Sean Bergenheim hopes to continue playoff momentum and help Panthers break their slump

The Florida Panthers made a lot of gambles through trades and free agent signings during the off-season, with Sean Bergenheim’s four-year, $11 million deal ranking among their leaps of faith. While it wasn’t their riskiest investment (that award goes to the 35+ contract they handed to Ed Jovanovski), the hope rests squarely on a small sample of playoff games representing a “breakthrough” rather than a series of lucky breaks.

When it comes to out-of-nowhere goal scorers, one of the best ways to tell if someone’s production is a fluke is to look at his shooting percentage. It’s not a fool-proof mode of assessment, but sometimes players get an unsustainable amount of “puck luck” that should leave general managers weary.

One can blame at least some of Bergenheim’s great run with the Tampa Bay Lightning on luck. As opposed to his career 7.7 shooting percentage (which was his exact rate during the 2010-11 regular season), Bergenheim connected on 19.6 percent of his attempts in the 2011 playoffs. After scoring just 14 goals in 80 regular season games at his typical rate, Bergenheim scored nine goals in 16 playoff games – a run that included the only tally in Tampa Bay’s decisive Game 7 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If you look at his larger body of work, his typical expected scoring rate is 10-15 goals. Yet while he has serious one-hit wonder potential (or as I like to call it, “Pisani potential”), there is the outside chance that Bergenheim could build on that breakthrough and become a consistent goal-scoring threat for his new team, the Florida Panthers. That’s certainly what he hopes to achieve starting next season.

“We obviously had a great run there last year, and I was very happy with the way I played in the playoffs,’’ Bergenheim said after Saturday’s opening practice of training camp. “I want to bring that here. I learned a lot last year, and my goal is to play at that level the whole season. In the playoffs, I really found my game — I had it there before — and that’s the challenge this year. I have to play that way all year.’’

Considering all the changes that have taken place in Florida, he should have a great chance to earn a prominent role with the team and receive opportunities to make good on his postseason run. It’ll be interesting to see if he can prove that his playoff output wasn’t a fluke.

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In other Panthers news, the team hasn’t decided which player should serve as their new captain next season. It makes sense that the franchise might want to drag their feet a bit with that choice considering the changing identity of the roster.

Coach Kevin Dineen said no decision has been made on who will be the Panthers’ new captain. “We’re still a ways away on that one,’’ he said. Center Stephen Weiss and defenseman Ed Jovanovski are considered the favorites.

“You look at [Weiss] as always having a leadership role for his tenure here and the way he plays the game,’’ Dineen said, talking about Weiss working out with rookie Jonathan Huberdeau on Saturday. “Matching him up with one of our future star players is a good mix.’’

Jovanovski might be a hit with fans who fondly remember his first run with the team, but I’d recommend going with Weiss, who’s been with the club through thin and really thin. Ultimately, the most important leader might be new head coach Dineen, who must find a way to take a roster that seems like an unshaped mass of clay and sculpt them into a playoff contender.

Getting Bergenheim to match his playoff pace certainly wouldn’t hurt the cause.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick