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Panthers’ Ville Koistinen Clears Waivers; Is a Trade With Toronto for Niklas Hagman on the Florida Horizon?

November 26th, 2009 Comments off

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and especially to Ville Koistinen that just cleared waivers…

Despite being waived, he’s going to be spending Thanksgiving here in South Florida rather than in Rochester of the AHL; for the time being anyway.

Question is however if the Panthers won’t be putting him on re-entry waivers soon—so that another NHL team can pick him up on a Black Friday sale perhaps.

Poor Ville…

You have to feel sorry for the guy. Despite signing a two-year $2 million deal with the Cats in July, he was never really given a fair chance. After all, we must keep in mind that he played all his 17 games for the Cats out of position. And playing as a forward is not easy for a defenseman, with a few rare exceptions.

However, life is tough sometimes and coach Peter DeBoer was not happy with Ville and his contributions to the team. And, if you don’t have the confidence of the head coach, for whatever reason, well, then it’s probably better to move on anyway.

We’ll see what the fate will be of Koistinen. But, one can’t help but wonder if this move was not only made to make room for the big enforcer Steve MacIntyre to be recalled, but perhaps also to accommodate some valuable cap space for a trade?

I know the Panthers have been mentioned in connection with our next opponents on Friday: The Toronto Maple Leafs.

We have previously seen teams come to town and then trades being made just prior to or after the game. The Leafs are, according to several reports, looking for a trading partner and perhaps Florida hold the bait for a deal to be hashed out?

I don’t want to fume the trade talk more than necessary, but if I were GM—and we are all no doubt blessing the fact that I’m not—I’d be one of the five teams or so reportedly looking at LW Niklas Hagman right now.

We know the former Panthers draft pick from 1999 well, he knows South Florida, and seeing as our regular top three left wingers—Booth, Stillman, and Campbell—are all out with injuries, it might make some sense in acquiring another left winger that could play on the top lines.

Hagman has already 15 points on the season for the struggling Maple Leafs. That would make him tied for third in scoring with the Cats, who could certainly need that kind of help in the scoring department.

The Leafs would be loathed to lose one of the few players they have that is playing well, but throw in a draft pick or two, perhaps a medium-range prospect to sweeten the deal, and Toronto’s GM Brian Burke might be willing to consider the offer.

I might add there is no current rumor out there suggesting this or any other trade is possibly in the offing, however, I do find this idea intriguing and would be interested in hearing what people have to say about it.

I know Hagman wasn’t a big hit when here in South Florida a few years ago, but like many other players he has developed into a solid NHL player after leaving the club.

Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity, with Toronto being in a problematic situation, to get Niklas back here to show what he can do for us now that he’s matured.

What do you think, deal or no deal, what would you do?

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.

New Kings in Panthers-land; Ownership Reshuffle Springs Hope in Sunrise

November 17th, 2009 Comments off

The Los Angeles Kings made a rare stop in South Florida and handed the Panthers an equally rare shootout loss Monday evening, defeating the Cats 4-3 in the end.

However, this is not what created most of the buzz in Panthers-land on this particular night.

The murmur in Sunrise was more surrounding the reshuffling of the Florida ownership than the game against the Kings.

Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner will now replace Alan Cohen in the Chairman’s seat.

Cohen will remain as a minority owner in the franchise, but the reins have now been firmly handed over to the Cliff & Stu combo instead.

Alan Cohen took over ownership in the summer of 2000, and remarkably, the club never made the playoffs even once during his nine year tenure.

Hence, many Panthers fans have equated Cohen as some sort of evil spirit—only able to make one poor decision after another.

People close to Cohen say that he deeply cares about the franchise, to the contrary of what most fans would make you believe. But either way, his record does speak for itself: It’s been a prolonged nightmare in South Floridian hockey since the day he took over.

It is likely that fans will rejoice in Cohen’s withdrawal from the hockey scene—and hope that Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner will do a better job with this franchise.

There is a good base for hockey here, as the heyday of 90’s clearly showed, but the many years of mediocrity have in many instances turned fans against their own team and management in particular. Or, they’ve simply deserted the cause due to severe disillusionment.

It will thus be no easy task for Cliff & Stu to change the tarnished image of the Florida Panthers around.

However, if the Cats need a role model, they need look no further than to Chicago and the Blackhawks.

The Hawks went through a similar barren spell of mismanagement and poor results, but thanks to new leadership, new ideas and a successful rebuilding through the draft in particular; Chicago once again have a team to be proud of.

And as a direct consequence, Chicago fans have returned to the arena.

The Florida Panthers need to follow that same path.

Obviously the Blackhawks are an original six club and the support for the sport of hockey in the Windy City has deep roots.

Florida clearly does not have any such roots, and so the challenge here is even greater as the club needs to actively try and convert people to the sport of hockey. And they need to do it in a jam-packet sports market; with all major sports well represented.

There is a razor sharp competition for the South Floridians’ sport-dollars; so it’ll be no easy task!

Nonetheless, it’s not impossible either.

All it takes is some success. Easier said than done perhaps, but with such fierce competition—success is what is required to flourish in this market.

America loves a winner. That is a fact. Just look at Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago, for clear-cut examples of how success can revitalize a hockey market.

But on the other token—America deplores a loser.

It might not always be said aloud, but secretly many will feel revulsion toward the apparent weakness of a losing side. For too long now the Florida Panthers have been found on this side of the all-important divide.

So, in order for Cliff & Stu to change the direction of this franchise—from the long slippery downhill slope that it’s currently perched upon—sporting success will be the priority.

To create a winning team and a winning mentality throughout the organization is the key to gaining success—and this will be the challenge for Cliff & Stu to try and provide.

Fortunately they seem to not only have their hearts in the right place, being hockey fans themselves and local businessmen at that, but they also seem aware of both the potential and pitfalls within the franchise—which need to be addressed.

In an open letter to Panthers fans, Cliff & Stu present themselves and their leadership style in the following words:

“As local owners who live and work in the South Florida area, we are committed to developing a winning culture within this organization, something we haven’t had over the past few years. In addition, we will bring a stronger measure of accountability and accessibility to this franchise immediately”.

They go on to take a letter from head coach Peter DeBoer book upon the importance of accountability as well:

“We believe in letting people do their jobs – from the general manager and the head coach down to the players themselves. By the same token, if the right decisions are not being made and we are not achieving our goals as a franchise, then it will be our job to hold people accountable for their actions”.

That will be welcome words for Panthers fans. But, at this stage, words won’t suffice; we want results!

The goal of the club going forward was outlined in the following way:

“Our goal is to build a hockey team that can sustain its success year in and year out, by building through the draft and minor leagues, and by making the right decisions in trades and free agency”.

We hope that will be the case.

But it’s not through a lack of trying that this approach has so far failed in South Florida—it’s a lack of understanding of the game. Consequently one bad decision after another has been made throughout the years.

I know for a fact that many Panthers fans are worried about the influence of President and COO Michael Yormark in particular. And I say “worried” with ample sense of understatement.

To the best of my knowledge Yormark is an accomplished businessman that does well in the commerce part of operations. That is not the worry. It is rather that his influence weighs too heavily when it comes to hockey operations as well.

There is a great danger in having businessmen think they can run a sports team despite their lack of understanding in the finer details of the sport itself. Hopefully Cliff & Stu will let GM Randy Sexton and head coach Peter DeBoer run this part of the organization without too much tampering or superfluous restrictions from above.

The owners should set the framework and take overall responsibility for the franchise; instill a winning mentality throughout the organization, keep people accountable, but yet also let those employed get on with what they know best.

It sounds from the open letter that Cliff & Stu understand their role going into this challenge. However, the real challenge—will not only be to live by those words—but also to sculpture action out of those words.

For now the words bring hope, but at the end of the day, it is results that the new owners will be judged upon.

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?

Horton Rumors Reappear, Dmitry Kulikov Decision to Be Made

October 26th, 2009 3 comments

Those pesky “Nathan Horton is being shopped around by the Panthers” rumors have reappeared. According to The Fourth Period the Ottawa Sun are adamant that the report is not mere gossip and cites “various unnamed league executives”.

General Manager Randy Sexton has also previously rubbished any talk of trading Nathan.

TFP editor David Pagnotta goes on to state his opinion about this rumor: “Of course, Sexton will deny the report, even if it was true. Horton’s a 24-year-old stud, who’s having a bad start to the season, and the fans love him. If the Panthers do trade Horton (and I personally believe it’s more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’), they could command a solid package in return”.

Comments like this make me wonder how much hockey reporters really follow the Panthers, outside of the southern part of this state. Yet, despite their apparent Floridian unawareness they never stop having opinions about it nonetheless: “The fans love him”. Really??

Apparently there are no takers if you care to believe in this particular rumor.

Judge this latest tittle-tattle anyway you wish, but I still think Nathan won’t be going anywhere for a while—as I’ve previously detailed here in an extensive article.

 

Dmitry Kulikov and Nathan Horton - will they stay in Florida or will they go?

Dmitry Kulikov and Nathan Horton - will they stay in Florida or will they go?

 

Meanwhile the tenure of 18-year old rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is most likely to be decided later today. The coaching staff is to meet and discuss if Dmitry will stay with the Panthers or be sent back to the juniors in Canada.

Whilst everyone expects the former, some voices are being raised—claiming it might perhaps be better if Kulikov rejoins the juniors in QMJHL instead.

George Richards of The Miami Herald stated yesterday that: “With the team 2-6-1, it might be best for him to go back in my opinion. No, he’s not going to learn anything more in the QMJHL, but this place is close to imploding. It might just get ugly around here. This season has Titanic written all over it”.

The reasoning being that if this Florida cruise liner is about to sink, we might as well save Kulikov from the calamity that will inevitably follow from such a debacle.

Maybe enjoying some success in the juniors would be better for his mental progress than to have to endure the creaks and taunts of the ‘Titanic II’ as it dissolves in blue?

On the other hand, if there is still hope of turning things around, then the club might do well in keeping him here in Florida.

Head Coach Peter DeBoer has repeatedly praised Dmitry for his maturity and fine a displays; saying he has something that otherwise is missing among the Cats.

It sounds as if Pete would be loathed to see Kulikov leave. Especially considering the recent injuries to Radek Dvorak and David Booth one would imagine.

DeBoer is not someone to give up easily and would not want to be disarmed and hung out to dry during the remainder of the season. So, it would be very surprising to see Kulikov leave.

He is here to stay it would seem, for better or worse.

David Booth Update and NHL’s Ruling on Mike Richards Hit: Time for the Cats to Show Some Teeth!?

October 25th, 2009 4 comments

David Booth has left the Philadelphia hospital where he had to spend the night after the hard hit to the head that he suffered in the game versus the Flyers. Booth suffered a concussion but is reported as upbeat, coherent and ‘only’ suffering a stiff neck apart from the concussion.

It could have easily been much worse.

I’ve studied the hit over and over and, to me, the hit by Mike Richards on David Booth yesterday still looks dirty.

The most incriminating part is how Richards clearly sizes Booth up before delivering the hit. He looks very aware of what he is doing and visibly has his eyes transfixed on David’s head.

I am inclined at agreeing with Keith Ballard and his statement about the incident: "Richards knows (Booth) is in vulnerable position and goes after him. He’s done it before.”

However, the NHL apparently disagrees with me and Ballard. They deem it a good clean hit and thus Richard’s will face no suspension.

Right or wrong as they may be, I suppose it’s best to leave it at that.

The Panthers need to suck it up and show some character by overcoming this set-back… And the one caused by Radek Dvorak’s lower body injury in the same game.

The hard fact is that the Cats were too tame in Philadelphia. They let the Flyers walk all over them. First the hit to the face of Moore, then the injury to Dvorak, Booth’s frightening hit and Kulikov’s mauling in the corner.

You just can’t let these things slide. Someone must make a stand and bring out the ol’ fisticuffs.

That no one did; despite all these accumulating hits, some legal some not, is really quite shameful.

Where is the camaraderie, the ‘one for all and all for one’ mentality?

Are they just haplessly going to stand by as comrade’s fall like flies as the Flyers run ruin and havoc upon the Panthers’ roster?

Come on… Show some teeth Panthers!!

If no one on the current team will do so, then Sexton it’s up to you: Go trade for an enforcer, maybe add a tough no-nonsense checker, do something!

We can’t have these Panthers’ players standing around like shy kittens and take whatever is dished out. Do that and the Florida team will continue to be ravished by injuries: that’s simply not acceptable.

Horton Hears a Who? This Is Why Florida Won’t Trade Nathan

October 20th, 2009 Comments off

Despite rumors of the opposite, the Florida Panthers are not yet done and dusted from the playoff map. The win over the Flyers put to an end a four game losing streak, and as the performances are slowly improving; a ray of hope is reemerging in South Florida.

That however doesn’t deter trade murmurs from buzzing around the Panthers camp like voluptuous vultures. Nathan Horton is the latest and oft recurring target.

Nevertheless, I think these rumors are largely based on faulty assumptions. I’ll go on to explain why in a moment, but first a quick elucidation of the Florida Panthers and its methods may be in order to initiate unacquainted reader…

 

Florida’s Road Map to Success

 

The Philadelphia victory, 4-2, was a hard fought win for the Panthers group, a road map if you will, for Florida to follow in their quest for success.

The Florida felines’ team is not the most gifted in the league, in fact, no one star performer has emerged; scoring has come from the collective team effort and the stats clearly show this fact:

Michael Frolik and Stephen Weiss top the point chart with 2 goals and 2 assists each in the opening six games. Three players; Radek Dvorak, Steven Reinprecht, and Dmitry Kulikov, have notched up three points. Six players have two, and of the players that have appeared in more than one game; only Gregory Campbell has yet to snatch a point.

While this says much about the Panthers need for combined scoring, it also highlights the clubs call for greater point production all around.

Each and every one of the current players are required to step up their game and chip in with hard fought goals if the Cats are to have any chance whatsoever.

In the second and third period on Friday, after a stern telling off from the coach, the players managed to do just that and the end result was a much needed win versus the Flyers.

Now the Floridians will have to keep up the pressure in every game, not just once in a blue moon.

Indeed, consistency was the issue throughout all of last season, or rather: the lack thereof. And this time around the Panthers have probably even less room for inconsistency…

Not least after the uninspiring 2-4 start to the campaign.

People outside of South Florida that aren’t necessarily acquainted with the Cats’ brand of hockey sometimes misunderstand the pillars that the team is built around.

Again; there is no star player to lean against for scoring. That is the job and responsibility of the entire team: the defenders as much as the forwards. Hence why we constantly see Panthers’ blueliners pinch-in at the offensive zone and jump into scoring areas at every opportunity.

Coach Peter DeBoer believes in the collective effort. Yet everybody must pull in the same direction for this tactic to be successful, everyone is looked upon to put in sterling, grinding shifts, for the cause. DeBoer will act swiftly if someone is not pulling their load.

Sometimes, fairly and unfairly, Nathan Horton has been pinpointed as one that doesn’t give 100% exertion into all games. However, worth noting is that Peter DeBoer seems to hold Horton’s endeavors in high regard.

Nathan didn’t start the season in the best of fashion, but in the last two games his, and the teams play overall, has made a remarkable upturn.

 

Why Horton Will Stay Put

 

Horton, a 24 year old 6-foot-2, 229 pound right winger, has only two goals so far into the campaign. However, those came in the two previous games and his play is showing clear signs of improvement.

Yet, the most frustrating part of Nathan’s hockey repertoire, in a Florida fans’ perspective, is his inconsistency. He can win games for the Panthers one day and then be virtually invisible the next. In this light his performances seems to follow the same path as the team as a whole over the last few seasons.

So, to hear Nathan Horton’s name already popping up in trade rumors is not surprising, and yet, probably based on the misunderstanding that he is supposed to be a prolific goal scorer and little else on the team.

Two goals in six games is thus reason enough for some to start the rumor that the Panthers are actively shopping Horton.

However, that rationale is based on a foundation that is not currently employed by the Panthers and its head coach Peter DeBoer. In Pete’s tactic Nathan is a two-way player that is looked equally upon as a defensively responsible and offensively predatory player.

He is not a pure offensive force (as he perhaps once was seen as).

What this does to Nathan’s stats is obvious: less goals scored and points on the board. This could clearly be seen last year as well when Horton was employed in the center. After having notched up 62 points in the two previous campaigns; he only got 45 points in 67 games played in 2008/09.

No one doubts the skill and potential possessed by the former 3rd overall pick from 2003.

What perhaps is lacking sometimes, and that brings Panthers fans to the brink of insanity, is his apparent lack of certain mental aspects of the game, such as a healthy dose of determination and resilience; to accompany those silky skills of his.

If Horton can adapt to coach Peter DeBoer tactics, and required two-way play, I think this can be highly beneficial to Nathan’s progress as a player. If he adds the mental wherewithal to his arsenal, he could become a lethal player yet, in the NHL.

Further, there have been no signs from DeBoer that he is specifically unhappy about Horton’s play; that has been directed more to the team as a whole. And there are no signs that Pete is giving up on Nathan.

Neither are there signs that the new General Manager Randy Sexton is contemplating trading Horton. Indeed, he has stated that the young Panthers players that have become the core of the team also constitute the long term backbone of his plans.

Nathan would surely be seen one of those core players.

When confronted by the Horton rumors from a Sun-Sentinel reporter, Sexton told him that “there is no shred of truth to the report, that it was absolutely made up and that he hasn’t contacted teams, nor have any contacted him, about trading Horton”.

I, for one, have no reason to disbelieve him.

This rumor sounds like a pure fabrication, apparently from the good lads of the Ottawa Sun brainstorming department.

Its basis, Horton’s lack of points, is based on misconceptions of the Panthers style of play and tactics. A poor study of character when it comes to head Coach Peter DeBoer, General Manager Randy Sexton, as well as a confusion of the long term strategy of this club.

 

Nathan Horton will remain a Panther, for the time being anyway.

Nathan Horton will remain a Panther, for the time being anyway.

 

To add to the list, Nathan is in his third year of a six year, $4 million per season, contract. Such a contract is not easy to move in a Salary Cap world. Most teams would be expecting to get more than Horton’s 45 points (last season) for that kind of money. They would also be obliged to give up some serious assets in order to tempt the Florida management.

Overall these hurdles are simply to big too overcome. But, does that mean Horton won’t be traded this season?

No, it does not. A trade could possibly happen later in the season, if the Panthers fail with their endeavor of putting up a decent challenge for the playoffs.

While Florida would probably prefer to move some of their veterans in that case of events, it is not impossible that management might consider moving Horton if they are unhappy with his performances at that point; especially as Nathan has a no-movement clause kicking in next July 1st.

That however, amounts to a grand subtotal of: Copious quantities of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

As Panthers fans, we may or may not wish to see Horton traded, but I think we all understand that he won’t be going anywhere at the moment anyway…

For the time being we’ll have to hope he can dig deep, ignore the rumors, and continue to improve his play. However, he is not alone in that respect; all Panthers players will need to do the same, not least tomorrow; when the Buffalo Sabres come to town.

Coach DeBoer has opted to go with the same team that won against Philadelphia last Friday. That means Scott Clemmensen will continue in goal instead of Tomas Vokoun.

The Sabres on the other hand have started the season impressively and it is up to the Cats to take the game to the visitors and squeeze out another victory.

We need those points accumulating rapidly to keep that early playoff-push on course and catch up with the teams above us in the standings, with Buffalo being one of those teams.

The Florida Panthers World Tour – Coming to a Town near You

October 9th, 2009 2 comments

Yes, the Panthers have been around. Christopher Columbus would have been proud and impressed.

Winger David Booth recently designed a T-shirt that has been circling the locker room; to commemorate a flying preseason for the Cats.

It features a rock ’n’ roll style Panther on the front. And on the back side can be read: “Florida Panthers – World Tour 2009”.

Thereafter follows a list of dates and “gigs” that many an aspiring rock band might drool jealously upon:

9-12 Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia
9-15 Halifax, Nova Scotia
9-16 Ottawa, Ontario
9-17 Montreal, Quebec
9-18 Edmonton, Alberta
9-20 Calgary Alberta
9-22 Dallas, Texas
9-23 Sunrise, Florida
9-30 Tampere, Finland
9-30 Helsinki, Finland
10-2 Helsinki, Finland
10-3 Helsinki, Finland

Since then three more gigs have been added to the schedule due to popular demand:

10-9 Raleigh, North Carolina
10-10 Sunrise, Florida
10-12 Tampa, Florida

Suiting enough, this mini-tour ends on Columbus Day: Here’s to the memory of you Christopher and your stunning feat of mal-navigation!

 

Vokoun the Workhorse

 

With the Finnish excursion now firmly put to the books, the Panthers need to find their feet quickly. They have 3 games in 4 days to look forward to.

Goalie Tomas Vokoun in particular will have his stamina and resiliency tested as he looks to be playing one consecutive game after another.

With recently acquired back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen on leave, due to family matters, youngster Alexander Salak will be with on this tour as well. When Scott will return is still unknown and head coach Peter DeBoer has already said that Vokoun will be playing in these games whether Clemmensen returns or not.

Tomas Vokoun is of course no stranger to playing hefty minutes. He has always done so in the past and there is no use in confusing him now. Last campaign he also played in the opening five games of the season.

Vokoun strikes me as the kind of goalie that produces his best when he gets a lot of action. He doesn’t like standing or sitting around idly. The more the merrier for Tomas it seems and he’s getting his Christmas wishes early this year.

 

Some Early Question Marks

 

Otherwise the lineup looks relatively intact from Helsinki.

Center Steven Reinprecht got a shot off the skate in practice the other day, but X-rays showed no sign of any fracture. He will thus play tonight.

Whether or not another centerman, new signing Dominic Moore, will feature in any of these games is still unknown. The reason behind his delay in linking up with the team is VISA issues. As soon as they are resolved he’ll join and likely be thrown straight in to the fray by Coach DeBoer.

If Moore does arrive before tonight’s game or any of the other two, it will likely mean that defenseman Ville Koistinen won’t be utilized as a makeshift forward on the fourth line. If he’ll return to the blueline or be made to sit out the game(s) is not yet clear.

It would likely be either Koistinen or rookie Dmitry Kulikov that would be made redundant for the time being when Dominic joins the lineup. But knowing DeBoer he’ll likely be shuffling things around as soon as results aren’t forthcoming; so it may be a very brief spell on the sidelines in that case.

It is also worth noting that the Panthers have announced the signing of 23 year old right winger Victor Oreskovich on a two-way deal.

Oreskovich is a player that Peter DeBoer knows well from the juniors and he’ll be assigned to the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Victor was originally a third round draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche. This offseason he attended Florida’s training camp and also featured in four preseason games.

 

Boxed In at Carolina

 

Looking closer at that game in Carolina versus the Hurricanes it would seem that the Panthers are in for a tough matchup. The Cats may have won their last game in Raleigh 5-0, but that was in all honesty before the Canes got together as a team and started to click last campaign.

It is likely to be a much tighter affair this time around.

During the week the Panthers have been working hard on special teams and coverage assignments in the defensive zone. Both of which were Achilles heels in the opening head-to-head with Chicago. With a spanking new defensive corps these issues are predictable to occur in the early going.

The best way to minimize the threat of opposing man-advantages however is, as it always has been, to stay out of the box.

Carolina have a good enough team to punish Florida if the Cats again can’t play fair; as the Blackhawks did in game two.

And knowing your defensive assignments, well, that’s just basic hockey ABC. Give it a few games and some practice and that should not need to be a continued issue.

The Hurricanes meanwhile have also started the new season in a wobbly fashion: Losing 0-2 and 2-7 to the Flyers and Bruins respectively. They then rallied to trump the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2-1 shootout victory on Tuesday.

Both teams should be rested and well prepared for this game, having not played in the last 3 and 6 days respectively. That does however also make the game a highly unpredictable one. It’s hard to see which team will show up with the greater hunger and will to win.

I think this will be a tense game that will go down to the buzzer.

With both teams likely to have stressed defense in practice, due to both having a hard time to keep opposing forwards out of their zone, I’m sure that emphasis will shine through in the game as well.

However, with Carolina having a record of 15-2-0 at home against Florida since Feb. 16, 2004; they must be seen as the favorites to clinch the points in the end analysis.

 

Selling Out

 

The next day the Panthers go home to play their first home game. Outside of Finland that is…

The New Jersey Devils continue their three game road trip and make a visit. Tickets have been selling fast and the Bank Atlantic Center is expected to be a complete sellout.

After having lost their initial two home games of the season, the Devils travelled to Tampa and made an astonishing last second push in regulation to tie the game and eventually win the contest. Again the Lightning lost in a shootout.

It would seem the shootout curse has now switched over to Florida’s west coast. Good riddance!

The New Jersey Devils is as always a tricky customer. With Martin Brodeur between the pipes you can never be assured to score. The Panthers players are also likely to arrive with tired legs in this contest; after having played in North Carolina the previous evening.

Nonetheless, with the B.A.C. packed with hopeful fans there can be no excuses.

The Cats need to display some sharp claws and dig deep for a memorable performance. With the fragile fanbase that exists here; every big crowd turnout is a new chance to redeem the club and gain some new followers in the process.

The importance of this game for Florida can hence not be stressed enough.

 

“Tampa Bay Lightning is a Box of Chocolates; you never know what you’ll get”

 

I don’t think it was Columbus that uttered those words, but it is to him we now return.

For the Panthers he’ll make an appearance in Tampa Bay this coming Monday, on Columbus Day. It will be a symbolic way to end the long preseason tour and early campaign as the Panthers thereafter get some rest (until next Friday’s game versus the Flyers) and then return to the regular season grind.

With five regular games under the belt we should be in a much better position to judge what this year’s reincarnation of the Cats hold in store.

Before we come to that point however we have the Floridian derby against the Lightning, a game that will be contested by fierce cross state rivals. Although prior to the game against the Panthers, the Bolts have a chance to redeem their early season woes against Carolina on Saturday.

So far, after three games, it is fair to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning have not got off to the start they were hoping for.

Much was expected of Tampa Bay for this season in terms of overall on-ice improvement. This has yet to come to fruition and they remain winless to this point.

To me it seems that the Bolts last season put all their efforts into their forward compartment; with the end result of the team becoming unbalanced. This summer therefore, the management focused solely of the upgrade of the defensive corps.

However, the rising evidence seems to suggest this has only led to a new imbalance; with 9 defenders battling for icetime.

It is hard to understand this logic. But we all know the Tampa Bay Lightning organization work in strange ways. Who am I to question their reasoning?

I’m probably too conservative. I like the idea of balancing the team, whilst at the same time I detest the idea of letting players sit on the bench rolling their thumbs without playing any competitive games. But hey, I’m sure they know what they are doing… Right?

Anyway, the Panthers often find the Bolts to be a tricky opponent to unlock. And it being a derby game; one never knows how things will unfold.

This could go either way.

Nonetheless, I do dare wager that the Lightning will struggle this season if they do not address the glaring issue of imbalance. A couple of trades are likely necessary to rectify the problem: The sooner the better for the team and its fans in western Florida.

As for the Panthers, we will not get anything for free this season. Yet, the team is being slowly molded into Coach Peter DeBoer’s own image. And if the players can display his level of competitiveness, never-say-die attitude and directness, we should be fine.

It is a long road to travel however, and while the Florida Panthers players may feel like they’ve already circumvented the Earth a couple of times; truth is that the real journey starts today…

Tender Goalie Issues

October 6th, 2009 2 comments

The season may only have begun, but that doesn’t mean players are immune from criticism in the early going. Always in the line of fire are the goaltenders; where one bad game can be enough to have the fans clambering all over their back. Ask Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala – for whom it only took four periods before patience ran thin.

The notoriously fickle fans in Toronto haven’t exactly been enamored with the Finns early displays and, despite Vesa still recovering from hip and groin surgery in the off-season, he has found little sympathy from the many vociferous hockey fanatics north of the border. With promising NHL rookie Jonas Gustavsson waiting in the wings, the call has rung out for the Swedish ‘Monster’ to be the No.1 – in Toskala’s place.

In the 6-4 defeat against the Caps, the Finn got the hook in favor of the Swede after the first period and now Head Coach Ron Wilson has decided to go with Gustavsson in-between the sticks in tonight’s contest from the getgo – against their rivals the Ottawa Senators. This despite Wilson sticking up for his current No.1 by stating that the defense had not helped the goalie with their poor defensive display, in the two opening defeats of the season.

Jonas has a lot of hype to live up to, as he was the most coveted netminder in the off-season, with several teams chasing his signature, before settling for Maple Land as his first NHL destination.

Having helped his former club Färjestad to the Swedish championship last season, he earned the nickname ‘the Monster’ in the process. That and the usual unrealistic hopes of the Toronto fans, leaves Gustavsson with a very big set of skates to fill tonight.

 

Keeping it in the Family

Due to family business, of an unknown sort, Panthers back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen has returned to his family home in Iowa. Whether he’ll be back in time for the next game against the Carolina Hurricanes is at this time not known. What is for certain is that the Cats management is not taking any chances and has recalled Alexander Salak from Rochester; after he was sent there just the other day.

 

One goaltender that has hit the new season running is last season’s Florida back-up goaltender Craig Anderson, nowadays plying his trade in Colorado as their No.1. In his first two contests he saved 73 of 74 shots as the Avs started the season on two winning feet. For his efforts Andy was awarded the opening week’s second star.

Maybe the Panthers will be left to rue his departure, if he can keep that kind of form going…