The midseason is upon us as is the New Year. The Panthers found themselves in a great position a couple weeks ago to potentially tie for first in the division and make some headway in the conference standings only to once again let it slip away and make every game seem like there is no room for error. I did not think at the beginning of the year that they had enough to make the playoffs, and at this point I am still pretty convinced that is still the case.
There just is not enough scoring with many of the forwards being inconsistent, and of the 6 regular defenseman, 3 of them would be a #5 or #6 elsewhere, if playing at all. For all the emphasis that Jacques Martin puts on defense they still give up way too many shots, take some very bad penalties, and are not physical enough, and most of the players are not working the boards or corners consistently.
Is it time for a change? I am a firm believer that a coaching change at midseason is not always the right thing to do, and many times let's the players off the hook.
However for almost 3 years we have seen very little improvement from the Panthers with JM behind the bench, and yet the one thing that is consistent is that they are inconsistent. Except in one area. They start most of their games in first gear! Is this on the players? Is it on the coach? I watch this team very closely and they are a very fragile group once they get behind, yet on some occasions they are able to show flashes of courage and determination. Personally and I don't believe it will happen, I strongly feel a change behind the bench is necessary for a few reasons.
This team hasn't learned how to win, they are afraid to take chances, are not very creative, and many nights don't seem motivated. They have trouble playing 60 minutes, but most of all they suffer from mental toughness. I believe that this falls on the coaches mostly, but as Tomas Vokoun said recently, get some players who are willing to play every night!
Some Grades to think about:
Ollie Jokineen B+ 41 points in 42 games, but he needs better linemates. He's pretty frustrated.
Nathan Horton C- Only 12 goals. Did very little in December. Not a great season so far for the big contract he signed. Has to work much harder.
Stephen Weiss C- His 6th year in the league. When is this 4th pick overall (2001)going to prove his stock? Don't get me started on this one. I can't imagine he was compared to Yzerman when he was in juniors. He doesn't have enough grit for me.
Josef Stumpl D 18 points, only 6 goals and is a -9. Enough said.
Richard Zednik, Brett McClean, Radek Dvorak- a collective C-. 3 nice players, but this was the extent of the free agent frenzy, and even though they are paid about 5 million put together, it's too much for what the return has been. Collectively they are a minus 17!
Branislav Mezei- F as in fail! He has not lived up to his potential, takes bad penalties, is out of position most of the time, and should count his blessings he is still in the NHL. I think his time is limited! Once Cory Murphy returns, he is the odd man out. Oh, by the way he's a minus 12!
David Booth A- The one bright light among the forwards. David plays hard every night, every shift. He deserves to be on the first line! Is a plus 8.
Jassen Cullimore B- Stable, not flashy, but doesn't get into too much trouble either. He's actually deserving of more time based on some of the other defenseman, and is a plus 7 which says alot.
Anthony Stewart- Incomplete. I mention this one because how can you tell what he is capable of when he plays about 5 minutes per game, is on the 4th line, and is probably suffering from jet lag each time he is called up. My suggestion, put him on the first or 2nd line for 10 games. Find out if he's got it or if he doesn't.
Tomas Vokoun- A. Without him, the Panthers would be in trouble. I give alot of credit to Jacques Martin for basically giving up a cheese sandwich and a couple doughnuts to get this guy. Tomas has been stellar considering he has faced the most shots of any goalie in the NHL. But his patience is running out, and I can't blame him for being vocally upset.
This seems very negative, but in reality it's the truth. This team has not been to the playoffs for a very long time and we as fans keep hearing that this is our year, then we keep blaming past trades, past GM's, past coaches when things don't work out. How about the trades that weren't made or players that could have been picked up but weren't? Sure could use Mark Recchi, but JM said they had other needs. If so when are they goiong to be addressed.
Personally I think the Panthers organization is afraid to make moves, and is forcing themselves to work with what they have to give the appearance that a stable environment that will produce a winning record and a playoff appearance.
If JM doesn't do something soon and find a way to motivate his players, and get some better performances on a consistent basis, he will have his vets demanding a trade to get out of sunny Florida. Or he just might find himself on the job market!
Tuesday night "Sid the Kid" comes to town! If you can't get yourself motivated to play against him, then I don't know what the answer is.