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Panthers are now true playoff contenders

The Florida Panthers have made the biggest splash in free agency this offseason, but has it paid off?


Off Season Evaluation: Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are widely considered to be the most improved team in the NHL up to this point in the offseason. They have signed several new players at each position, a new goalie to play with Roberto Luongo, and did a complete overhaul of their front office and scouting staff. It was clear that this offseason was one of change and growth for the Panthers organization. Last year they set a franchise record with 103 points in the regular season, as well as clinching first place in the Atlantic Division. The organization was not happy enough with that result, however, and decided to make this massive overhaul of the team. They even redesigned their logo for this season. Clearly, the Florida Panthers are looking for a new start.


Key Off-Season Signings

The Panthers fired a whole list of staff this offseason including director of player personnel Scott Luce, director of amateur scouting Erin Ginnell, and director of hockey operations Mike Dixon. The changes throughout the organization following a somewhat successful season sent a very clear message: Qualifying for the playoffs isn’t good enough.

The Panthers have made several big offseason signings so far:
Jared McCann – F
Keith Yandle – D
Jason Demers – D
Mark Pysyk – F
Aaron Ekbald – D
Colton Sceviour – F
Jonathan Marchessault – F
James Reimer – G
Vincent Trocheck – F
Reilly Smith – F
Alexander Barkov – F
Derek MacKenzie – F – RS

There are some key signings on this list, including two great defensemen in Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, along with goalie James Reimer and two young talents in Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault. Yandle has had six straight 40+ point seasons to his name, and Demers is a very solid possession driven player who can also chip in on offense. The Panthers also took care of one of their foundational pieces, signing defenseman Aaron Ekbald – the 2015 Calder Trophy winner – to an eight-year extension. Fans should also be very excited about the signing of star goaltender James Reimer, who finished the ’15-’16 season with a GAA of 2.31 and SV% of .922 playing for Toronto and San Jose. With Luongo getting old and coming off hip surgery, an up-and-coming goalie is just what Florida needs to stay in it.

NHL records Demers’ thoughts on his new team, stating: “…I think they’ve done it the right way. It hasn’t been rushed. They’ve kind of let it grow with a lot of young prospects and its coming to a crest right now. So now it’s time to capitalize on it and build off of last year.”

 

Key Off-Season Losses

Florida’s key loss this offseason came when they lost unrestricted free agent Brian Campbell to the Chicago Blackhawks. Campbell is 37-years-old and finished last season with 31 points and a +/- of +31. He was a big loss for the Florida defense, but they made up for it signing several new and exciting defensemen.

 

Star Players of Next Season

The Panthers top performers from last season are expected to be top performers again this year, but they have also acquired new talent that will contest for the top. Last year 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr had a 66 point season, scoring 27 goals and 39 assists. He led his team in points and is expected to do it again this year as long as his health holds up. They also have a fantastic left winger in Jussi Jokinen, who had a 60 point season as well. These two are the experienced leaders of this young Florida Panthers team, but will surely look for some of the new young talents to step up and outshine them this season.

On the defensive end, I believe Yandle will be one of the guys to stand out next season. He had 47 points in the regular season last year and is an effective tool on the Panthers powerplay. And of course, we cannot talk about star players for next year without mentioning new goalie James Reimer. He is only 28-years-old and stands at 6’2’’ and is already a stand-out talent in the net. He will either split the games with Luongo next year or may even outright replace him if Luongo goes down again.

 

Division Rivalries

The Atlantic Division was certainly not the loudest division when it came to this year’s free agency, but there were several teams that made moves. None of them top what Florida did, but then again not all of them needed as much renovation.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins made one notable pick-up this offseason when they signed David Backes from the St. Louis Blues to a five-year deal. Backes is a big burly center and a great team leader with ten NHL seasons under his belt. He had a 45 point season in 2015-16, and Boston surely hopes he can do it again and even improve if they’re going to make a playoff run this year. They also made a smart move in re-signing defenseman Torey Krug to a four-year deal.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The battle over the state of Florida is heating up, as their rivals from Tampa Bay have also bolstered their roster for the upcoming season. They re-signed star forward Stephen Stamkos for eight more years, defenseman Victor Hedman for eight years, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to three more years. Tampa Bay have secured their future with these three key players, and look to remain competitive and chase the Cup for many years to come.

The good news for the Panthers is that they beat both of these teams in the Atlantic Division last year. The bad news is that the Panthers lost in the first round of the playoffs.

 

Overall Evaluation

The Florida Panthers have surely made a lot of noise this offseason, making big moves in the free agency, with trades, and re-signings. They are a team full of young talent with some old leadership. Their 47-26-9 record last year means nothing if they cannot do even better this upcoming year. The Panthers are now in win-now mode, and Demers is looking forward to it“They’re a team I’ve had my eye on and I’m excited”, “…It’s an exciting time to be in Florida right now”.

I think the Panthers will fulfill their hopes of making it to the playoffs again this year, and might even make it past the first round this time. I do not think, however, that they will come close to winning the Cup, and will probably not even make the Conference Finals. Teams like the Lightning, the Capitals, and the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins just pose too much of a threat for the Panthers to make any real damage this season. But they will surely continue to grow and develop their young players and can definitely make it further and further each year for the foreseeable future.

Panthers are now true playoff contenders

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