Sam Montembeault

It’s Florida Panthers Day at PHT

2 Comments

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. 

2018-19
36-32-14, 86 points (5th in Atlantic Division, 10th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Sergei Bobrovsky
Noel Acciari
Anton Stralman
Brett Connolly
Joel Quenneville – coach

OUT:
Roberto Luongo – retired
James Reimer
Troy Brouwer
Jamie McGinn
Derek MacKenzie
Riley Sheahan

RE-SIGNED:
MacKenzie Weegar
Jayce Hawryluk
Sam Montembeault
MacKenzie Weegar

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.

[More: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

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.

Up front, the Panthers really just need more of the same from guys like Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Huberdeau. All three hit the 30-goal plateau.

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.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers goalie Luongo to turn 40, figure out what’s next

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Roberto Luongo won 227 games during his 20s. He won 262 more games during his 30s.

And now, his 40s await.

Florida’s veteran goalie – the oldest netminder and third-oldest player to appear in the NHL this season – will celebrate his milestone 40th birthday on Thursday. He’s tentatively scheduled to start the Panthers’ season-finale on Saturday night. Then it’ll be time for Luongo to begin his rite of spring: figuring out whether to keep playing.

”I don’t really want to make any decisions over the course of a season,” said Luongo, who would be the 20th goalie to play an NHL game as a 40something. ”Obviously, there’s a lot of emotions involved with that and you want to make sure that you make the right decision for all parties involved. I still love to play the game, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Luongo still has three years left on his contract and hasn’t given any indication that he’s looking at Saturday night as a farewell. He led the Panthers’ goaltender corps in starts and minutes this season – even after injuring a knee on opening night and missing a month, then being sidelined again a few weeks later with an aggravation of the same problem.

The Panthers missed the playoffs again. The franchise hasn’t won a postseason series since 1996. But in the room, Luongo’s voice still carries more weight than any other.

”He’s a future Hall of Famer,” said 22-year-old Sam Montembeault – a rookie and possibly Florida’s goalie heir apparent, who grew up idolizing Luongo and now sits next to him in the locker room. ”Every time I come to the rink, I’m learning from him. Before every game, he gives me advice, talks to me about the tendencies of certain players. I hope at 39 years old I can be as good as he is. I’ll take that any day.”

Luongo’s numbers this season weren’t great: His goals-against average is 3.10, the highest of any full season in his career, and his save percentage is a career-low .900. But the Panthers were plagued by defensive issues all season, which needs consideration when looking at Luongo’s numbers. And he’s finishing the year strong, with a 4-1-0 record in his last five starts.

”I know he wants to finish this season off the right way,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ”And I think, after the season, he’s going to relax and he’s going to take some time. He’s going to spend some time with his family and think about what he wants to do next year.”

The Panthers plan to be active in free agency this summer. They’ll likely target a top goalie on July 1 and have been high on Montembeault’s potential.

Still, it would still be shocking if Florida didn’t try to convince Luongo to come back.

He remains a fan favorite, the veritable face of the franchise. He’s third in NHL history in wins, second all-time in saves, and has won more games with the Panthers than any two other goalies to ever don the team colors have combined. And if anyone thinks his mind is made up, Luongo turned to Twitter this week in an effort to debunk a report that health issues are soon going to usher in the end of his career.

”The only thing that I don’t really enjoy is when you see something that’s completely fabricated,” Luongo said. ”That’s the part that sometimes you’re not too happy about. But that being said, I’ve been through it many times. I handled it the best way that I could by making a joke out of it, and I’m moving on from there.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports