Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 12 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Florida Panthers Preview.
Please resort to myhockeybuzz page for previews of teams falling before this team.
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Heading into the 2010-11 NHL season, the Panthers organization had made numerous changes to their management team and were now starting their first season in the Dale Tallon era. The new GM in Florida was responsible for building the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship squad. He made a promise to Panthers faithful that he would do everything in his power to make the Panthers a powerhouse for years to come.
Tallon made his mark with the Panthers trading away former top pick Nathan Horton to Boston in a package deal involving Dennis Wideman. He also sent young defenseman Keith Ballard to Vancouver for a package including Michael Grabner. For the start of the season however, Grabner was unable to crack the roster in Florida and found himself on waivers a week before their first game. Two days later Garth Snow of the Islanders picked up the former 1st round winger and he went on to score 34 goals on Long Island. A mistake on Tallons behalf.
While Florida’s team didn’t really have much fire power up front, they were always able to breathe a lot easier with Tomas Vokoun manning the crease. After losing their first two games to western Canada teams Edmonton and Vancouver, Florida came back to record two consecutive shutouts against the Flames and Lightning. Vokoun once again proved he can carry an average team on his shoulders.
Of course no matter how strong the goaltender is, without respectable numbers from the other 18 skaters, the team will always fail. By the time the calendar turned to 2011, the Panthers were a below 500 team with a 16-17-2 record. Vokoun had compiled a record of 14-13-1 with a SV% above .920 and 4 shutouts in just 28 games. Once again he was the teams best player. To finish off the season Vokouns numbers were 22-28-5 with 6 shutouts, a .922 SV% and a 2.55 GAA. His numbers were great yet there is only so many wins a goaltender can steal for a team. The Panthers once again missed the playoffs, once again ended with a lottery pick, and once again were one of the laughing stocks of the NHL.
Through 4 complete seasons with the Panthers, Vokoun is yet to make it to the playoffs. Heading into the 2011 offseason he was one of many free agents on this young team. Tallon knew it was time for another make over. Only instead of a makeover through the draft like last year, it was time to re-make the 23 roster players. At the trade deadline Tallon once again turned to his former team for a trade and sent Michael Frolik and Alexander Salak to Chicago for Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman, and David Pacan. Frolik was, like Horton, one of the teams underachieving youngsters who’s time in Florida came to an end after being shown the door by Tallon.
With Vokoun and 14 other free agents in need of new contracts, it had become quite clear that changes were abound in Florida. GM Tallon had to do whatever he could to fill his team with 23 players that will eat up at least a minimum of 48.3 million. With the salary cap rising $4.9 million over the summer, the richer teams were excited while the low spending teams knew they would need to spend extra to reach the new cap floor. With a big summer ahead for Tallon and management, things were bound to change. Well, starting from the hiring of new head coach Kevin Dineen, things sure did change in Sunrise, Florida.
Major Players Added:
At the NHL draft the Florida Panthers received the 3rd overall pick. They used this pick to select left winger Jonathan Huberdeau after the Oilers selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Avs nabbed Gabriel Landeskog. Huberdeau will likely play at least another year in the QMJHL before making an impact with the Florida Panthers.
As he’s done already, Tallon turned to Chicago to acquire another one of the players whose contract was signed by Tallon himself. The high-paid defenseman was acquired from the Blackhawks for Rostislav Olesz. Chicago was able to clear up $4 million in cap space while the Panthers were able to add that very number, as well as a minute munching offensive defenseman in Campbell. He will be a great help for last years 30th ranked powerplay.
Another trade made before the free agency period, Tallon, for the third time in a couple months made a trade with the Blackhawks. He traded for the rights to free agent Kopecky and signed him to a four-year deal worth $12 million. Kopecky’s recent two year contract that just expired was given to him by Tallon as well.
Tallon jumped into the trade pool on July 1st. He acquired, along with the two above, another player from the Blackhawks Stanley Cup squad. While with Chicago, Versteeg was able to post great numbers. He was later traded to Toronto for 3 prospects after winning the Cup. At the deadline Toronto sent him to Philly where he was also unable to find a home. Kris will be looking to settle down with the Panthers. His fourth team in just 12 months. His contract that has one year left at just above $3 million was also given to him by Tallon while in Chicago
The German forward signed out of Nashville agreed to terms with the Panthers on a three-year deal worth $5.1 million. He was the first of many... I repeat, MANY signings made by Florida when the free agency period began at 12pm ET on July 1st. He was able to show that he’s a good third line centerman while playing in Nashville where he posted 30 and 24 point seasons respectively.
From the 1996 Panthers Stanley Cup finalist team, only two players remain in the league. Jovanovski is one of them, and he has officially returned home. The powerful defenseman started his career in Florida before stints with Vancouver and Phoenix. The 35 year-old towering blueliner from Windsor was signed to a four-year deal worth $16.5 million by the team that drafted him 1st overall in the 1994 draft.
Another forward added by Tallon, Upshall was signed to a four-year deal worth $14 million. Last season Upshall started his third season in Phoenix playing with Jovanovski, but was later traded to Columbus at the deadline. The native of Fort McMurray, Alberta reached the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career last season, and will be looking to build on it this year.
With Vokoun testing the waters, Florida was in the market for a new starting goaltender. The best keeper Tallon attracted was the former Hart Trophy winner. The 34 year-old netminder is slowly reaching the end of the road. Despite posting four straight winning seasons (with three different teams) Jose’s numbers have been on the decline and he has been unable to sit with the elite goalies of the league since the lockout. He was signed to a short two-year deal worth a low $3 million.
Probably their biggest signing of the day for this team, the Panthers signed left winger Tomas Fleischmann to a four-year deal worth $18 million. The long-time Capitals winger proved last season that he could play top-line minutes. After being traded to the Avalanche for Scott Hannan, Flash turned his play up a notch recording 8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points with the Avalanche in just 22 games playing alongside Duchene. To show how important he’s gonna be to Florida, after Tomas was lost for the season in Colorado, the Avs won just 6 of their remaining 34 games.
Last season Bergenheim was finally able to find a full-time roster spot with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sean posted a career high 29 points in the regular season through 80 games (also a career high). But it was his great post-season play that earned him his four-year $11 million contract. In 16 games Bergenheim posted 9 goals for Tampa along with 2 assists. He was scoring big-time goals during the big games.
The 33-year old veteran bruiser was signed by Tallon to a two-year contract worth $1.9 million. In Washington, Bradley was good for around 10 fights a season. He will be counted on by Dineen and company to drop the gloves when needed.
Just days into July, Dale Tallon turned back to trades for help. This time he made trades to build depth for the minor league San Antonio Rampage. Within two days the Panthers made three seperate deals. They sent Kenndal McCardle to Winnipeg for Angelo Esposito, they traded Mike Duco to Vancouver for Segei Shirokov (who will spend the year in Europe), and they acquired Keith Seabrook from the Calgary Flames for Jordan Henry.
As Tallon was in the midst of all the big signings on July 1st, the Panthers agreed to terms with veteran Nolan Yonkman on a two-year contract worth $1.4 million. The blueliner dressed up for 16 games with Phoenix this last season. Before that, Nolan had last played in the NHL in 2006 with the Washington Capitals.
Who Was Lost:
F Rostislav Olesz was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks
F Darcy Hordichuk signed with the Edmonton Oilers for one year worth 825k
F Marty Reasoner signed with the New York Islanders for two years worth $2.7 million
D Clay Wilson signed with the Calgary Flames for two years worth $1.05 million
G Tomas Vokoun signed with the Washington Capitals for one year worth $1.5 million
F Niclas Bergfors signed with the Nashville Predators for one year worth 575k
D Alexander Sulzer signed with the Vancouver Canucks for one year worth 700k
F Patrick Rissmiller signed with the Colorado Avalanche for one year worth 525k
F Byron Bitz signed with the Vancouver Canucks for one year worth 700k
F Kenndal McCardle was traded to the Winnipeg Jets
F Mike Duco was traded to the Vancouver Canucks
D Jordan Henry was traded to the Calgary Flames
F Sergei Samsonov remains an Unrestricted Free Agent
F Steve Bernier remains an Unrestricted Free Agent
Well there you have it. The Florida Panthers are gonna be a completely new team going into the 2011-12 season. Returning from last year will be David Booth, Stephan Weiss, Mike Santorelli, Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, and Scott Clemmenson. Everyone else on the ream will be donning the new red jerseys for the first time. The new-look Panthers have added seven new roster players who are locked up for four years.
It has now been 15 months since Dale Tallon was hired by Panthers management as the General Manager. He has used two full off-seasons now to completely rebuild the franchise. From their roster players, to their minor league team, to their prospects.
Ever since he was brought in, Tallon has drafted 23 prospects through two drafts, and added 20 new faces through either free agency or trades. In 2012 the Panthers will be looking at all kinds of line combinations. They will probably spend the beginning part of the season seeing who could gel with who. The team must build chemistry through all the firepower they have added. Many of the new forwards will be looking at increased roles. Tomas Fleischmann, the highest paid forward on the team will be expected to switch back to his natural center position. He will man the second line in Florida and is good for 20 minutes a game. His ice-time will surely reach that number with all the even strength and powerplay time he will receive as long as his blood clot problems are behind him.
Sean Bergenheim will be looking at plenty more ice-time after his playoff showing a few months ago. His 29 points should easily be surpassed this season. With all of the new forwards brought in, Florida should place a lot higher than the 27th ranked goal scoring team this season.
The Panthers blueline last season consisted of low-profile names all year. Youngster Kulikov was part of a group that included Ellerby, Weaver, Callahan, Garrison, and Sulzer as the 6 defenseman that closed out the year in Florida. It’s going to be a lot different this year. With former all-stars Jovanovski and Campbell in the mix, the defense is expected to play a lot better this season. Joining the two veterans will be Weaver, Kulikov, Ellerby, and 2010 3rd overall pick Eric Gudbrandson. The young towering 19 year-old defenseman is expected to jump into the roster this season after signing a three-year entry level contract. Last season he was projected to start the season in Florida, but due to contract negotiation problems, Eric was unable to come to terms on a deal and played another year in the juniors.
The biggest downgrade in Florida this year will be the starting goaltender. The Panthers once again signed a veteran who won’t be here for long. Jose Theodore, at the age of 34, will be counted on to play a role that Vokoun has taken full advantage of while with the Panthers. With a much better defense in front of Theodore then there was with Vokoun, Florida will probably see more wins this season then they did last year. Jose will be a good stop-gap between the Vokoun era and the soon to be Markstrom era.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Eastern Conference once again became more competitive then they were last season. With low-seeded playoff teams Buffalo and the New York Rangers expected to play better this season, and the Devils expected to build on their second half from last year, the playoffs seems to be out of the question for Florida.
This year Tallon will see which of these role players will be here to stay. Over the next couple seasons the Panthers will be injecting plenty of young talent into the roster lead by Jonathon Huberdeau. They will build their team around these prospects and this season will be the time to audition which of the newly signed role players will be a part of the core when the youngsters take over the team. For the first time in a decade, things are looking bright in Sunrise, Florida (no pun intended). They will miss the playoffs again this year, but it won’t be long until they are back at the top looking for a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Deen’s Projected Lineup:
David Booth - Stephan Weiss - Scottie Upshall
Kris Versteeg - Tomas Fleischmann - Tomas Kopecky
Sean Bergenheim - Mike Santorelli - Jack Skille
Matt Bradley - Marcel Goc - Evgeny Dadonov
Brian Campbell - Dmitry Kulikov
Ed Jovanovski - Eric Gudbrandson
Mike Weaver - Keaton Ellerby
In reality, many of Panthers faithful are aware that their chances at the playoffs this season are very slim. While they could sneak in with this roster, it’s unlikely that they will. However, even with this reality, many fans are extremely excited to see this new roster hit the ice. The Panthers will improve from last years 14th place finish. They will place 12th in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Islanders, Senators, and Jets. Expect Fleischmann to score 30 goals this year well on his way to unseating Weiss as the top line centerman.
Deen’s Daily Tidbits:
Many were aware of the risk, but it’s very obvious the Canadiens lost the trade with the Rangers involving Gomez. He has been a bust since arriving in Montreal. Any takers?
Congratulations Dave Scatchard on your NHL career. It always sucks to see someone have to retire because of concussion problems.
Speaking of concussion problems, this may be the end of the road for Marc Savard. He’s been unable to make any progress since suffering another concussion last season because of a hit by former teammate Matt Hunwick.
Whats with NHL.com drafting Corey Perry 2nd overall behind Crosby in the make-believe fantasy draft? Why would the Avs take the Richard Trophy winner over Alex Ovechkin. He and Crosby are still the two best in the league as far as I’m concerned.
Emery, Nolan, Hendry, and Nylander. Let the training camp tryout contracts poor in fellas. It’s right around the corner!
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