pride of the jersey that they wore.

While probably well-intentioned, attempting to be open and honest with the fanbase, the move was at best naïve and counterproductive.

Hence, we now find ourselves in the sickening position of being the laughing stock of the entire NHL—for the ninth consecutive season—and the only remaining Mickey Mouse organization, not only of the state, but of the entire National Hockey League.

Until a string of hapless owners face up to this situation; get their combined thumbs out of their respective rear ends, and get to work on reshaping this franchise from the foundations and up—just like Tampa Bay is currently doing—there is no light at the end of this Florida tunnel of hockey gloom.

What is truly amazing, and often overlooked in this whole muddled situation, is that the franchise actually has a very loyal following of fans. Not even storied franchises like Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Washington, or Chicago, when they were respectively lodged bottom of the league year in and year out—had the attendance figures that the Florida Panthers can boast.

And maybe that is at the heart of the problem.

As long as fans keep going through the turnstiles and as long as concerts and other events bring home plenty of dough for this crummy organization, they lack the incentives that above mentioned franchises had—to get their act together and start putting out a decent product on the ice for the fans to watch and be proud to call their own.

Right now, you could appoint Goofy as combined CEO, GM, and Head Coach, and he’d probably do a better job than the current incumbents.

Unfortunately, this all seems to suggest that before this franchise is ever likely to get better; it’s first going to get a whole lot worse.

Back Again in a Familiar Place

April 13th, 2010 Comments off

So here we are. Out of the playoffs again and hoping to win the lottery. Classic Panthers Hockey!

It’s been a hard season to bear, let alone watch. I’m glad I took a pause from the calamity of it all. Probably saved my sanity in the end.

Can’t say the same about my sleep unfortunately. Many sleepless nights racking the brain as to why we suck so badly. Like most of you, no doubt.

Nonetheless, what I spelt out in the previous post is still true. Whilst having not posted for a long time, I’ll try to write a new one every once in a while. Kind of like the Panthers; you can’t expect too much consistency, but when things are good — a couple of pearls might fall out of an otherwise pigswill sky.

Now, let’s hope for our number coming up and that the organization doesn’t trade the first overall pick for another bag of pucks, shall we?

Categories: Misc, Rants & Raining Rats Tags:

Year of the Roblogg

December 17th, 2009 1 comment

If there was a ‘year of the rat’ that spawned hockey success in South Florida; why not a ‘year of the Roblogg’ as well?

I have come to the conclusion that I bring luck to this team.

(And bad luck too; but I try not emphasizing this part, you know, kind of like the Panthers official website—digging out anything remotely positive—and positively ignoring the rest).

Fact of the matter is that every time I bash the Panthers they then go out and prove me wrong by winning games out of the blue; usually against opposition superior to us.

Just last week I looked at the awful performances of the Cats to that point in time—the road ahead—and, in all my wisdom, decided to write this team off:

“Florida then face Atlanta on Wednesday on home ice, after having lost both previous games to the Thrashers this season, and having gone 1-6 against Southeastern rivals overall. This could very well mean that the Panthers are effectively out of the playoff race by this time next week”.

One week later and, believe it or not, the Panthers sit in eighth spot of the Conference… Like I said; I bring this team luck by bashing them… We can no longer afford to ignore the mounting evidence…

Come to think of it, last season I was optimistic of making the playoffs, and we then tripped at the last hurdle: Maybe I was being too positive?

I shall try and be more negative from now on, I promise.

But… I just can’t help it… The latest wins have me all hoping again—against all reason, and, that’s not even mentioning history—so if we lose points against the horrendous Hurricanes in the upcoming double-header; I guess I’ll have to take my share of the blame as well…

Damn Cats, why do they have to be so freakin’ moody?

 

Anyway, today it is one year since I started this blog and it’s been a busy time.

I’ve written 160+ articles, almost one every other day, received some additional 160+ comments, and had some 6500 unique visitors—combining for 27275 article reads.

Not too shabby for an independent blog about the Panthers, which—face it—doesn’t have the largest fan-base in modern sports to begin with.

But, my point here isn’t to crow on about such stats, it’s rather to reminisce a little and also to take the opportunity to say a couple of words about this blog and its future.

 

Starting with the reminiscing…

The blog started with an article named “Stepping Up” on this very day of the waning year that was 2008. Looking at it today (click here) it might as well have been written today, the similarities are not only striking, but downright uncanny.

Beguiled by the Panthers’ sudden turnaround of the 2008/9 season, I could no longer keep my opinions to myself. And like many of my generation could not resist shoving those same repellent views down the throat of poor unsuspecting surfers of the net… Yes, that’s you…

And you’re welcome, you ungrateful ****.

Just joking. Sort of.

Anyway, what was a side project at first—soon snowballed—and literally hours on end was daily spent updating the site, its widgets, and writing long articles.

Of course, behind every deranged man is a woman with a patience of gold and, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, has unwavering belief that her man actually has some sort of clue of what the h*ll he’s doing. This is for you love. Cheers!

And whilst on the soppy speech credits section, I would also like to thank the Panthers’ entire franchise for the startling instances of comedy, slapstick humor, and ever-wishful-thinking, it has provided in this season past.

Who can forget the recent events of Ballard playing baseball with Vokoun’s head, Allen’s headshot on Campbell, or, the flight of the Penguin—Jacques Martin—to Montréal, the subsequent long, long, long, hunt for a replacement GM and—of course—the signing of Ville Koistinen this past summer to a two-year $ 2.4 million deal…

If only some of it had been funny I would be crying of laughter—rather than just howling aimlessly at the dark cruel hands of fate.

Nevertheless, this is the Panthers we’re talking about and if you want to follow this team you need the patience of an angel as they rollercoaster their way through another season of faint playoff hopes—getting, most likely, squashed at the very last moment—as they were last campaign.

OK, enough reminiscing already. I’m getting increasingly depressed myself just writing this—can’t imagine how you poor fellows must be feeling reading this miserable rant.

 

So to the future instead…

Apart from the blistering Florida successes in hockey we are no doubt expecting to see around the corner (that’s your cue to scoff and go off on a rant of your own) I will be continuing this blog, but will do it more on a part-time basis.

It’s simply taking too much time and endeavor to keep up a pace of an article every other day; in addition to keeping up widgets and additional pages.

So, as some may have noticed, my homemade widgets have to a large extent been replaced by automated ones and the Southeastern Rivals Watch on Twitter has been discontinued as well.

I’ll keep writing articles when inspiration hits, or I need to vent my frustration, but it may be on a more irregular basis, perhaps one or two articles per week at most.

I was also appointed Featured Columnist on the Bleacher Report at the start of this season and shall continue to double-post my best articles there as well, till the end of the campaign anyway.

After the end of this season I’ll have to see again how much time and effort I’d like to put in to this blog, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to keep up maintenance as well as I did this previous year.

This because to some extent I’d like to add my name to the ever-growing list of failed novelists and shall try to give that particular endeavor the attention it deserves. After all, we can never have too many starry-eyed wannabe novelists, can we?

Hopefully however, you’ll still deem this site worthy of your time and the strenuous strength required to make that ‘click’ on the mouse—so you can continue to come back and visit the blog on a frequent basis and read any future articles. Perhaps even comment a bit as well—if I’m anyway wishing—as that makes the effort of continuing this site much more worthwhile.

Here’s hoping the coming year will be a successful one that brings the post-season back to South Florida. God knows we deserve it!

And here’s a ‘thank you for reading’ and hope you come back, y’all!

Don’t be a stranger. You can most likely not be stranger than me anyway, so you are in good company here…

 

/Rob

 

Road Warriors: The Florida Panthers Enjoy Out of Town Successes

December 15th, 2009 1 comment

Yesterday’s incredible Christmastime blowout of the NY lslanders—by the Florida Panthers believe it or not—was as comprehensive as it was unexpected.

Where did that one come from?

Just last Friday I, and most Panthers fans in general (come on admit it!), had this season pegged as a rebuilding season. Perhaps it would be better to just throw in the towel and admit we won’t make the playoffs this time either; for the umpteenth time?

Well, the Panthers answered us back from Newark, of all places, by beating the Devils 4-2 in what was the Cats’ best game of the season. They then went on to pry another point from the reigning champs in Pittsburgh, and subsequently finished off the Islanders with a 7-1 whipping on the Isle.

Now, any Panthers fan will tell you; the Cats spring these startling comebacks every year when they look down and out, only to tantalize the fans a bit before going off on another losing streak. And when they again look down and out they spring another response, etc, ad infinitum.

And of course, in the end, the net result is always another disappointing placing outside of the playoffs.

Consistency has never been the forte of this club, apart from the consistently undulating campaigns of mediocrity and sudden short-lived burst of surging power; always inevitably leading to another season of outsiders looking in syndrome.

Actually, come to think of it—the Cats are very consistent—just not in any positive aspect.

Anyway, back to the point…

The Panthers have enjoyed success on the road this year and are thus still in the playoff hunt; against all odds and despite their worse than poor home record.

The Cats are 4-6-5, thus amassing 13 points on home ice; whilst doing considerably better away with a 9-8-2 record that sees some 20 points having been collected away from the Sunshine State.

Even if the Panthers would win the 3 games less that they’ve played on home ice versus away games—no matter how improbable that would be—they’d still not reach the level of play and points collected away from home.

So what makes these felines tick as soon as they leave South Florida?

I’d say there are a few key words that can go a long way in illuminating this mystery. They are namely: Playing to their strength, a simplified approach, no pressure, and, underestimating opponents.

Let’s look at each more closely and I’ll explain my train of thoughts on the subject:

 

Playing to their strength

The Florida Panthers are not a high powered offensive juggernaut—yesterday’s Islanders game aside—and don’t dominate many games in any given season. Even in that 7-1 thrashing of the NY Islanders, it is worth noting that the Cats were still outshot 31-25.

The Florida Panthers is a counter attacking team. Again, if we take the Islanders game as example, a majority of the goals came from breakaways—plays that originate from breaking up the opposing teams offensive play—defense to forwards.

The Cats also deploy a dump and chase tactic that will see the Panthers spend most of their time in the offensive zone trying to dig out pucks from the corners. Using their mobile forwards and pinching defenders—the idea is then to set someone up in the shooting zone for a one-timer at goal.

Aggressive forecheck and responsible backchecks are embedded in the players’ mind and stifle to a certain extent any more flamboyant tendencies from the forwards; molding them in to a collective and creating a form of ‘chasing pack mentality’ that is based on speed and responsible defensive play—first and foremost.

The idea is to limit opponent’s shots to the perimeters. Opponents may get many shots off at goal—but they’ll lack precision as well. Put the body on the line to block shots and then hit back on the counter.

Again; speed and mobility is key.

This tactic currently employed by the Panthers is more successful on the road than it is on home ice. Reason is that when playing at home the Cats must also attempt to entertain the crowd and not just put defensive responsibilities first.

The problem is that when Florida open up and try to play more expansive hockey they are typically picked off by teams which a higher collective skill level and individual talents to boast.

As soon as the Cats step away from the collective approach they become sitting ducks for the opposition to shoot down.

Playing away thus keeps the game plan intact and the Panthers can focus on playing the collectively responsible game.

 

A simplified approach

A closely related point is the simplification of Florida’s game plan away from home.

Any time you want the team to play more expansively, a fair degree of creativity is required, and the Cats are to put it plainly not blessed in this compartment. Especially not when Cory Stillman and David Booth both occupy a place on the long-term injury list.

So when Florida travel north to meet an opponent they do what all teams do—to a certain extent—on the road; they simplify their approach, play more defensively sound, and look to grind down the home team’s early offensive efforts—to hit back later in the game instead.

This approach fits hand in glove with the Panthers original game plan and players available, as previously explained.

 

No pressure

Playing away is great if a team suffers from certain anxieties when it comes to facing an elevated sense of pressure and expectations upon their individual performances.

Everyone knows this is the case with the Florida Panthers: They don’t deal well with pressure and expectations, period.

As soon as they get into a good spell of performances and the expectations rise as a consequence; they without much further ado head off on another losing streak. Once the expectations then fade—performances pick up again.

Statistically we can look at how the Panthers fare when going in to the third period with a lead and thus face the pressure to try and keep that lead intact or indeed extend it: They are 29th in the league with a .563 record of winning those games.

Also, we can see that the Cats have lost only two points on away ice in an overtime/shootout—whilst on home ice—5 such points have been squandered.

Dealing with pressure situations is clearly not the strength of the Florida Panthers; they do better when coming from behind.

 

Underestimating opponents

Whilst I’m sure all opposing coaches tell their players not to underestimate the Panthers when they come to town for a visit, it is understandable if this still happens nonetheless.

Florida has no star forward, no defensive powerhouse, and Tomas Vokoun in goal has always been underestimated among goalies.

His numbers are always up there amongst the best and this while playing on a team that regularly allows the most shots on goal in the entire league; yet, he gets very little recognition when he regularly puts up herculean efforts—to give the Cats a chance to win.

Despite the lack of star power the Panthers are a tricky team to play. Their tenacious fore- and backchecking wears on opponents and Florida hardly ever give up a game—they still come surging forward, even long after a game has realistically become a lost cause.

This point in question is highlighted in the last game away to the Washington Capitals on December 3rd.

Despite being 6-0 down in the third, the Cats still kept coming forward and scored a couple of late consolation goals to make it 6-2 instead. It may not change the match, but it gives the club and players some regained pride and belief that can help them in the next one.

We have seen in several games on the road that the opponents had not really expected the Panthers to be in their face as much as they were and lacked the necessary fire to subdue them. Essentially handing the momentum over to the Cats instead—to try and find a way through.

In a league of parity you underestimate an opponent at your own risk, even the Florida Panthers.

Florida Panthers’ Losing Streak Neither a Coincidence Nor Unfair

December 11th, 2009 6 comments

After a miserable start to the season the Cats turned their season around with a marvelous winning spell in mid-November, but now—once again—the wheels are coming off. The Panthers are looking decidedly tame at the moment; winning only one game in the last ten.

Yes, you can blame injuries—to key players such as David Booth and Cory Stillman—but that excuse is starting to fall on deaf ears. All teams in the NHL are seeing their roster decimated by untimely injuries; Florida is merely one in a line of clubs feeling that pain.

The players called up from the AHL have done reasonably well, injecting some much needed energy and enthusiasm to the team. However, these players have not been able to contribute offensively to any great extent—only managing a handful of goals overall.

And of the regulars and veterans, very few have made any significant contributions offensively either. Only three forwards have any noteworthy numbers; Stephen Weiss (24 points), Nathan Horton (25), and Steven Reinprecht (23).

And of the defenders, only captain Bryan McCabe (15 points), Dennis Seidenberg (12), and rookie Dmitry Kulikov (12), have done well and contributed to any substantial degree. Tomas Vokoun in goal meanwhile has played very well and done what he can for the team.

It’s just not enough.

Looking at the stats it’s easy to see why the Florida Panthers are in a funk and unable to win themselves a game in regulation:

In goals per game the Cats are ranked at No.25 in the league; scoring an average of 2.48 G/G. At the same time Florida is No.27 when it comes to goals against per game with an average of 3.26.

When it comes to 5-on-5 for/against/ goals ratio—the Panthers rank a tied 28th in the league with 0.75—only Carolina are worse.

So, the power-play and penalty kill must be the saving grace, right?

Not so…

The Cats are 27th in the league with a power-play percentage of 15.2 and are 29th on the penalty kill with 76.4 percent.

To continue this glum list of failures we need look no further than to shots allowed per game; Florida give-up an average of 35.1 shots—which as you would expect puts the Cats at the very bottom of the pile, at No.30. Our 28.6 shots on goals rank us in a slightly better 26th place.

Do I really need to prolong this miserable recount?

Well, maybe just one more to really hammer home my point: The Cats are dead last in the league when it comes to finishing off games when leading after two periods; they are .500 when entering the third with a lead.

Seriously, it is hard to understand what the h*ll coach Pete DeBoer is talking about when he says that: “We’re playing the right way, we’re doing things the right way, we’re not getting rewarded for it right now.”

Really—this is the right way to play?

And I disagree; I think the Panthers are being rewarded amply the way they deserve to be rewarded. The results reflect fairly where the Cats are right now.

Sure, if the games had been 58 minutes rather than 60 we would probably be in a playoff spot right now. But, since when is not a crucial part of the game of hockey to see out matches without conceding in those two last minutes?

To do so a team needs to have determination, grit, and the mental wherewithal to make the right plays at the right time. The Cats clearly don’t have these characteristics and are paying dearly for it—as they should.

This is no fluke, Pete.

I understand that you cannot give up and must try to be optimistic, especially when communicating to your players—even when there is precious little to be cheerful about. But, from a fans perspective, it is hard to have confidence in a coach that is clearly delusional or lying through his teeth.

I like DeBoer, as I believe most Florida fans do, but I don’t like it when he won’t own up to reality. Don’t give us this bs and expect us to swallow it with a grin.

We have had enough of false hope from Florida management over the years. We are quite frankly stuffed—and fed up—with the cattle fescues we’ve been served, thank you.

Just be honest about it: “We’re not better than this at the moment”. That’s all we want!

Of course—a team that knows how to win wouldn’t be bad either—if we take a moment to wistfully wish upon a star…

It is obvious that this franchise desperately needs to reevaluate its philosophy and hopefully the new owners can help in this respect.

However, don’t expect any miracles short term—there is only so much the new owners can do at this point in time—unless of course they can get down on the ice and show our current crop of forwards where the goal is.

The real work that they can do is to steer the franchise forward long term.

The current mess has been handed down from the previous owner, the name we shall utter here no more, and the Viner & Siegel combo should not be held responsible for it—although they are the ones that must, somehow, find a way out of this current prolonged state of hockey funk.

Perhaps the best thing now, if the Cats continue to struggle after Christmas, is to scratch this campaign and look to the trade deadline and draft instead. Certainly this is something that management must consider and plan for.

There comes a point where we must be realistic and say that maybe this team just isn’t better than the statistics clearly indicate. Take responsibility, and then set I motion a far-reaching program of rebuilding—with a clear philosophy at the heart of the process; of how to achieve long term success.

We have tried that tactic before and failed, even if it was haphazard at best, but I see precious few other options available.

With the salary cap effectively making trades near impossible these days, big free agent signings not forthcoming, the draft is all that realistically remains.

This season is not over yet however, and the Cats are a mere few points out of the playoff picture. But, unless a miracle happens, it is unlikely the Panthers will be able to turn this season around.

The stats plainly show that this team lacks substantially when it comes to cutting edge quality—at both ends of the rink.

After losing the first game on the current four game road trip to Columbus on Wednesday, 3-0, the Cats face an even trickier couple of games—as they are set to play New Jersey tonight, Pittsburgh tomorrow, and the NY Islanders on Monday.

Florida then face Atlanta on Wednesday on home ice, after having lost both previous games to the Thrashers this season, and having gone 1-6 against Southeastern rivals overall. This could very well mean that the Panthers are effectively out of the playoff race by this time next week.

And perhaps, being well behind the chasing pack of the East could turn out to be a blessing in disguise—as the franchise could firmly look to the future—rather than try to lure fans to games with false hope and dingy words of optimism whilst clinging to the sinking wreckage that is this team.

Game Action Pix vs. Thrashers

December 6th, 2009 Comments off
Florida Panthers versus Atlanta Thrashers, 1-2 SO. In a close low-scoring game the Cats looked set to win this game but allowed the Thrashers back into the game late in the third period and fell in the subsequent shootout.

Florida Panthers versus Atlanta Thrashers, 1-2 SO. In a close, low-scoring game, the Cats looked set to win this game - but - allowed the Thrashers back into the contest late in the third period and fell in the subsequent shootout.

 

Johan Hedberg, the Atlanta Thrashers' goaltender had a good night in South Florida and kept his team in the game despite quality chances from the Cats to win the game clean without an overtime.

Johan Hedberg, the Atlanta Thrashers' goaltender had a good night in South Florida and kept his team in the game despite quality chances from the Cats to win the game clean without an overtime.

 

In a surprise move Tomas Vokoun was ready to face the Atlanta Thrashers again and had a very good game between the pipes for the hometeam. Here he gets help from Dennis Seidenberg to keep the puck protected underneath his legs.

In a surprise move Tomas Vokoun was ready to face the Atlanta Thrashers again and had a very good game between the pipes for the hometeam. Here he gets help from Dennis Seidenberg to keep the puck protected underneath his legs.

 

Gimme some of that ice hockey love! Bryan Allen sticks up for his teammate Michael Frolik, who was sent off the ice for a iffy boarding call, and takes a few on the chin for his team along the way.

Gimme some of that ice hockey love! Bryan Allen sticks up for his teammate Michael Frolik, who was sent off the ice for a iffy boarding call, and takes a few on the chin for his team along the way.

 

It wasn't just the netminders great play between the pipes that kept this game tied with no goals scored until the third period - a few lucky escpaes on both sides of the ice helped as well... Finally it was Stephen Weiss that managed to break the dealock in the third period, redirecting a heavy Dmitry Kulikov slapshot in a rare powerplay goal.

It wasn't just the netminders great play between the pipes that kept this game tied with no goals scored until the third period - a few lucky escapes on both sides of the ice helped as well... Finally it was Stephen Weiss that managed to break the dealock in the third period; redirecting a heavy Dmitry Kulikov slapshot in a rare powerplay tally.

 

The Panthers would survive multiple scares as the Thrashers had too many man-advantages to count in the game, and yet would not be able to take advantage. However, late in the third the visitors would get Ilya Kovalchuck in position to score the heartbreaking equaliser. It then went to the shootout where Rich Peverley scored the winning penalty in the 4th round. In truth the Cats deserved better from this game, but, in hockey one has to close games out to win...

The Panthers would survive multiple scares as the Thrashers had too many man-advantages to count in the game, and yet would not be able to take advantage. However, late in the third the visitors would get Ilya Kovalchuck in position to score the heartbreaking equaliser. It then went to the shootout where Rich Peverley scored the winning penalty in the 4th round. In truth the Cats deserved better from this game, but, in hockey one has to close games out to win...