Florida Panthers eliminated from playoff consideration for record 10th straight season

Michal Repik
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The story out of tonight’s Sabres 4-2 win over Florida wasn’t so much about Buffalo helping to improve their standing in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference but about the continued ineptitude of the Florida Panthers.

Not since the 1999-2000 season have the Panthers made the playoffs and their loss today guaranteed that this year would make it ten straight seasons without a postseason appearance for the Panthers. The stars on that team that bowed out in the first round were none other than potential future hall of famer Pavel Bure, Ray Whitney, and Viktor Kozlov. Buoyed by elder statesman Mike Vernon in goal, those Panthers were the last ones to see the playoffs.

The current Panthers led by Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun don’t carry much in the stardom department, but they do have a special distinction. On Frozen Pond’s George Richards tells us about the very infamous record the Panthers are now proud to own.

Florida had been tied with the California/Cleveland/Minnesota and Colorado/New Jersey franchises in missing the playoffs for nine straight seasons. Florida hasn’t been to the playoffs since being swept in the opening round by the Devils in 2000.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” said coach Pete DeBoer, in his third year with the team. “We’ve been hurting for a while. You just get numb to that pain.”

That brand of futility is stunning and sad. The Panthers for most of their existence have been a poor team. Over the 17 seasons the team has played since 1993-1994, their inaugural season, the Panthers have made the playoffs three times. Their most memorable run came in 1995-1996 when they made it to the Stanley Cup final on the strength of great goaltending by John Vanbiesbrouck and rat-tossing goal scoring from Scott Mellanby. Now the only rats you’ll find around Sunrise, Florida are the ones sniffing through the dumpsters outside.

This is where Panthers GM Dale Tallon has his work cut out for him. He’s got to turn around an organization that’s known nothing but failure throughout their existence and find a way to help sell hockey in south Florida. It’s not as if he’s got a LeBron James or Dwayne Wade-like figure there to help lure the top talent in the league to come down and soak in the sunshine, supermodels, and win the Stanley Cup. Hockey doesn’t exactly work that way either. We’ll just say it’s a different mind-set for hockey players.

The future could be bright for the Panthers as they’ve got a bevy of prospects in the system that could turn out to be huge. Erik Gudbranson, Corban Knight, Drew Shore, Jacob Markstrom, Quinton Howden, and Nick Bjugstad all represent guys that could be huge parts of the rise of the Panthers to relevancy. Those guys will take time to develop, however, and with another top five pick likely on the way again, perhaps that turnaround can start soon.

Until then, the Panthers will hang on to their playoff futility record. Let’s just hope they don’t go the way the teams they were tied with have gone and end up playing somewhere else before they break through.

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.