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The Case for Florida

Posted 8:11 PM ET | Comments 5
A lot of people seem to frequently ignore Florida. Tucked away down there, miles away from ice, snow, and some might even suggest fans. However, despite how easy it is to dismiss it because of location, they actually have the makings of a good team and an excellent shot and making the playoffs this year.
For one, their division remains one of the weakest in hockey. Tampa Bay has the big three and they are certainly capable of carrying a team. Aside from that, there are more questions and “ifs” than you’d like. Carolina should be a better team after an off year which can be blamed significantly on injuries and the lack of Martin Gerber. (They should really get him back.) Washington is getting closer, but might not be quite there yet. Atlanta really faded down the stretch there and considering what they gave up and and subsequently lost they might be in a bigger hole than they are capable of digging themselves out of.
Another thing to consider is probably the most underrated goalie (and a frequent fantasy jewel) in Thomas Vokoun. Vokoun was one of the biggest reasons for Nashville’s rise to hockey respectability. Nobody ever seemed to notice they only missed the playoffs last year by 6 points and that was with the dynamic duo of Alex Auld and Ed Belfour. Auld’s injuries and 3.35 g.a.a. were a major cause of problems for them. Considering how much you hear that the Leafs could have made the playoffs last year with better goaltending, I think the Panthers are a much better example than that. Ed Belfour was considerably better yet sported a 2.77 g.a.a. and a .902 sv %. Of course goaltending stats never tell the entire picture as defence comes into play quite heavily, but it stands to reason that Vokoun should put up much better numbers.


Salei, Ruslan
Van Ryn, Mike
Allen, Bryan
Bouwmeester, Jay
Mezei, Branislav
Murphy, Cory
Montador, Steve

Florida’s defence is still quite young but another year of experience can only help. Bouwmeester is only 23 but already an elite defenseman. Bryan Allen (i.e. the guy Keenan traded Luongo for) is a solid if unspectacular defenseman who managed to actually be in the positive last year in terms of plus minus. With Salei being the only defenseman over 30, this is quite a young defensive corps and it can be argued that they certainly rival the defensive corps of any other team in the South East division.

Jokinen, Weiss and Horton give the panthers strength down the middle that would be the envy of a lot of teams around the NHL. Again, the forwards are very young still but have some NHL experience. Stumpel is certainly capable of being a solid fourth line center who can move up the depth charts in a pinch. Brett McLean is also a young center, giving the Panthers 4 capable centermen, although 1 will most likely have to move to the wing. The weakest position would most likely have to be their wingers. While Richard Zednik is certainly capable of putting up big numbers, will he?

Dvorak, Radek; Peltonen, Ville; Olesz, Rostislav ; Campbell, Gregory round out the wings. This combo might leave most with a few “who” remarks, but they should be capable of rivalling any other team in the Southeast.

Depth might be the bain of the Panthers existence this season as any injuries to key players could quickly spell disaster. Hockey’s Future rates their top five Prospects as Noah Welch (D), Michael Frolik (C), Kenndal McArdle (LW), Anthony Stewart (RW), Tyler Plante (G)
Welch might be the only one with a legitimate shot at making the team this season. Frolik should be an excellent player in the future, but is still too young to crack an NHL roster. Kenndal McArdle while being a little small, might have the work ethic to crack the team, especially considering their lack of strength up front. The Panthers biggest strength is the fact that they play in arguably the weakest division in hockey. There are a lot of IF’s surrounding the Panthers, but if they manage to avoid lengthy injuries to key players, they might be able to crack 100 points this year and squeak into the playoffs.
Filed Under:   Florida Panthers   Vokoun   Bryan Allen  
August 27, 2007 12:00 AM ET | Delete
Good analysis, and I do agree that Panthers can make the playoffs this season IF they can win their division. I'd say they are capable of putting up a good fight for the division title against Carolina and Tampa. HOwever, if they don't win the division, it would be hard for them to get in with many teams improving this off season. This is in no particular order but here is a list of teams that should make the playoffs this year: Ottawa, Rangers, Flyers, Pittsburg, BUffalo, Devils, Carolina/Tampa, and I think that Leafs will get in 8th.
August 27, 2007 11:23 AM ET | Delete
i'm tired of hearing about the weak southeast division, not only from our friends north of the border but from all the other experts who sign on to hockey buzz. to refresh everyone's memory, over the last 10 stanley cup finals, 5 of the eastern conference finalists have come from the southeast division:1996 florida panthers, true there was no SE division then but they were a charter member of the division.1998 washington capitals2002 carolina hurricanes (they beat 2 of the 3 eastern canadian teams)2004 tampa bay lightning (stanley cup champions, defeated 1 eastern canadian team and1 wesrern canadian team)2006 carolina hurricanes (stanley cup champions, defeated 1 eastern and 1 western canadian team)10 years, 5 eastern conf. champs, 4 different members of the division, though all teams have had up and down years over this time the division is balanced and the divisional games are some of the fastest, wide open in the NHL.NE division - buffalo 1999
August 27, 2007 2:38 PM ET | Delete
It's a soft division, so I'll agree with NYRFAN9, I think they'll need to win the division to get it. I had them penciled in at 3rd in the Conference by default, but I actually think they're the team that solidified themselves the best this off-season. Horton's gonna pot 40 , Jokinen's usually good for 85 points, they did what TB should have done and got an all-star caliber goalie. Their young D is getting more grizzled. I think they get in and make life very miserable for the first team they face.
August 27, 2007 5:13 PM ET | Delete
Mr. Burns. Yeah, the teams might have come out of nowhere to go to the finals and even won, but you can't realistically argue that the Southeast isn't the weakest division. Considering I'm talking about just making the playoffs, how can Washington, Florida, Carolina, Tampa and Atlanta not be the weakest? Perhaps the only comparable would be the Wings division with St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago and Columbus. My argument with that though would be that any division with Detroit simply can't be the weakest. It has nothing to do with lack of respect because I'm from Canada. Heck, I picked the Panthers to make the playoffs, that alone should make you think I'm only thinking hockey. Certainly in the East, Buffalo/Ottawa are stronger than any of the teams in the Southeast. Rangers/Pens/Flyers/Devils. That's pretty strong also. It isn't a slight to say the division is weaker when it is. Certainly 1 team on a surprise run doesn't mean everything does it? p.s. I also have a theory about teams with bad ice having a tremendous home team advantage in the playoffs which I believe partially accounts for their success.
December 18, 2007 5:58 PM ET | Delete
mob_slapman, maybe it's because your post is from August, but check out the Central Division now. Possibly one of the strongest.
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