Appraising the new-look Florida Panthers after a busy free agent weekend

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There were more than a few teams who experienced dramatic makeovers in the last couple weeks or so. The Philadelphia Flyers baffled the hockey world by jettisoning Mike Richards and Jeff Carter then signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a risky, long-term contract. The Toronto Maple Leafs made some interesting moves, including stealing John Michael-Liles from the Colorado Avalanche and Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators.

We’ll get to some of those other interesting makeovers in the next few days, but it’s probably safe to say that the Florida Panthers will be the most dramatically different team when the 2011-12 season begins. (At least as of this moment.)

Let’s take a look at the new additions with their new (often ridiculous) contracts. We’ll also list their 2010-11 regular season point totals for a quick reference in how much the Panthers are counting on … potential.

Newly signed Forwards

Tomas Fleischmann: four-years, $18 million ($4.5M cap hit) – 31 points
Scottie Upshall: four years, $14M ($3.5M cap hit) – 34 pts
Tomas Kopecky: four years, $12M ($3M cap hit) – 42 pts
Sean Bergenheim: four years, $11M ($2.75M cap hit) – 29 pts
Marcel Goc: three years, $5.1M ($1.7M cap hit) – 24 pts

Combined cap hits for five new forwards in 2011-12: $15.45 million
Combined points for five new forwards from last season: 160 points

Forward acquired via trade: Kris Versteeg ($3.08M cap hit for one more year) – 46 pts

source: APCommentary: Well, I guess you couldn’t get much worse than the Panthers’ previous bunch of forwards, could you? That being said, GM Dale Tallon made gamble after gamble that disappointing or developing players will become difference-makers in Florida. Everyone in the hockey world knew that the Panthers needed to get to the salary cap floor (they’re pretty close to $48 million overall as of this writing), so they were expected to over-pay.

My problem is that it almost seemed like free agents held the Panthers hostage. Players didn’t just get more money than just about any other team would give them; they received three and four year deals in the process. Amusingly enough, the best addition might only be in Florida for one season because Versteeg’s deal expires after 2011-2. Tallon & Co. could experience some serious Chicago Blackhawks salary cap crisis deja vu if the team’s promising prospects breakthrough before most of these shaky deals expire.

Major defensive additions

Brian Campbell  – via trade ($7.14M cap hit through 2015-16) – 27 ptssource: AP
Ed Jovanovski: four-years, $16.5M ($4.125M cap hit) – 14 pts

Combined cap hits for two new D in 2011-12: $11.64 million
Combined points for two new D from last season: 41 points

Commentary: I’m not crazy about Florida’s forward and goaltending changes, but their two new defensemen rank as the two most difficult additions to stomach.

Campbell’s contract is one of the worst in recent NHL history. The price and term are so out of whack that he’s become a consistent punchline in hockey circles, but if nothing else, he can still play. “Soupy” makes a regrettable amount of mistakes in his own end and while his production has dipped lately, he still has some serious offensive skills. He wasn’t always on Chicago’s top power play unit but he should get the nod with Florida, so he should put up some points. Not enough to make him worth more than $7 million, naturally, but he might make the Panthers more dangerous on offense.

Signing “Jovocop” for that kind of term and price is basically just as bad. Jovanovski could retire at any time and Florida would still need to absorb his $4.125 million cap hit each year because it is a 35+ contract. Injuries have ruined a player who once brought an impressive combination of offensive skills and physicality to the table so his retirement should be a legitimate fear for Florida going forward. Tallon is high on Jovanovski’s potential to be a mentor, but school teachers could only dream of receiving such a cushy deal.

source: APNew starting goalie

Jose Theodore two years, $3M ($1.5M cap hit)
Theodore’s 2010-11 stats: 15-11-3 record, .916 save percentage and 2.69 GAA.

Commentary: Theodore did an admirable job of resurrecting his career during the last few seasons, but this guy has more lives than a cat. That’s my friendly way of saying that his Hart Trophy keeps buying him chances at top jobs even though he’s best suited as a backup goalie or a 1B.

Theo has been a contract year goalie at best during his recent years and while he put together some decent numbers with Minnesota last season, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers counting on him like they did with Tomas Vokoun. Don’t expect incumbent backup Scott Clemmensen to work any miracles, either.

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After adding six forwards, two defensemen and a new starting goalie for about $31.67 million, the Panthers should be around the cap floor. Did they get that much closer to finally reaching the playoffs again in the process? Honestly, they didn’t upgrade their team enough to be much more than a bottom seed, especially after losing Vokoun (aka their safety net). The worst part is that their most questionable deals are also the lengthiest ones, making me wonder if their ugly postseason drought will start to enter Toronto Blue Jays territory.

I hate to say it, but the Panthers’ off-season could be the hockey equivalent of a person drowning in quicksand: the more moves they make, the grimmer their outlook becomes.

The Buzzer: We have a Game 7; Bobrovsky’s playoff struggles continue

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Two games on Monday night

Washington Capitals 6, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (Capitals win series 4-2)

Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the NHL’s best goalies. He is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a claim that only 22 goalies in league history can make. He has consistently been one of the most productive goalies in the league since arriving in Columbus. For whatever reason, that regular season success has not translated over to the playoffs.

After giving up five goals on Monday night in an elimination game against the Washington Capitals, Bobrovsky’s career postseason numbers now fall to a 5-14 record and an .891 save percentage in 24 appearances.

That is not great. He ended this series with a .900 save percentage as the Blue Jackets dropped four games in a row to the Washington Capitals.

In his defense his only real postseason appearances have come against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Capitals, two teams that get the best of a lot of goalies. On the other hand, when you are a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and get paid the way Bobrovsky does there at some point has to be an expectation for more no matter who the opponent is. The Capitals win the series 4-2, will now play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second-round for the third year in a row and the fourth time since 2009. It will be the 10th postseason series meeting between the two franchises.

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Boston Bruins 1 (Series tied 3-3)

There will be one Game 7 in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it will be played on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET puck drop on NBCSN) in Boston.

The Maple Leafs were able to force a Game 7 thanks to their 3-1 win over the Bruins on Monday night thanks to another great performance from Frederik Andersen in net.

You might remember the previous postseason series involving these two teams also went to a Game 7 when the Maple Leafs allowed a 4-1 third period lead to slip away. They forced a Game 7 in that series by also fighting off elimination with close wins in Games 5 and 6.

This group has a chance to change the script.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs needed a huge game from their goalie on Monday night and they got just that in their 3-1 win. Andersen turned aside 32 shots in the Maple Leafs’ 3-1 win and has been the difference in all three of Toronto’s wins in the series. Without him this series might already be finished. They are going to need one more big performance from him in Boston on Monday night.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Two more goals for Ovechkin Monday as he helped the Capitals top the Blue Jackets. He finished the first-round with five goals, three assists, and four two-point games. Do not ever let anybody tell you he does not produce in the playoffs.

3. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Frederik Andersen was not the only player to come through for the Maple Leafs on Monday, they also received a couple of huge goals from two of their young stars in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Marner’s goal, his second of the playoffs, ended up being the game-winner and the result of a rare mistake from Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Factoid of the Night

This is probably why the Columbus Blue Jackets are now 0-4 in playoff series since entering the league.

Upcoming schedule

No games on Tuesday.

Game 7 for the Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs is on Wednesday.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin powers Capitals to another second-round series vs. Penguins

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When the Washington Capitals lost the opening two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on home ice — including a Game 2 loss that seemed to only add to their playoff torment — it seemed as if they were headed for another bitterly disappointing exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then they changed goalies.

Then Alex Ovechkin promised they were going back home tied at two.

Then they finally got a playoff bounce to go their way.

Then they won four games in a row, including Monday’s 6-3 Game 6 decision in Columbus, to eliminate the Blue Jackets and move on to the second-round where they will meet a very familiar nemesis — the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the third year in a row.

For now, though, the focus remains on what the Capitals accomplished in Round One and the way Ovechkin helped put the team on his back and lift them to the series win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Do not let anybody ever tell you that Ovechkin doesn’t come through in the playoffs. If they try to, they are wrong. Horribly wrong. Laughably wrong. After his two-goal effort on Monday, he is now up to 51 goals and 98 total points in 103 career postseason games.

His 0.49 goals per game average is the second-highest among active NHL players that have played in at least 50 playoff games, trailing only Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

His 0.96 points per game average is sixth among that same group, trailing only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kucherov, Patrick Kane, and Ryan Getzlaf.

He has never had a postseason series in his career where he did not score at least one goal. Don’t think that sounds impressive? Consider that out of the top-25 active postseason goal-scorers in the NHL, all of them — except for Ovechkin — have had at least one postseason series where they were held without a goal. Only four of those players have had fewer than two postseason series without a goal. Scoring goals in the modern day NHL is difficult. It is even more difficult in the playoffs. There is something to be said for that level of consistency.

He brought it in the first-round against the Blue Jackets scoring five goals and adding three assists. He had at least two points in four of the six games, including three of the Capitals’ wins.

On Monday, those two goals were massive for the Capitals, scoring them just six minutes apart in the second period to help them open up a 3-1 lead. The second goal was a vintage Ovechkin power play goal that he scored from his office on top of the circle.

The greatest sign of dominance in professional sports is when the other team knows exactly what you are going to do, where you are going to do it from, and how you are going to do it, and they are still powerless to stop  you. That is Alex Ovechkin on the power play.

That power play unit was 9-for-27 in the series.

Now the Capitals move on to the second round where they have to play the team they’ve had issues trying to solve. The Penguins and Capitals have met in the playoffs 10 times before. The Penguins have won nine of them, including in the second-round in each of the past two seasons and all three times in the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin era.

Will this be the year the Capitals get over that hump? They are not quite as deep as the teams that could not do it the past two years, but Braden Holtby appears to be locked in in net after regaining his starting job and Ovechkin is playing great. Both are great signs. If the past three matchups between these two franchises are any indication it is sure to be an amazing series that probably goes the distance.

Get ready for it.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Andersen, Maple Leafs shut down Bruins to force Game 7

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The formula for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins has been a simple one: When Frederik Andersen is great, they win. When he is not, they get blown out.

In the past two games, both with the Maple Leafs facing elimination, they have been fortunate enough to get the “great” Andersen. His 32-save effort in Toronto’s 3-1 Game 6 win on Monday night is a big reason this series is now headed for a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Maple Leafs have leaned on Andersen a ton all season, not only giving him a massive workload that saw him have to play in 66 games (second most in the league, just one shy of the NHL lead), but also forcing him to face the most shots of any goaltender in the NHL.

Nearly 200 more than the next closest goalie, to be exact. That reliance has continued in this series.

He may not have finished the season with the best numbers in the league, but there is a lot to be said for a goalie that can play that many games, face that many shots, and give his team above average goaltending the way Andersen did.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The combination of a young, offensive-minded team with a suspect defense that bleeds shots against the way the Maple Leafs do can put a ton of pressure on the goalie. If that goalie is not on his game, things can get ugly in a hurry, just as they did early in the series when Andersen struggled and Toronto was absolutely crushed on the scoreboard and looked to be on their way to a rather quiet and unimpressive postseason exit.

But in the three Maple Leafs wins, Andersen has been a difference maker, especially over the past two where he has stopped 74 of the 78 shots he has faced to help keep their season going.

It is not as if the Bruins haven’t had chances in those games, because they have. Andersen has simply been up to the task.

It would be hard to argue that the Maple Leafs have been the better team at any point in this series because the Bruins have looked downright dominant at times. But in a short series there are a lot of variables that can completely turn things upside down. Goaltending is always at the top of that list.

Over the past two games the Maple Leafs have been getting it.

But it was not just the goaltending on Monday that helped give Toronto another game. They also received big contributions from two of their young stars as William Nylander and Mitch Marner scored goals, with Marner’s goal — his second of the series — going in the books as the game-winner.

Veteran center Tomas Plekanec, a trade deadline acquisition that has at times struggled mightily since coming over from Montreal, also looks to have some new life as this series has progressed and helped put the game away with his second goal of the series late in the third period.

Then there was the penalty kill. With just under seven minutes to play in regulation, the Maple Leafs clinging to a one-goal lead, Marner was sent off for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. The ensuing penalty kill was clinical by Toronto as they completely shut down the Bruins’ power play and nearly scored a shorthanded goal when Kasperi Kapanen broke in alone on Tuukka Rask, only to have Rask just get enough of his shot to send it wide.

Now it all comes down to one game on Wednesday night.

The big question for the Maple Leafs will be the same one that has existed this entire series: Which Frederik Andersen is going to show up? If it is the one they had over the past two games, they might actually pull off this comeback and move on to the second round for the first time since 2003. If it is the one that showed up in the three losses, it might be another ugly result if the Bruins keep generating shots and chances the way they have in the first six games.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins, Capitals look to advance to Round 2

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Game 6: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Series preview
Stream

Game 6: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Capitals lead series 3-2)
CNBC
Call: John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk, Joe Micheletti
Series preview
Stream

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]