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.

Kings place Zatkoff on waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have placed goalie Jeff Zatkoff on waivers.

With Jonathan Quick not expected back until next month, it’s possible that the Kings intend to recall Jack Campbell from the AHL. (They had reportedly been considering it.)

Zatkoff has had a tough time in his first season with the club. The 29-year-old is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage. He hasn’t made a start since Jan. 23, leaving all the work to 34-year-old Peter Budaj.

Campbell has a .913 save percentage in 38 games for AHL Ontario this season.

The Kings host the Bruins tomorrow.

Treliving won’t say if Wideman’s been asked to waive NMC

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Dennis Wideman #6 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The writing is pretty much on the wall for Dennis Wideman.

The Flames haven’t been happy with their defensive group outside the top three of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. To that end, they signed Matt Bartkowski from AHL Providence and acquired former Arizona blueliner Michael Stone via trade.

Those moves have trickled down to Wideman, who’s in the last of a five-year deal with a $5.25 million cap hit.

After getting over 20 minutes in last Monday’s ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona, the 33-year-old received two of his lowest ice times of the season — 12:32 against Philly, 13:35 against Vancouver — before sitting as a healthy scratch in last night’s win over the Preds.

Could Wideman be moving on? More, from the Herald:

I asked Treliving if he had approached Wideman to waive his no-movement clause and he said he didn’t want to get into any of that.

Suffice it to say, Wideman and his $5.25 million cap hit have been shopped for years, with hopes that if anyone was willing to take him on, the player would see the move as a better option to staying put.

No takers.

It’s easy to forget that, in ’14-15, Wideman posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (56) while playing a boatload of minutes (24:39 per night). He also had seven points in 11 playoff games.

But the last two years have been extremely difficult. Injuries and the now-infamous hit on linesman Don Henderson — one that resulted in a 20-game suspension — have clearly taken their toll, and Wideman clearly isn’t a favorite of head coach Glen Gulutzan.

There may be a glimmer of hope for a trade, though.

Wideman’s bloated cap hit can be mitigated between the small number of games left in the regular season, and the possibility of Calgary retaining salary. That said, Wideman would be seen by most as an insurance policy for the playoffs — which is exactly why the Flames might keep him around.

This is a club with postseason aspirations, one that could use a serviceable d-man on the depth chart.

Vegas won’t be active at the trade deadline after all

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee (L) listens as majority owner of the Las Vegas NHL franchise Bill Foley speaks after announcing McPhee as the team's general manager during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The Vegas Golden Knights will not be active at the trade deadline after all.

It was thought a few weeks back that they might be, but owner Bill Foley said in a radio interview yesterday that the final payment would not be made in time.

“We won’t make it before the trade deadline,” Foley told KXNT, per The Sin Bin. “The documentation is unbelievable. I have documentation with the league on a franchise agreement. I have documentation on a loan we are taking out with CitiBank. I’ve got my personal stuff, which all has to get in and get approved. If you saw the stack of documents you’d say it’s not a pretty picture.”

Foley added that it was other teams that wanted to make deals more than it was his team.

“They want to lock up some of their players for the playoff run and after the playoff run,” he said.

What’s he talking about there?

Well, if the Golden Knights were active at the deadline, teams could’ve sent them draft picks or prospects to not select certain players in the expansion draft.

But that’ll have to wait now.

‘There’s a lot of flaws’ — Smith sounds off on concussion protocol

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, we wrote about Columbus head coach John Tortorella taking issue with the NHL’s concussion protocol.

Now, another vocal critic — Arizona goalie Mike Smith.

In the third period of Monday’s game against Anaheim, Smith was run into by Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg. The collision knocked Smith’s mask off, and a spotter watching the game in Toronto asked that he veteran goalie be removed for concussion testing.

That happened at the 4:29 mark of the third. By the time Smith had been checked out, tested and cleared, there were only 90 seconds remaining — meaning Smith’s night was essentially over. (Marek Langenhamer secured the win in relief).

Arizona’s longtime No. 1 was displeased with the way things played out.

“I think there’s a lot of flaws in the system, especially with the goalie position, and it needs to get fixed,” he said, per the Arizona Republic. “What stops a fourth liner from going and bumping into a goalie? It’s just a two-minute penalty to get your starting goalie out?

“I don’t think it’s happened in a playoff game yet, but I’m sure it will.”

The 35-year-old added that his initial reaction to getting hit — grabbing his face and head — was only an instinct to protect himself, not an indication he suffered a head injury.

Smith also said that, for a goalie, sitting out for as long as he did makes it extremely difficult to jump back into action.

“I’m cleared, but now I’m coming back and now I’m more at risk of injury than before,” he explained.

Smith had yet another issue with the concussion protocol as it pertains to goalies. What if, he asked, the starter gets knocked out and requires testing, then the backup has the exact same thing happen? As unlikely as the scenario sounds, the possibility is out there.

As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the league looks to reassess the policy this offseason. In an email to the Republic, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said concussion protocol “is something that has been debated and discussed over a number of years and in great detail.”

One has to think those discussions will continue.