2010-11 NHL season preview: Florida Panthers

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Thumbnail image for daletallon1.jpgLast season: (32-37-13, 77 points, 5th in Southeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference) The Panthers seem like they’re in a perpetual holding pattern. It was only fitting that the team was bad enough to earn the third pick in the draft, which fell just short of earning them a potential star such as Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.

Head coach: Peter DeBoer took advantage of the recent trend of AHL coaches gaining a promotion to the NHL. Who knows how patient the franchise is, but you almost feel like the 2010-11 season should be part of a grace period. The team is in a clear rebuilding stage.

Key departures: F Nathan Horton, F Gregory Campbell, D Keith Ballard. In the short term, the Panthers might actually take a step back. Horton is an injury-prone but talented forward who needed a change of scenery, but the team didn’t bring in an immediate replacement. Ballard is a solid if overpaid defenseman who might be missed a bit.

Key arrivals: D Dennis Wideman, F Steve Bernier, F Michael Grabner, F Chris Higgins, D Mike Weaver. Wideman is an up-and-down defenseman who can be leaky in his own end but also put up big numbers. Bernier and Higgins are frustrating players while Grabner might benefit from a great opportunity in Florida. First-round pick Erik Gudbranson might make a jump to the NHL right away.

Thumbnail image for vokounsquashed.jpgUnder pressure: Tomas Vokoun is in a contract year on a rebuilding team. If he can put together another impressive statistical season, he’ll either be rewarded by the Panthers or another team with a big deal.

Protecting the house: Vokoun is the starter and flash-in-the-pan backup Scott Clemmensen should stay in place, although super-prospect Jacob Markstrom might get some playing time if the team is far out of the playoff race. Goalies have been the strength of this team all the way back to Roberto Luongo’s time there (heck, some might say since the days of John Vanbiesbrouck) and that’s still the case.

The Panthers defense is a weird mix of damaged veterans (the much-maligned Bryan McCabe, Wideman and Bryan Allen) as well as young guys who might not be ready yet (Gudbranson and Dmitri Kulikov). Essentially exchanging Ballard for Wideman is a considerable downgrade for a decent-at-best group. On the bright side, the future looks pretty good for their blue line.

Top line we’d like to see: Cory Stillman-Stephen Weiss-David Booth. Stillman is a nice playmaker who is getting long in the tooth, Weiss has the two-way skills that make him a stat-blogger favorite and Booth is a power forward in the making if he can conquer his concussion issues. This line would have a little bit of everything, although it would be far from elite.

bryanmccabecaptain.jpgOh captain, my captain: I’ll admit, I had to look this up, but … McCabe? Really? Hahaha.

Street fighting man: The Panthers put up a lot of fights last season (50) compared to their division mates, but they no longer have their leading fighter Nick Tarnasky listed on their roster (he’s currently a free agent). Still, with new GM Dale Tallon, I imagine they’ll probably throw some punches. Bryan Allen had nine fights last season and Byron Bitz sounds like the kind of guy that might pick up the fighting mantle.

Best-case scenario: Well, I guess a dark horse run to a playoff spot would be the best-case scenario? Honestly, the team would be better off tanking for some blue chip talent.

Worst-case scenario: The Panthers seemingly always end up just short of a playoff berth which is a bad place to be in the current NHL. They don’t get the premium prospects that come with high picks or the prestige and gate revenue of a playoff run. Doing so again would make Tallon’s rebuild process go much slower.

Keeping it real: Tallon is doing a nice job, but there will be some growing pains. The team is better off being lousy this season as they amass young, talented through the draft and shrewd free agent moves. Aside from their goalie duo, the team really doesn’t have many strengths.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Florida rates a 1. Perhaps they could ride Vokoun’s talent (and the inspiration that comes with a contract year) into a stunning playoff run, but they’ll likely trade him in the middle of the season and truly commit to the rebuilding process.

Just 13 days after claiming him, Ducks waive Etem

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks
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Emerson Etem‘s second go-round in Anaheim has hit a snag.

On Wednesday, the Ducks put Etem on waivers — per TSN — a move that comes less than two weeks after Anaheim plucked him off the wire from Vancouver.

Etem, 24, has only appeared in two games for the Ducks since re-joining the team. He played just over six minutes in a loss to the Devils, and 5:38 in a win over the Flyers.

Taken 29th overall by Anaheim at the 2010 draft, Etem began his pro career with the Ducks organization, and score 31 points in 112 games before getting dealt to the Rangers in 2015.

He failed to make an impact with the Blueshirts, and was dealt to Vancouver after just 19 games under Alain Vigneault. Though he showed flashes in his first season with the Canucks — scoring seven goals and 12 points in 39 games — he looked flat in training camp and preseason this year, and was waived prior to the start of the regular season.

Given he’s pretty fast, a former first-round pick and blessed with some offensive pedigree, there’s a chance Etem could be claimed again. If not, the plan is (presumably) to send him to AHL San Diego.

Capitals hit the road, hoping to ‘really lock down an identity’

DENVER, CO - APRIL 01:  Head coach Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals talks to Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals as they prepare to face the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 4-2.
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The simple thing the Washington Capitals want to get out of their four-game Western Canadian road trip doesn’t tell the whole story.

Player after player said the Capitals are looking for a perfect eight points out of games at the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. More specifically the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners want to develop more consistency all over the ice.

Washington’s 3-1-1 record through five games is nothing to shake a stick at, but they’ve had second-period lulls, defensive breakdowns and poor special teams play.

“At times we’re playing really great hockey and the way we want, and then the other times I think mentally we just kind of take a step back or try to do a little too much or think the game’s going to come easier,” right winger T.J. Oshie said Tuesday. “As long as we keep our foot on the gas, play a little bit more consistent game, a faster game, I think we’re going to be doing pretty good.”

Coach Barry Trotz shook up his top lines after a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, putting Andre Burakovsky on right wing with captain Alex Ovechkin and all-star center Evgeny Kuznetsov and moving Oshie down to play with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. He kept the power-play units the same despite a 2 for 16 success rate that ranks the Capitals 22nd in the NHL going into Tuesday.

Trotz believes the power play and the penalty kill, which at 71.4 percent is 26th in the league, will get it together. But he’d like to see a more even game in all situations.

“It can be faceoffs, it can be wall plays, it can be just our structure though the neutral zone,” Trotz said. “We want to know what you’re going to get every day so that we can really lock down an identity so everybody knows exactly what they’re up against every night and how we play and there’s not a lot of deviation from it. With that, you get a lot of order and with that order you’re going to get some production.

“When you don’t have everybody on the same page, you’re not going to be that good.”

Trotz wants the Capitals to be a 60-minute team, and those middle 20 minutes have been a source of some frustration. Washington has been outscored 6-2 in the second period, a puzzling problem to say the least.

“For some reason we haven’t played as well as we have in the first and third periods,” Johansson said. “If we knew (why), it would make it a lot easier. We just have to play a full 60 minutes hard.”

The four-game trip starts with a major test Wednesday against 19-year-old superstar Connor McDavid and the Oilers. This will be the first time the Capitals face McDavid, who missed much of last season with a broken collarbone but is on top of his game, tied for the league lead in scoring with nine points.

Capitals players know how good McDavid can be but are wary of his high-skilled unpredictability that defenseman Matt Niskanen joked “hasn’t been coached out” of him yet.

“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do because he’s so fast,” said Burakovsky, who played with McDavid on the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “He likes to just skate around you with the puck.”

The Oilers are so far one of the best teams in hockey because of McDavid and linemates Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. Washington had been one of the best defensive teams before the loss to the Rangers, so stopping McDavid and company will be a tall task.

“They’ve got a combination of skills on that line,” Niskanen said. “It’ll be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers team than it’s been in the last couple years.”


‘It’s going to be a grind’ for the Canucks, who can’t play like they used to

Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard (19) celebrates teammate Ryan Dzingel's goal as Vancouver Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa (5) looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia.  (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Watching the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, it seemed like a hundred years ago that they led the NHL in scoring.

The Canucks were shut out, 3-0, by the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena. The home side failed to generate much of anything offensively, finishing with just 22 shots against one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

Afterwards, Vancouver’s captain — the Art Ross Trophy winner in 2009-10 — shared the stark reality about how his team has to play now.

“You’re not going to see anyone, I believe, have a career year offensively,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be a grind. When we get the chances, we’re going to need to score.”

The plan is to keep games close, by whatever means possible. The Canucks won their first four, two of them in overtime and one in the shootout. But they’ve since dropped three straight, and they now rank dead last in league scoring.

Granted, the Canucks were playing their seventh game in 11 days. They didn’t start their regular season until Oct. 15, and they haven’t had two consecutive days off since.

“We weren’t quick enough in our decisions,” said Sedin, “and that might be part of the fatigue, too, where your brain isn’t working as fast it should.”

But that excuse won’t fly after their next game. The Canucks will have two days to rest and practice before Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit Friday.

“That’s a team we have to play tight against,” said Sedin.

Just like every other team, apparently.

Canucks goals per game

2009-10: 3.27 (2nd)
2010-11: 3.15 (1st)
2011-12: 2.94 (5th)
2012-13: 2.54 (19th)
2013-14: 2.33 (28th)
2014-15: 2.88 (8th)
2015-16: 2.27 (29th)
2016-17: 2.00 (30th) 

Losers of five straight, Coyotes off to worst start in franchise history

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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There was a fair bit of excitement in Arizona at the start of the year, when the Coyotes announced four prized prospects — Jakob Chychrun, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse and Christian Dvorak — had made the opening night roster.

Well, that sure feels like a long time ago.

The Coyotes lost their fifth straight game on Tuesday night — a 5-3 defeat in New Jersey — and are now off to the worst start in franchise history, having earned just two points through their first six games.

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We recognize that, but the only way you can get out of it is to work through it. The whole group has to work through it.”

It’s tough to pinpoint one specific thing that’s caused the poor start.

The schedule has done no favors — after opening with a win at home over the Flyers, Arizona’s been on a really tough trip through Ottawa, Montreal, Brooklyn, MSG, New Jersey and, on Thursday, Philadelphia.

Goaltending has been a major issue, as Louis Domingue and Justin Peters have failed to provide consistent play since No. 1 Mike Smith went down with injury. Domingue is a ghastly 0-4-0 with a .851 save percentage and 5.03 GAA and, last night, Peters got the start but failed to make much of an impact, allowing four goals on 34 shots.

There’s more, too.

Two of the club’s brightest stars, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, have struggled mightily to start the campaign. Domi is goalless through six games with just three points, and Duclair’s been even worse — no goals, no assists, no points and just seven shots on goal.

He’s seen his ice time fall as a result, and finished with just 13:40 last night at Prudential.

As mentioned above, Arizona also has several youngsters learning on the job — and playing prominent roles. Chychrun, one of the youngest blueliners in the league at 18, is averaging over 16 minutes per night, and the club’s best forward thus far might be Jordan Martinook, the sophomore winger with five points through six games.

If there is a silver lining here, it’s that the Coyotes go home soon.

They’ll wrap their six-game road swing in Philly, then head back to Arizona for a three-game home set against the Avs, Sharks and Predators.