(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
Three hundred sixty one. That's the total number of man games lost to injury for the Florida Panthers last season. From Kris Versteeg (38 games) to Jose Theodore (last start March 2) to Scottie Upshall (21) to Stephen Weiss (31) to Ed Jovanovski (42), after the Panthers raised their 2012 Southeast Division champions banner, it went all down hill.
Florida finished dead last in the Eastern Conference (15-27-6, 36 pts.) and 30th overall in the NHL for the first time in franchise history. A season of bad luck continued as they lost out of the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft Lottery, having to settle for second and Aleksander Barkov.
The Panthers are quickly turning the page and forgetting what 2013 brought. But now they move to the Adams Northeast Atlantic Division along with in-state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and former Western Conference giants the Detroit Red Wings.
Things won't be getting any easier for the Cats.
At least Shawn Matthias gave Panthers fans something to smile about with this great individual effort.
With the albatross of a big contract now gone, Scott Gomez will settle into a mentor role with the Panthers. Signing a one-year, $900,000 deal, Gomez's experience should rub off on to Florida's kids. Two of those kids, Bobby Butler and Joey Crabb, will join the depth up front.
Depth moves were the only ones GM Dale Tallon made this summer. Aside from adding up front, he also brought in Mike Mottau and Matt Gilroy to help out the defense.
In with the new and out with the old as Stephen Weiss, Florida's first round pick from 2001, signed a lucrative deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Mustachioed George Parros took his talents to the Montreal Canadiens. Peter Mueller, who played well with eight goals and 17 points, signed in Switzerland. Finally, with Jacob Markstrom ready, Jose Theodore was not brought back.
Forward: Tied with Nashville for the league's worst offense (2.27 goals per game), the Panthers are hoping the injury bug doesn't strike again and that their kids take next steps. Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau (14 goals, 31 points) added some muscle in the summer while recovering from off-season hip surgery. No. 2 overall pick Aleksander Barkov is expected to be in the lineup on opening night and contribute to a limp offense. Florida surprised many by passing over Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin and drafting Barkov. Will we see what Tallon and his staff saw?
Tomas Fleischmann (35 points) has been an offensive star since coming over to the Panthers. He'll hopefully have some support from a healthy Versteeg, who missed most of last season with a knee injury; Tomas Kopecky (15 goals), who was putting up career numbers in a shortened season; and Shawn Matthias, who had a breakout year (14 goals, 21 points) in 2013.
After filing two medical grievances while missing last season, Sean Bergenheim returns healthy and letting the past be the past. He put up 17 goals in 2011-12 for the Panthers.
Brad Boyes spent last season on John Tavares' wing most of the time. He's entering Panthers camp on a tryout. Can he succeed next to Huberdeau?
Finally, two questions regarding the forward group: Can Scottie Upshall stay healthy? He hasn't played more than 27 games in either of the past three seasons. And how much of a positive effect can Scott Gomez have in a mentor role?
Defense: Injuries forced head coach Kevin Dineen to play 13 different defensemen last season. That, in effect, helped the Panthers finished 30th in goals allowed (3.54 per game). Brian Campbell was third in team scoring with 27 points and will again be looked at to carry a heavy load. He's played the most minutes of his career in his two seasons with the Panthers.
Aside from Campbell, a healthy Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov (10 points, 20:58 TOI) give the Panthers something for the future (both are RFAs after this season).
Ed Jovanovski, limited to six games last season, still has two years and $8.25 million left on his contract -- an over-35 deal. The 37-year old's health will be a key concern on and off the ice.
Goalies: Is Jacob Markstrom the guy or not? That appeared to be the case once the Roberto Luongo talk died down, but now comes news that the Panthers have sent out camp invites to both Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov after backup Scott Clemmensen went down with an injury. It remains to be seen if either will accept, but the 23-year old Markstrom has been waiting his turn and given the outlook for the current season, what's the harm in letting him grab the reigns full-time now?
Tallon's "Supermarket Sweep"-esque summer of shopping in 2011 paid off with the franchise's first playoff berth in over a decade. A year later, he kept the wallet shut and is hoping health reigns and the fruits of his drafting will pay off. Head coach Kevin Dineen was able to gel his lines quickly after major roster turnover in the summer of 2011. With a healthy lineup, can he repeat that?
We could listen to Randy Moller goal calls all day.
For all the woes of this team last season, the power play was a bright, bright shining star. Thirteen players tallied a goal with the man advantage as the Panthers finished sixth overall (20.4 percent) in the NHL.
Huberdeau, Barkov, Bjugstad, Gudbranson, Markstrom. It's not all bad in Sunrise.
Stanley C. Panther is still pretty cool.
Hoo boy, that penalty kill was all kinds of ugly. Florida allowed 39 power play goals last season, good for dead last (74.2 percent) in the NHL.
Even if the kids take that next step and the man games lost are kept to a minimum, the Panthers will have a tough time getting back to the postseason, or even putting themselves in the mix for a playoff spot. Trying to overcome top dogs Detroit, Boston, Ottawa, Montreal for a place will be awfully difficult. The expectations for 2013-14 should be tempered with the hope that Markstrom makes big strides, Huberdeau continues his upward swing, Barkov impresses in his rookie season and Gudbranson further develops into an anchor on the blue line.