Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers.
36-32-14, 86 points (5th in Atlantic Division, 10th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify
2018-19 Season Summary
If you’re a Florida Panthers fan, do you even care about last season at this point?
You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten already.
Florida’s offseason began with the hiring of Joel Quenneville, one of the NHL’s most successful and respect coaches of all-time, and it only kept gaining speed.
The Panthers added Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari up front and Anton Stralman on the backend. And then they signed perhaps the biggest piece that’s been missing, a stud No. 1 goaltender.
We can debate back and forth about the merit of a seven-year, $70 million deal all day. What you can’t argue is the fact that the Panthers have taken a massive step toward competing with the big boys in the Atlantic Division.
It makes yet another season of playoff-less hockey a little easier to stomach after how aggressive Dale Tallon has been. It’s had pretty much become a given that the Panthers wouldn’t make the playoffs over the past two decades. They’ve reached the postseason just twice in the past 18 years, an undesirable trend in a market that struggles to put butts in seats.
It’s tough to get anything done with inconsistent goaltending and lackluster team defense, two lowlights of Florida’s fifth-place showing the Atlantic last season.
Even with the ninth-best goals-per-game as a team, the Panthers couldn’t outscore their problems from the blue line backward. They collectively allowed the 28th most goals out of the league’s 31 teams.
Stralman coming in should help that, as should the system Quenneville installs along with Bob’s goaltending.
There’s also plenty of secondary scoring off the sticks of Evgenii Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano. All three could conceivably reach the same mark. Trocheck had 31 the year before but was limited to 55 games because of injury last season. Dadonov was two shy with 28 and Vatrano had 24. Brett Connolly, too — and if healthy — showed he can reach at least 20 after playing 81 games last season. He hadn’t played more than 71 in any of his previous seven seasons prior.
And Connolly, a Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals two seasons ago, adds playoff experience, along with Stralman (two Stanley Cup Final appearances) and Acciari (one Cup Final appearance.)
The days of perennial losing in Florida might just be over.