Florida Panthers v Dallas Stars

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.

Gerard Gallant, Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz named finalists for Jack Adams Award

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The list of finalists for the Jack Adams Award has been released. Gerard Gallant (Florida Panthers), Lindy Ruff (Dallas Stars) and Barry Trotz (Washington Capitals) are the three NHL head coach said to have “contributed the most to his team’s success.”

Gallant was behind the bench for a Panthers team that included an interesting blend of youth (Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov) and experience (Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo), locked into a franchise-record 12-game winning streak and took the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record — another new standard for the franchise. The Panthers’ season ended with an opening-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders.

After missing the playoffs last season, Ruff coached the Stars to top spot in the Western Conference standings with a 50-23-9 record and a team that includes top-end talent from the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and John Klingberg, playing a game of speed and skill. The Stars led the league in goals for (265) and goals-for per game (3.23).

Trotz, in his second season in Washington, helped the Capitals to a Presidents’ Trophy for the 2015-16 regular season, besting the second-best team, the Stars, by 11 points. The Capitals finished the season with a record of 56-18-8, setting them up as Stanley Cup contenders when the playoffs began last month. Armed with 50-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals also finished second in the league in goals for (248).

This is Gallant’s first nomination for the award. Ruff and Trotz are each three-time award finalists, with Ruff winning in 2006, as per NHL.com.

Last season’s winner, Bob Hartley, was fired by the Calgary Flames earlier this week. He’s not the first Jack Adams Award winner to be dismissed from his job the following year.

WATCH LIVE: Stars at Blues – Game 4

St. Louis Blues center Kyle Brodziak, right, fights with Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie in the first period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Stars, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)  EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
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The St. Louis Blues can move to within one win of the Western Conference final with a victory on home ice at Scottrade Center tonight. The Dallas Stars will be hoping to send this series back to Texas all even. You can catch Game 4 between these teams on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for this game:

‘Just worried about safety of friends and family’: NHL donates $100K to Fort McMurray fire relief effort

If the Stars don’t get some better goaltending, their GM will have some explaining to do

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

‘Just worried about safety of friends and family’: NHL donates $100K to Fort McMurray fire relief effort

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With more than 80,000 residents forced to evacuate the Alberta city of Fort McMurray due to a raging wild fire, the National Hockey League is donating $100,000 to the Canadian Red Cross relief effort.

“The National Hockey League family stands with all who have been affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurray,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement on Thursday.

“We send thoughts of support and encouragement to our neighbors as they confront the physical and emotional impacts of this disaster.”

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are also each donating $100,000 to the relief effort, as per the Associated Press.

The evacuation is the largest fire evacuation in Alberta’s history, according to the Globe and Mail.

From the Globe and Mail:

Alberta Emergency Management Agency estimated that 80,000 people had fled Fort McMurray; the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the figure could be closer to 90,000. Of those forced to evacuate, approximately 10,000 are north of the city, where they have been directed to shelter at work camps.

 

St. Louis Blues forward Scottie Upshall is from Fort McMurray, which is north of Edmonton, and he recently spoke about the devastation of that community.

“I saw the freeway that I used to drive in from the airport. And both sides of the roads were kind of just 100-foot flames. I saw a couple restaurants that I used to go eat at and those were gone,” Upshall told Postmedia.

“Yeah, there was a lot of things going through my head yesterday. Most of my family was trying not to overplay it at all, but there was nothing to really overplay when something like that happens. Just worried about the safety of friends and family, more so at the time my nieces, who were still in Fort McMurray while my brother and his fiancé are here watching us play.”

Related: Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires 

 

 

With four vacancies, the NHL coaching carousel is ‘spinning out of control’

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Bob Hartley watched bosses come and go three times as coach of the Calgary Flames. He will need one more general manager to believe in him to stay in the NHL.

Fired Tuesday by the Flames, Hartley is itching to get back at it and he’s not alone. The Anaheim Ducks’ last two coaches, Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle, are also in the mix for current vacancies.

“Right now, the coaching carousel is spinning out of control,” Hartley said. “It’s the time of the year. So obviously there’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of names and there’s going to be lots of speculations.”

The Flames, Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators all have openings. All four teams have different expectations for next season and beyond, and different requirements for their next head coach.

Anaheim is perhaps in the middle of its Stanley Cup window after winning four consecutive Pacific Division titles but failing to reach the final under Boudreau. GM Bob Murray dismissed Boudreau, citing “the way” the Ducks have been eliminated.

A team with star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a bright young blue line and goaltender John Gibson is an attractive destination. Winning in the playoffs is the expectation.

Paul MacLean, who coached the Senators to two playoff appearances during three-plus seasons in Ottawa, was on Boudreau’s staff this season, and former Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins took the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup final in 2012. Then there’s Carlyle, who won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and has been out of work since the Maple Leafs fired him in January 2015.

Minnesota has also made the playoffs four years in a row and is looking for more. GM Chuck Fletcher fired coach Mike Yeo and replaced him in February with interim John Torchetti, who is a candidate after a first-round exit.

Fletcher flew to California, reportedly to meet with Boudreau, and is looking for a strong hockey person behind the bench.

“I think it’s important that we find a coach that can hold the players accountable and put a system in place and get them to execute the system and hold them accountable to it,” Fletcher said.

In some places, just consistently making the playoffs is the standard.

The Flames missed the playoffs after a surprise postseason run a year ago, and problems that were there all along doomed Hartley. Calgary is the biggest wild card in the entire process because Boudreau knows how to get the most out of young talent, but GM Brad Treliving could think outside the box.

Calgary needs a coach who will improve its special teams. Hartley, who won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year last season, knows his power-play and penalty-killing units weren’t good enough, but he sees the potential of forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and knows his successor will have success.

“I really believe that this team is just a couple of players away from being a great hockey club despite the fact that they’re still a very young hockey team,” Hartley said Wednesday. “We have done lots of good things that maybe didn’t show in the standings but will show in the very near future.”

Like the Flames, the Senators made the playoffs against long odds in 2014-15 and fell backward in the standings this year, costing Dave Cameron his job. NHL head-coaching experience is a prerequisite, so Boudreau, Hartley, Yeo, Carlyle, Kevin Dineen, Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher are all legitimate candidates.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said on Toronto’s AM-590 that the team was down to its last couple of interviews.

“It’s gone well,” Melnyk said. “There’s some great talent (available).”

Hartley, Boudreau and MacLean have all been named coach of the year, Carlyle and Crawford have each won the Cup, and Dineen helped the Chicago Blackhawks win it as an assistant.

Then there are hot names like Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden and Philadelphia Flyers minor-league coach Scott Gordon, as well as college coaches like Providence’s Nate Leaman of and Denver’s Jim Montgomery.

Of course, Hartley and his counterparts won’t go quietly.

“Coaching is my passion, coaching is in my blood, there’s no doubt that I want to coach,” Hartley said. “I’m only 55 years old, and I believe that I’m in great shape and I love this game, I love teaching, I love competing to win hockey games.”

Related: Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday