2011-12 season preview: Florida Panthers

2010-11 record: 30-40-12, 72 points; 5th in Southeast, 15th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Considering the wholesale changes that this franchise underwent in the summer, it seems rather pointless to discuss the 2010-11 season. The only important thing to note is that the Panthers missed the playoffs for a record 10th seson in a row and haven’t seen the postseason in 12 of 13 seasons. It would be understandable if they missed them again, but this team needs to turn things around as soon as possible.

Offense

Stephen Weiss and David Booth will continue to be the team’s two best offensive players. Weiss has been there through thin and even thinner, refining his game to become an underrated two-way center.

The rest of the offense is a fascinating mystery, but it couldn’t get much worse than last season’s squad, which generated just 195 goals. The Panthers spent a bunch of money on risky guys such as (potential one-hit wonder) Sean Bergenheim and injury worry Tomas Fleischmann while overpaying for Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky. Oddly enough, their best offensive upgrade kind of fell under the radar, as Kris Versteeg could be a solid winger – wherever he falls in this dramatically altered roster.

Defense

Florida features a strange mixture of overpaid veteran defensemen and intriguing defensive prospects.

Ed Jovanovski’s four-year deal was the worst contract of the summer. The price tag is too large and the term gets scarier when you consider Jovocop’s track record of injuries and the fact that it’s a 35-plus contract.

If that deal wasn’t enough to make for a bloated Florida blue line, Dale Tallon bought it one of the worst contracts of the post-lockout era by trading for Brian Campbell. It’s a contract only the GM who signed it could love, so it makes sense that Tallon traded for him from his former team in Chicago. On the bright side, Campbell can contribute to Florida’s power play and be an asset if people can look beyond his comical contract.

Alongside those costly veterans, the Panthers have two blue chip defensemen: Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. Those two players are the future of Florida’s defense, but we’ll see how long the team will need to wait for them to break through.

Goalies

Many people dismiss Tomas Vokoun because he flew under the radar in Nashville and then wallowed in obscurity in Sunrise. The thing is, the Czech-born goalie put up great numbers year in and year out on a bad team, much like Roberto Luongo before him.

It looked like the team would roll into the season with two guys who were backups last season (Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen), but Clemmensen got injured. That injury opened up the backup job to arguably the hottest prospect in a very hot Florida farm system: Jacob Markstrom. This situation reminds me of those times when an NFL team tries to get through a rebuilding year with a flawed, aging quarterback while fans clamor for a maybe-not-ready-yet first round pick to carry the torch.

The Panthers are likely to take a big step back in net next season. That being said, Theodore-Markstrom is a lot more intriguing than Theodore-Clemmensen.

Coaching

It only seems right that a wild card team will be coached by a wild card as well. This is Kevin Dineen’s first gig as a head coach and he isn’t exactly getting eased into the job with all these new parts.

On the positive side, Dineen won’t feel as much pressure to coddle players who were used to different roles from last year. He can make this roster his own – we’ll just see if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Breakout candidate

The best thing the Panthers have going for them is that they have multiple breakout candidates, especially if this year’s third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau makes an impact.

On defense, Kulikov already has two seasons of experience under his belt but could really blossom. Big blueliner Gudbranson also has a chance to make an impact, although he’s far less experienced.

The most intriguing candidate though is Markstrom. Considering the situation, he might have a chance to be this year’s answer to Corey Crawford, Michal Neuvirth, Sergei Bobrovsky or any number of impressive rookies from 10-11.

Kulikov might be the safest pick, but this team’s mid and long-term future looks promising because of their strong crop of prospects.

Best-case scenario

The Theodore-Markstrom tandem ends up being a big hit. Dineen finds a way to take a wide variety of new parts and make a well-oiled, attacking offensive machine. Jovanovski shows that he’s not done yet, Campbell produces plenty of offense from the blueline and the team’s young prospects end up being ahead of schedule. The Panthers finally make the playoffs after a decade-long absence. Their actual postseason output would just be gravy.

(If the team’s postseason drought wasn’t so long, one could argue they’d be better off missing the playoffs and stocking up on prospects for one more season.)

Reality

Tallon is creating a scenario that seems a lot like Chicago’s in one way: pricey free agent moves might clash head-on with the development of outstanding prospects down the line. This season seems like a transitional period for a team that’s still looking for an identity, so a playoff berth might be a bit much to ask.

It’s possible that it will all work out, but gambles like Jovanovski, Bergenheim, Theodore and Fleischmann seem shaky at best. Expect some improvement but for the team to fall short of the postseason once again. At least the future looks brighter, though.

Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

Getty
Leave a comment

Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

“Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

(Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

2 Comments

One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

* – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 for Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

Getty
Leave a comment

P.K. Subban certainly made his presence felt to begin the Predators’ series vs. the Blues. Leon Draisaitl stole the spotlight in helping the Oilers beat the Ducks in their Game 1. Who will step up in Game 2 of each series? We’ll find out soon.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues (Preds lead 1-0)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 4-3 win in Game 1.

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks (Oilers lead 1-0)

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Edmonton’s 5-3 win in Game 1.

Hagelin might be available for Penguins in Game 2

Getty
3 Comments

WASHINGTON (AP) Carl Hagelin could be bringing his trademark speed back to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin will be a game-time decision to return for Game 2 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night after being out since March 10 with a lower-body injury. The lightning-quick wing took part in a full-contact practice Friday and has progressed far enough in his recovery to be an option to play.

“He brings that element of speed, his ability to stretch the ice, his pursuit game, forces turnovers all the time and we can create a lot of offense off of it,” Sullivan said. “He’s a good penalty killer, he’s a solid two-way player, so we can use him in a number of different capacities, but I think his speed certainly helps us play the type of game that we want to play and we’re a more competitive team when he’s in the lineup.”

Hagelin called it a “step in the right direction” but said it’s difficult to determine if he’ll feel good enough to play.

“You always want to play,” the 28-year-old Swede said. “It’s always hard to say, but out there today it felt good. It felt like I was moving, and I’m excited, that’s for sure.”

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-seven second-round series 1-0. The Penguins are a much stronger team with the return of veteran wing Chris Kunitz and Hagelin, whose speed could make it even more difficult on the Capitals.

“He can put teams back on their heels,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He doesn’t need a lot of room to make a play. … He can help in a lot of different areas.”

If Hagelin is cleared to return, Sullivan says it will be a difficult decision who comes out. Depth is one of the Penguins’ strengths, so it’s incredible that former first-line wing Conor Sheary could be the odd-man out after being demoted to the third line and struggling in some areas.

“We know Conor has a much better game, and that’s what we’re trying to help him get to,” Sullivan said. “The last couple I don’t think have been his best, but certainly he’s a guy that’s played a lot of really good hockey for this team.”

So has Hagelin, who was part of the famed “HBK” line along with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel during Pittsburgh’s 2016 Stanley Cup run. He had 16 points in 24 games last season.

“Haggy’s a great two-way player,” Kessel said. “He’s a fast player out there. He brings speed, and he’s a smart player out there. Whenever you get a guy like that back it’s big for your team.”

It’s especially big if Hagelin can get his wheels back right away. Being out of the lineup for six weeks makes that a challenge but one he’s eager to undertake.

“Speed should be there,” Hagelin said. “You don’t know that till you’re in the game. “That’s what’s fun about hockey. You go out there and usually you feel like you pick it up right where you left off.”

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey