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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.

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.

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.

On The Third Jersey Controversy… Panthers Recall Big Brute to Meet Avery & Co Head-on

November 25th, 2009 Comments off

Being of a more skeptical nature, I didn’t jump on the whole third jersey bandwagon, which is why this blog is probably the only one not to rave about that much vaunted unveiling which occurred on Monday, at the game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

To me it seemed like a superfluous money-making scheme that failed to hold my interest for more than the required minute or two to write about it.

Nevertheless, many-a Panthers beat writer were caught up in the hype.

No one more so than George Richards of the Miami Herald however.

After at least six articles (as many as I could be bothered to count, even less read) on the subject from Mr. Richards, one can’t blame Panthers’ fans for being fed up already with the jersey talk.

Most seem negative about the jerseys or a bit skeptical at least. The color scheme is different from anything previously seen in South Florida. The baby blue doesn’t convince many fans either.

Richard meanwhile, is ranting about the FLA on the shoulders—more than anything more closely related to the game of hockey—in his extensive coverage of the third jersey issue.

Personally I was, of course, skeptical to the whole question of new third jerseys to begin with. However, I’m not one to jump any grousing bandwagon either.

In fact, despite my early cynicism—I must admit—I like these new jerseys.

Yes, they are different color-wise from anything we’re used to. But, isn’t that the whole point with third jerseys anyway?

I like the shades of blue, and the sun with FLA running through it, is actually surprisingly cool.

Anyway, that’s how far I’m willing to get involved in this minor “controversy”. I like the jersey. The Reebok people showed some balls in stepping away from the mold and trying something different for the Panthers.

My only grievance is that the jerseys look far too much like the Penguins’ third jerseys…

Nonetheless, let’s leave all that happened Monday behind, not least that sour ending against the same Penguins, and focus on tonight’s game instead.

The Florida Panthers and New York Rangers always serve up a juicy Thanksgiving dish and I would expect no less in tonight’s encounter.

The NY Rangers are two points ahead of us in the standings, despite our win in the Garden, and hence this is an important game for both teams in the playoff race.

Yes, it’s early to talk of a playoff race, but in a time of league parity, it’s never too early to win important games.

Whilst the Panthers sneaked out from Manhattan with a W in the column, the Rangers still bossed the Cats around for much of the second half of that game. The sheer physicality of John Tortorella’s charges—caused a lot of problems for Florida.

Likely because of this, the Panthers have decided to add some grit, size, and power, in the form of Steve MacIntyre.

Recently claimed on waivers from Edmonton, the 6-foot-5, 260 pound left winger, was then sent to Rochester to get in game shape. Two games later and he’s been called back to South Florida to stand up for his new teammates against the powerful Rangers.

Falling into the “big brute” category of hockey players, Steve will be counted on to bring something quite different to the Cats’ lineup: Sheer physicality and a heavy punch or two.

Other Rochester call-ups, namely Kenndal McArdle and Victor Oreskovich, have brought some much needed grit to the team; but MacIntyre’s contributions are likely to be on a level above what they bring—if you know what I mean…

Considering the circumstances, I think this is a great move from the coach Pete DeBoer. And hopefully, Steve can shove the stuffing to that insidious coward, Sean Avery.

 

Update! Not only is Ville Koistinen scratched for the game, but he was also placed on waivers at noon today according to the Panthers’ official website.This could mean that MacIntyre indeed is here to stay in South Florida, and not just called up to meet the physical Rangers and Maple Leafs this week. Shawn Matthias meanwhile is also here to stay and will play tonight.

Another Slow Start in Florida; Beleaguered Panthers Fans Deserve Better

November 12th, 2009 Comments off

The Florida Panthers have been known to start seasons slowly and then come strong toward the end—just to fall wide of the postseason mark.

It appears as if this season has all those characteristics as well.

Whether or not the Cats can reignite their season and make a credible playoff push remains to be seen, but, the beginning is thus far following familiar patterns.

“Let’s cut off the first 15 games and start fresh and make sure over the next five weeks we’re all better,” Florida’s head coach Peter DeBoer said yesterday.

He went on to state that: “The good news is we have a lot more to offer, both individually and as a group. I think you’re going to see that. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.”

Coach ‘Pete’ DeBoer is understandably trying to exude confidence and optimism, as a leader must do in front of his troops, but one does wonder what he must be feeling within after having begun this season 5-9-1.

Prior to the commencement of the campaign, Pete offered his hopes for the season, and considering what he said then and how wide of the mark the team is of that assessment, one must assume that on the inside his sanguinity must have taken a bruise:

“This year I feel much more comfortable and I think the players feel much more comfortable in how we want to play and the systems we want to play, and I think it’s showing on the ice. Hopefully, that will lead to a better start."

Things didn’t quite work out that way, did they Pete?

Currently sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference with 11 points, trailing the Boston Bruins—currently in eight spot—by 7 points, Florida and its fans can’t be too hopeful of a spectacular turnaround of fortunes.

As it happens the Cats will square off against the ‘B’s tonight in Boston and therefore have a good chance of cutting that deficit down to 5 points.

Unfortunately the Panthers will travel to meet a team that is finally overcoming a difficult hump themselves. Ravaged by injuries, and having traded goal poacher Phil Kessel to Toronto, the Bruins have looked a shadow of their former self in the early goings.

However, in the last two games the Bostonians have claimed two notable scalps in Buffalo and Pittsburgh—to restore confidence in the locker-room.

The Bruins will be up for tonight’s game and, with their strong defensive corps; it’s hard to see the challenged Florida offense getting any goals on the solid Tim Thomas between the pipes.

It is tough to talk about a must win game so early in the season, but with the poor start by the Cats it will be difficult to imagine them losing this game and still being able to realistically compete for that eighth spot, come spring.

So whilst not a must-win-game; this still qualifies as a very important contest for the Panthers. It’s one they’d be loathed to lose.

It is not easy to put a positive spin to the efforts by the Cats so far this season.

In 15 games played, of which one third were won, they still only really impressed in two of those games; against St. Louis and Carolina (game two).

Both those teams were going through worse problems at the time of play than the Panthers were, so it’s hard to draw too much optimism from these two performances alone.

Overall speaking, the effort has not been consistently good enough from the Floridians in the opening 15 games. I doubt anyone could make a sound argument to claim that the club does not deserve to be where they currently reside in the standings.

Thirteenth place in the East seems like a fair reflection of the performances of the Florida Panthers after 15 games played.

The Cats have had problems with the organization of its new-look defense; allowing too many opposing players a clear path toward the crease, as well as giving up too many shots on goal.

The offense was also lacking in the early stages with any kind of chemistry hard to come by. This together with an inefficient power-play has paved the way for the early struggles.

Admittedly things have gotten a bit better of late.

With the exception of the previous game against the Capitals, the defense has become more solid and the reshuffling of the offense has paid some dividends. No. 1 goaltender Tomas Vokoun is also starting to look increasingly unyielding in goal.

Whether or not this will be enough to turn the season around however, is questionable.

The Florida Panthers official website has put a positive spin on the situation, preferring to focus on the congested schedule ahead as a means of the team to “find their rhythm”.

With 24 games in 42 days to look forward to, or dread—depending on your outlook, it is understandable that the club as a whole must try and stay positive in order to try and recover lost ground. And it is possible…

However, like many fans I’m not overly optimistic. And I fear the worst rather than indulge in false hope.

I suppose it’s basically a kind of self-defense mechanism we fans shield ourselves with; hoping that every defeat won’t sting as much as they tend to do for the believer.

Of course, it usually doesn’t help much…

A defeat is a defeat—whether expected or not—it still guts you to the bone.

And considering this, it really is a miracle that the Florida Panthers still have any fans at all: What resiliency!

Just goes to show that even years of failure will not, and does not, deter the true sports fan.

And one thing I’ve learned in South Florida is that, despite what most people up north may think, there is a base for hockey here.

Despite the continued struggles and failures of the franchise on the ice (longest playoff drought in the league, since the year 2000), people still turn up in the thousands to cheer on the team, extend friendly hockey advice (shot the puck, you m**on!), and revel in the rare and shrinking successes—that we enjoy in midst of the many defeats.

I have not experienced what the hardcore South Floridian fan has been through. But, in my mere few years of following the Cats, I do have a growing appreciation for those fans that have been here from day one and experienced so many letdowns.

You guys and gals clearly deserve better a better dish than what you’ve been served.

Nonetheless, the taste of success will be all the sweeter when it finally comes our way, because we have been through the many failures along the way.

Admittedly not much comfort right now. Nonetheless, I suppose the lesson is to trooper on and hope for the best. And sooner or later, good things will happen, surely…

And if controversial philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he coined the expression “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” then the Panthers’ fans are indeed a hardened breed in deserve of some rightful respect from its fellow hockey brethren.

Win or lose in Boston, I hope to share some more hockey moments with ya’ll in the B.A.C. on Saturday when the resurgent NY Islanders come to town. It should be interesting to see John Tavares and the young Islanders in action.

I hope the players start playing better—at least start playing to the best of their ability. Maybe they simply aren’t good enough to make the playoffs this year, but, they should certainly be playing better than they currently are anyway.

This may not be a hockey market on par with the Canadian ones, or say Philadelphia—just to name one, but it is still a vibrant place of vivacious hockey fans that don’t merit scorn from anyone.

What we’ve been through here, no other set of National Hockey League fans have had to prevail through.

And indeed, we’ve been through that proverbial trial by fire—and we’re still here. Another season of failure probably won’t change any of that, although, I hope we don’t need to find out.

A Salad in Dallas

October 30th, 2009 Comments off

Dmitry Kulikov has been given the chance to stay with the Panthers and continue his development on the big stage. He impressed during his initial nine game tryout with the team—and now get’s to celebrate his 19th birthday in Dallas; whilst preparing for his eleventh match tonight in the NHL.

Not bad for someone recently picked 14th in this summer’s draft…

And well, hopefully the young man will get more than the salad for his birthday—when the guys take him out to celebrate in Texas. But, no Vodka obviously, which I presume would have been the main course in Russia for such a salute.

Dmitry is continuing to live his expressed dream by playing in the NHL with the Cats. Hopefully he’ll do that for a long time yet.

Kulikov is an exciting prospect that is likely to only get better with time. He’s already quite competent however and is regularly clocking 18 to 19 minutes of game time. In addition he’s already on the first powerplay unit and clearly has the ability to become something quite special for Florida.

 

Dmitry Kulikov defends the crease. The young Russian has already become a staple in the Florida team, playing important minutes and will celebrate his 19th birthday with the team in Dallas.

Dmitry Kulikov defends the crease. The young Russian has already become a staple in the Florida team, playing important minutes and will celebrate his 19th birthday with the team in Dallas.

 

A couple of other young players getting a chance to shine; is the recent call-ups of Kenndal McArdle and Michal Repik.

Both played well, albeit not for very long in the last match against the Senators. McArdle in particular has earned his coaches praise for the abundance of energy, speed and grit he provided. Not to mention the fight.

Whilst clocking only a paltry 4+ minutes, thus he sat more in the penalty box than he saw action on the ice, Kenndal can be expected to see some more opportunities to impress against the Stars tonight.

 

Kenndal McArdle attacking the net vs. the Sens. McArdle played a good game, despite not clocking many minutes, and will likely be given more ice-time in Dallas tonight.

Kenndal McArdle attacking the net vs. the Sens. McArdle played a good game, despite not clocking many minutes, and will likely be given more ice-time in Dallas tonight.

 

To add to Repik and McArdle, the Panthers have also recalled C Jeff Taffe from the Rochester Americans of the AHL. The reason is that Dominic Moore will require nasal surgery to repair that broken nose of his that the Flyers gave him.

Having impressed for Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate last season, Taffe has started equally well in Rochester this term. In nine games he has 7 points (4 goals + 3 assists) and also has a team high of 27 shots on goal for the Amerks.

It’s going to be a tough game tonight against a Dallas team—that has gotten off to a good start this season. However, things must start bouncing our way sooner or later, right?

If the Cats can limit those turnovers out of the zone, play hard and shoot more frequently: then this could be an interesting game.

Maybe a couple of tricky away games might be exactly what the doctored ordered to turn things around.

After some whining of late, I’m trying to stay positive, OK, so pass me that salad and let’s stuff it to those Texan’s tonight!

Injuries and Consequent Line Changes for the Cats

October 28th, 2009 2 comments

Concussions are tricky and no one knows how long they might keep a player out injured or how it will affect any one individual. Hence, there is no timetable for David Booth’s recovery from the hit in Philadelphia. It’s more a time to wait and see for now.

There’s no point in rushing Booth back prematurely. Teammate Cory Stillman learnt the hard way last season that that is not such a good idea. So the staff will closely monitor Booth whilst he gradually recovers.

David has said that he still suffers from headaches and can’t concentrate for any length of time. Dizziness and fatigue has meant Booth has been resting a lot recent days. He did however take-in yesterday’s training session—as a spectator.

Radek Dvorak meanwhile has got some good news in that his injury, also suffered in Philadelphia against the Flyers, won’t require surgery or sideline him for the rest of the season as first feared. An MRI showed that he has a slight tear in his knee and will be out for (only) a few weeks as a consequence.

These two injuries meant that wingers Michal Repik and Kenndal McArdle have been called up from Rochester. Both players have started well in the American Hockey League. Repik leads the scoring chart with 6 goals and 5 assists in 9 games. Former first round pick McArdle has 6 points meanwhile and no less than 54 penalty minutes in 10 games played.

The forward lines used in Tuesday’s practice have thus looked like this:

Olesz-Weiss-Frolik
Stillman-Reinprecht-Horton
Campbell-Moore-Repik
McArdle-Kreps-Koistinen

At first sight these forward lines look a bit on the fragile side, but just the fact that lines have been juggled a bit and people are given a chance to impress—can create some much needed momentum for tonight’s game against the Senators. We’ll see I suppose.

McArdle is a tough energy guy that should easily slot into the fourth line. Repik on the other hand I would have liked to see on one of the top two lines; considering his knack for notching goals. I’m also unsure if he has the grit to help the third line in its primary task.

Personally I would have preferred Repik swapping places with Olesz and make the Weiss line the secondary line, I think that would balance the lines a bit better: on paper anyway. But, hopefully the coach knows what he’s doing—better than myself and the rest of us armchair coaches out there…

Nonetheless…

It would be interesting to hear what you ‘all think the Panthers should/need to do/ to change their season around?

The Florida Panthers Need to Face Up to Reality

October 27th, 2009 1 comment

The fans already have. The players: not so much.

They have not faced up to the reality that surrounds this club and what it takes to be successful here.

The more religiously inclined might call it a miracle, but the answer is much more down to earth than that…

The Florida Panthers need to suck it up!

Two devastating injuries in the last game to the Flyers need to be addressed. And at this point in time no one knows when Radek Dvorak and David Booth will be back, so we must do it without them.

“They’re going to be missed,” said coach Peter DeBoer of Booth and Dvorak on the Panthers’ official website. “They drive a lot of our offense and forecheck. It’s not something you replace easily, but we don’t have a lot of choice.”

No they don’t. All teams suffer devastating injuries and must find a way to get around the issue. The Panthers are no different and can’t use this as an excuse.

Indeed, it does seem as if the Florida players have been angling for excuses so far into the season. There has always been some ‘reasons’ behind the poor play: the tough preseason, trip to Finland, too many days off, exceptional opponents, yada yada yada.

Add these recent injuries to the equation and the Panthers could have enough excuses to slip behind Toronto in the table and still be able to look themselves in the mirror.

But there are no excuses.

The day the players accept this and start taking some responsibility on the ice; that’s when results will start to improve. Not before.

The main problem with the Cats this season is consistency. Hell, that’s been the problem for almost ten years now!

And it’s the lack of consistency and the myriad of excuses that trickle down from staff, players, and management; that inevitably leads to the dissatisfaction of the fanbase and its subsequent slow disintegration over the years.

Coach Peter DeBoer is right when he says that “we’re battling (to try and find) our identity as a team. […] We’re one of those teams that don’t have a big margin of error.”

The Panthers desperately need to find that new identity. Rather than keep clinging to the old one: an identity of having only one consistency—constant underachievement and a host false hope coming from the occasional flash of inspired performances.

That is one characteristic this club would do well to shed and leave behind.

Perhaps the shakeup caused by these injuries is not the worst thing that could happen to Florida. A couple of energetic and speedy youngsters in the form of Michal Repik and Kenndal McArdle could help change a seemingly acerbic locker room spirit.

Whilst Booth and Dvorak are two wholehearted performers that always give their best for the club and thus will be missed, I nevertheless like the idea of blooding a couple of youngsters that still have everything to prove at this level.

They’ll be sure to bring some enthusiasm to the team and are as of yet untainted by the past underperformances of this club.

On the contrary; having started the season in Rochester of the AHL, Repik and McArdle would have seen firsthand how a club can rise from the ashes of its former self.

The Amerks had a dreadful last campaign and finished dead last in their Division. This time around, with a few astute veteran signings added to the roster, the team is 8-1-1 and top of the pile.

One would have wished the Panthers could have done something similar this year—or any other year since the summer of 2000 (last playoff appearance).

If this season starts slipping away, to any further extent than it already has, the Panthers need to be bold and start relying more on the young prospects and perhaps trade away some of the veterans that aren’t contributing.

The season is not over yet however and the game tomorrow against the Senators must become a statement game for the current Florida troops. 2-6-1 is a horrendous start to the campaign, and yet, quite well deserved.

The players have nothing to blame but their own effort, or the rather, the apparent lack thereof.

Suck it up and start playing as a collective; it’s the only way this club is ever going to overcome its problems. When certain individuals start realizing this wisdom—that’s when things can start changing for the better, not before.

It’s obviously also possible that the players simply aren’t any better than what they’re currently showing and are thus giving it their best. In that case it is job of the newly appointed General Manager, Randy Sexton, to spring into action and change things around.

It’s Back to Basics for the Florida Panthers in the Keystone State

October 23rd, 2009 3 comments

The Florida Panthers need to realize the urgency that surrounds them upon their trip to Pennsylvania.

Having been outscored 11-2 in the opening period of the previous seven games played, it is time to start competing from the first drop of the puck.

The Panthers do not enjoy any glaring opulence of skill or physical superiority over opposing teams, and thus, need to rely on good old fashioned hard work to be competitive.

Somehow the players don’t seem to have digested this nugget of wisdom quite yet.

This was blatantly obvious in the dreadful 2-5 defeat against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday at the Bank Atlantic Center…

Complacency again reared its ugly head in that first period, and as always, the consequences were dire.

The Coaching staff, lead by head coach Peter DeBoer, tried to get the message across by pulling goalie Scott Clemmensen after a mere two minutes of play, but with no visible effect.

Since that abomination of a period, the staff has again made the point in training drills by having the players crowding the so called “dirty-areas” of the ice; along the corners, crease and goalie line.

Now that’s where you need to be to compete!

The players will have a chance to show that they got the message loud and clear by making it a game against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions tonight. Not the easiest place to be triumphant, but the players should nevertheless be able to spot this game as a possible season changing contest.

Imagine going to Pittsburgh and challenging the Penguins up and down the ice and grinding out a result. What could possibly be a better way to reignite Florida’s season…?

As long as the Cats show their claws and aren’t beaten beforehand, this could be a more competitive game than most would imagine.

The key will of course be the start of the game. Whilst the Panthers have been sleepwalking through these first periods of the games so far, the Penguins on the other hand have been looking focused.

In their previous game, Pittsburgh beat St. Louis 5-1 to record an impressive 8-1-0 start to the season. In that first period they outshot the Blues 22-3; which makes those 20 minutes of action all the more important for the Cats—to have as their mental and pregame focal point.

Get off to a good start and with a pinch of confidence returning: anything can happen!

Win or lose, the Panthers need to show they are no pushovers as against the Sabres. And then, perhaps, they can take whatever they get out of the game and take it to Philadelphia tomorrow and stuff it to their hosts once more.

Having beaten the Flyers recently 4-2 at home, the Cats are in for a less friendly opponent this time around as Pronger & c/o lace-up in front of a fanatical crowd at the Wachovia Center.

The Philadelphia Flyers has just come off a scheduling quirk that had them playing only their second game in twelve days yesterday—the previous one being the game against the Panthers in Sunrise.

In that match last night the Flyers recorded a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins. This shootout victory effectively ended their three game losing skid in what was essentially an appetizer for the coming Winter Classic.

For the home-side, it was particularly the fringe players that raised their game against the Bruins. Both the fourth forward line and third defensive pairing caused all sorts of problems for the visitors.

The Panthers must beware that Philly will come at you with everything and everyone they have. This brings me to my final point: squad depth.

Coach DeBoer has not yet revealed his cards as to who will be in goal. Both Scott Clemmensen and Tomas Vokoun were unimpressive in the recent beating by Buffalo.

But, being the No.1, Vokoun would be expected to be given the task of trying to stop the Penguins’ imposing array of firepower tonight. However, whatever performance Tomas melds together in The Steel City, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clemmensen back in goal for the Flyers game; seeing as he won the previous matchup.

Elsewhere, question marks surround defenseman Bryan Allen. Can his delicate knee handle two such high-intensity games in a row?

If not, expect to see Jason Garrison to be called up from Rochester for the match in Philly.

Also, we can almost certainly expect DeBoer to try and juggle a few people around in the lines to get some feet moving and perhaps some goal scoring chemistry clicking.

Apart from these possible changes, we can only hope that these two games won’t cause the injury bug to appear in the Florida camp—as it subsequently has amongst other teams in the league that have already felt the congestive grind of the schedule.

Playing two such tough head-to-head games will undoubtedly put the Panthers firmly in the chomp of the crunch. The strength-levels within the team will be tested to the limit. And at such a critical point of this early season; the Panthers must prevail and bring something with them back home to South Florida from The Keystone State.

I don’t want to imagine a 2-7-0 start to the season. If that does happen however, then it is truly time to hit the panic button…

It will thus be a critical trip for Florida and a real test of its players; their strength in character and the team’s will to win.

Can the Panthers find that inner fortitude to bring them through these trying times with flying colors, or, will they again buckle under pressure?