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(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)
38-29-15, sixth in the Atlantic Division.
2014-15 Season, In One Tweet
Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?
About the same. General manager Dale Tallon didn’t make many additions to the Panthers’ roster over the summer. Reilly Smith and the contract of Marc Savard were acquired for Jimmy Hayes; Lawson Crouse was selected 11th overall in the June draft; and Martin Havlat reunites with Tallon as he’ll come into training camp on a tryout. Same for David Booth, who returns to South Florida after three seasons away.
The summer was about shedding old faces and allowing younger players to play and earn more responsibility up and down the lineup.
Gone is shootout specialist Brad Boyes, who had the final year of his contract bought out. Dan Ellis and Shane O’Brien went unsigned.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, F
Huberdeau is now signed for the next two years and ready to continue leading the Panthers’ offense. Now that the contract talk is over with, how much better can the 22-year old get playing alongside Jagr for an entire season?
2. Jaromir Jagr, F
How much longer will the ageless wonder continue to play? He’s 43 now and looks like he might be able to reach his goal of playing until 50. “Grizzly” Jagr has played the role of veteran influence since he returned to the NHL in 2012, and he’ll have plenty of young grasshoppers to teach with the Panthers.
3. Brian Campbell, D
Campbell is entering the final year of his deal and while the Panthers would like to be pushing for a playoff spot come February, the 36-year old blueliner would make for a nice trade chip for Tallon if the postseason isn’t a reasonable expectation by then.
4. Brandon Pirri, F
Pirri won the NHL’s “Cy Young Award” last season with his 22-goal, 2-assist output in his first season with the Panthers. With a score-adjusted PDO of 101.42 last season, will he crash back down to reality or level out as a decent-scoring forward?
5. Aaron Ekblad, D
The first overall pick from the 2014 NHL Draft entered the league, formed a bromance with Willie Mitchell, handled a ton of ice time and ended up winning the Calder Trophy. Will he avoid the sophomore slump to further cement his place on the Florida blueline for years to come?
Potentially The Best Thing About This Team
Luongo’s efforts to get Jagr to bring the mullet back:
OK, seriously, Luongo’s presence has greatly improved the team defense and filled a need the Panthers were lacking. Another strong year from Ekblad and steps forward from Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson could really be the keys for a playoff push in the Atlantic Division.
Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team
For all the progress the young players might make, the special teams need to improve. Both the power play and penalty kill were ranked 24th last season. It’s tough to make the playoffs if you’re not scoring with the extra man and letting in too many goals down a man.
Dream 3-on-3 OT Group
Jagr sets up along the half-boards, Huberdeau waits in the slot, while Campbell sits on the blueline eager to unleash a one-timer.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Two. Gallant enters his second season behind the bench and barring a complete meltdown he’ll end it there as well. The franchise has added talent and drafted well to ensure that the future is bright. It’s up to Gallant and his staff to aid the young core in taking that next step and making the Panthers a regular playoff team.
Awkward Old School Video Break
That awkward moment when a frustrated Keith Ballard clipped Tomas Vokoun as he smashed his stick against the post after a goal against.
Their Best Case Scenario Is …
The kids take that next step, Jagr remains an ageless wonder, Luongo continues to be the biggest improvement on the backend in years and Florida can leapfrog Boston and Ottawa to slide into a wild card spot.
Their Nightmare Scenario Is …
Panthers fans have heard enough talk of “progress” over the years. They want the playoffs and they want them on a regular basis. Talking about the future is tired. Playoffs or bust.
The Panthers were seven points out of a wild card spot a year ago, but their -17 goal difference is something that needs to improve if postseason dreams are to become a reality. A lot depends on the progress of their young core, but they should be in the mix come trade deadline time, which could allow Tallon to make an upgrade or two for one final push.
PUCK DADDY SEASON PREVIEW 2015-16: Winnipeg Jets/Washington Capitals/Vancouver Canucks/Tampa Bay Lightning/San Jose Sharks/Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers/Ottawa Senators/New York Rangers/New York Islanders/New Jersey Devils/Nashville Predators/Montreal Canadiens/Minnesota Wild/Los Angeles Kings