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(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
Last Season, In Summary
The Florida Panthers found themselves in very familiar territory last season. They welcomed a new owner, fired their coach, finished toward the bottom of their division (29-45-8, 66 pts.) and missed the playoffs. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Vincent Viola became the franchise’s latest owner last September. He’s promised to spend to make the team competitive. With the influx of youth on the roster, that could help the team turn things around long-term.
The biggest move made was welcoming back Roberto Luongo after months of rumors. Could a now happy goaltender equal a few places in the standings?
The low finish helped the Panthers earn the no. 1 overall pick through the draft lottery. They selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad to be a cornerstone player going forward.
Last Season’s Definitive Highlight
A pane of glass behind one of the BB&T Center nets broke and arena workers were unable to take the protective cover off of its replacement. That’s how it looked for much of the third period.
General manager Dale Tallon was busy on July 1, spending Viola’s money by bringing in Jussi Jokinen (4 years, $16 million), Dave Bolland (5 years, $27.5 million), Willie Mitchell (two years, $8.5 million), Derek MacKenzie (3 years, $3.9 million), Al Montoya (2 years, $2.1 million) and Shawn Thornton (2 years, $2.4 million).
Heading out of Sunrise was Tom Gilbert, who would ink a deal with Montreal; Scott Clemmensen, who returned to New Jersey; Tim Thomas, who remains unsigned; Krys Barch, who’s on a PTO in Arizona; and Jesse Winchester, who signed in Colorado. The franchise’s first ever draft pick and team captain, Ed Jovanovski, was bought out in June.
Nick Bjugstad set an NHL record last season, but not one to be proud of. The young forward recorded 38 points, which was the lowest total ever by a leading scorer over an 82-game season.
It was a good start for the rookie, one the Panthers hope continues, along with the rest of their kids like Aleksandr Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov recorded 24 points before a concussion at the Sochi Olympics sidelined him for the rest of the season. Huberdeau, meanwhile, missed 13 games and scored only nine times. Healthy seasons could mean a team leading scorer of more than 38 points.
Aiding the offense was Scottie Upshall (36 points), who played a career high 76 games after battling various injuries the previous few seasons. Sean Bergenheim returned to the Panthers after a year away and chipped in 16 goals. Brad Boyes led the team in goals with 21, earning him a nice two-year, $5.25 million extension. He also continued his dominance in the shootout scoring on six of his 10 opportunities.
Along with Upshall, it’s a big year for Tomas Fleischmann. Both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next summer. Fleischmann is looking to bounce back after record his lowest goal total (8) since 2006-07.
Jussi Jokinen earned a $16 million contract and had a strong year (21 goals, 57 points) in Pittsburgh next to Evgeni Malkin. Can he repeat that with a pivot not as talented as Malkin? Tallon wrote a hefty check for Dave Bolland, but the former Blackhawks Stanley Cup hero has struggled with injury the past two seasons and has seen his offense dwindle since a 19-goal, 47-point season in 2008-09.
Jimmy Hayes, Rocco Grimaldi, Brandon Pirri, Quinton Howden, Drew Shore and Vince Trochek fill out the rest of the youth group that could make an impact with the big club this season.
Only the Edmonton Oilers allowed more goals per game than the Panthers last season (3.20). That number should be better with Luongo in net for a full campaign. The blue line sees a bit of change with the additions of Ekblad and Mitchell, and departure of Gilbert.
Brian Campbell was third in the NHL in time on ice (26:57) and was the team’s second-leading scorer with 37 points. Dmitry Kulikov had good possession numbers (51.27-percent Corsi, via War on Ice) while averaging 21:41 of ice. The Panthers are hoping Erik Gudbranson continues his development as a building block for the future defensively with Ekblad.
Willie Mitchell is signed for the next two years and will replace Jovanovski as the gray beard in the back.
Luongo’s presence gives Florida stability in goal. Finally out of Vancouver and back to where his career took off, the 35-year old will be worth a few points in the standings and will help improve the team’s goals allowed per game average. (It’s a small sample size, but in 14 games with Florida last season Luongo’s even strength save percentage was .937.)
Al Montoya, who spent the last two seasons in Winnipeg, was signed for the backup role.
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
One of the bigger challenges facing new head coach Gerardl Gallant will be improving special teams. Both Florida’s power play (10-percent) and penalty kill (76-percent) units finished dead last in the NHL last season. Luongo and Bolland can help the PK, while the maturation of kids like Bjugstad, Barkov and Huberdeau, coupled with a fresh scheme devised by Gallant should see a few more successful man advantages.
GM and Coach
Tallon has spent money before Viola's arrival, culminating in one playoff appearance. While he’s spent, he’s also collected young talent that give hope for the future. That talent will be led by new head coach Gerard Gallant, who assisted Michel Therrien in Montreal the last two seasons. (That’s 13 head coaches in franchise history, if you’re counting.)
And Now, A Blooper
This is a prime example of how not to make a line change.
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
The slew of kids take the team on their backs and Luongo elevates his play, putting the Panthers in contention for a playoff spot instead of another high draft pick.
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
The youth on the team see their development slowed and Florida’s issues with scoring continue, leaving Tallon’s job in jeopardy and another top prospect entering the fold next season.
Single Emoji Prediction
Prediction: There are hints of improvement in the Panthers’ lineup and with an Atlantic Division that’s a bit weaker, a playoff spot could be in reach if all goes well. It’s a stretch, but while the postseason may be a dream for 2014-15, the key is ensuring the youth Tallon has collected continue developing.