NHL 2017 Season: Florida Panthers Pre-Season Overview
It wasn’t long ago that the Florida Panthers finished 1st in the Atlantic Division and 3rd overall in the Eastern Conference. Last year didn’t go as well, with the team coming 6th in the Atlantic and way down in 13th of the Eastern Conference. Their record of 35 – 36 – 11 is not something that they’ll want to dwell on, just like the 237 goals scored against them for the 210 that they were able to score. They’ve got a new coach this year with Bob Boughner, with Dale Tallon taking on duties as General Manager. Have they done enough in the off season to prepare themselves for success in the 2017 – 2018 season? Let’s take a look and find out.
Losing Key Players Will Not Help Their Prospects
A new coach and fresh management could lead to a culture shift in the team, and a rebuilding period with potential to start developing their younger talent. However, this isn’t going to be made easy with the loss of some of their stronger players. The forwards have taken a significant hit with the loss of Jaromir Jagr who is now a free agent and may be signed with the Rangers, Jonathan Marchessault has gone to the Golden Knights, along with Reilly Smith, and Jussi Jokinen will be joining the Oilers this season.The loss of Marchessault will be particularly damaging. He was one of the best goal scorers that the team had, and was responsible for 30 goals last year and 21 assists. That was his best season ever in the NHL, and it feels like he is one of the players that the team should have tried harder to hold on to.Reilly Smith was also efficient in the wing. In 80 games last season he scored 15 goals and made 22 assists. Like Marchessault, he was an essential part of the offensive side, and for a team that struggled last year to damage their opponents, it just doesn’t feel right that they’re losing their best talents.
Replacements Don’t Offer Much Hope
Looking at what they’ve done in terms of replacements, the confidence is still not there. They’ve gained Evgeny Dadonov who will be coming back to the NHL after playing in the KHL for the past four seasons. He was exceptional in that league, scoring 30 goals and making 36 assists last year, but there’s no guarantee that his success is going to immediately translate to the NHL. The last time he played in the NHL he only appeared in 15 games for the Florida Panthers, and only managed 2 goals with a single assist. His best ever year in the NHL was the 2010 – 11 season where from 36 games he scored 8 goals with 9 assists. It’s clear that his stats have improved with the time that he’s spent in the KHL, but, again, those may as well be wiped clean as he comes back to a completely different league where the competition can’t be directly compared. If he can start producing results, then he’ll be seen as the smartest signing of the year. However, if he can’t, then it will make the loss of Marchessault and Smith even more painful. Radim Vrbata is another key signing for this year, but again, he’s not guaranteed to be the talent that this team needs in the offense. He’s had a long and relatively successful career in the NHL, but his recent records have not been as good as they were at the peak of his career. In the 2011 – 12 season he scored an impressive 35 goals with 27 assists from 77 games. 2014 – 15 was also a good season for him where he scored 31 goals from 32 games. However, he then hit a slump in 2015 with just 13 goals from 14 games, and last season wasn’t quite the bounce back that he needed, with 20 goals from 35 games. The positive that we can take away from Vrbata’s signing is that he’s a proven goal scorer (when his season is good) and his assist record is fairly consistent. He could work well with Evgeny Dadonov, and these two players might turn out to be the best aspects of the forwards. At the same time, Vrbata is 36 years old and many would say that he’s approaching the end of his career. He may well have peaked already, and even the benefit of having an experienced veteran in the team might not be enough to help develop the junior ranks. The Florida Panthers need to be performing now if they really want to bounce back, and it’s not guaranteed that immediate performance is going to be there. Another possible addition for this year is Harry Zolnierczykto. He’ll be at the professional tryouts this month, and could make it to the final roster. He played with the Nashville Predators last season, and scored two goals and two assists. Although he’s never had the full opportunity to show what he is capable of in the NHL, he did have some fairly successful seasons in the AHL from 2012 to 2014. Again, Zolnierczykto could turn out to be a strong addition to the team but his record is unproven, and at this stage we’re not even sure if he will be on the final roster.
The Florida Panthers Don’t Look great for 2017 – 2018
Some heavy losses and some questionable signings mean that we don’t really know what’s going to happen with the Florida Panthers in 2017, but the cautious bettor wouldn’t be wrong to keep them in the lower end of the teams in the Atlantic Division. There is potential there, but at this stage there are too many unknowns, particularly with older signings and players coming from other leagues.Before taking a risk on the Panthers, it would make more sense to see how their early season goes, when a clearer picture will emerge for their prospects in the Atlantic Division this year.