NHL 15: Florida Panthers Guide
Written By: NumberOneDork
Year in Review:
Last year was pretty much as disappointing of a season as you can have with the expectation and extreme hopes of a young ready to burst team. To put it very easy and bluntly, our points leader had 38 points. That’s right, not 38 goals, not 38 assists, 38 combined points.
It all began on a bright sunny day on September 27th, 2013 in the town of Sunrise, Florida. It was at that point that either the best or the worst thing happened to the Florida Panthers. Vincent Viola became Chairman, and Principal owner of the team. It’s great in the fact that it gives the organization a little bit of a burst when everyone thought everything was lost with the Panthers and actually spending any kind of money. On the flip side there’s always that nagging feeling in the back of everyone’s mind that this quite possibly could be the first step to relocating the franchise. Let’s hope that it’s the first option. After that the season began to get underway. It was an exciting time getting prepared for that first game, we had our possible goalie of the future behind what we thought was going to be a new rejuvenated Tim Thomas and we had the young Cats ready to go.
The season started with a bang with a win against the Dallas Stars 4-2. Aleksander Barkov our little superstar in the making, scored his first NHL goal. But then we were quickly brought down to earth in our next game against the St. Louis Blues losing 7-0. The doom and gloom almost started to take over our franchise again a little too quickly with a loss to the Flyers and another huge loss the the Lightning 7-2. But after beating Pittsburgh 6-3 a few fans, at least myself, thought wait, could this be the team we have been waiting for! Is this the Florida Panthers that we have wanted to see on the ice? A resounding “no” would exclude from Kevin Dineen’s mouth as we started the season 3-9-4.
At that point it was time for a shakeup in the organization and that meant it started with the coach. Kevin Dineen was yanked out of the box and forced to find employment north of the border with the Canadian Women’s team. Dale Tallon looked to the coach of our very own affiliate San Antonio Rampage, Peter Horachek. At that point it looked like some sort of fire had possibly started to be lit in the Panthers when the month of December came. The Panthers went on to win 8 of 14 games in the month of December. It started to look like the team of the future was finally here. The eight victories tied a franchise high and the 17 points also tied a franchise high for most in the month of December. It all fell apart after that as the Panthers went through a miserable January to start to fall to into the basement of the Atlantic Division. From there on out it wasn’t very good for the Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau couldn’t keep up the form that he started last season due to off-season surgery and what we will call his Sophomore slump. Between that and the ankle and concussion injuries the rest of his season wouldn’t be a fun one.
The Panthers ended up having two players go to the Winter Olympics as Aleksander Barkov was party of the team from Finland and Tomas Kopecky played in his second Olympics with Slovakia. Barkov got an assist in his first game but then injured his knee and ended up being out for the rest of the season. Barkov did end up winning a Bronze medal though for his troubles and his assist.
The trade deadline came and the Panthers were actually pretty busy. The Panthers finally gave up on their “goalie of the future” and traded Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias to the Vancouver Canucks for Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony. The Panthers also traded a third and fifth round pick to the Blackhawks for Brandon Pirri. They traded Marcel Goc to the Penguins for a fifth and third round pick. And for that one fleeting moment it looked like the cosmos lined up for the incredible to happen. Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo TEAMMATES!? But no, it wasn’t meant to be as Tim Thomas was sent packing to Dallas in exchange for Dan Ellis.
The end of the season showed a little bit of promise as Brad Boyes got hot at the end of the season and seeing some of the flashes from players like Jimmy Hayes and Vincent Trocheck means that there is a very bright future ahead for the Florida Panthers. There were a lot of things that happened to propel the downward spiral of the Florida Panthers, but in the end when you get behind early in games, and your Power Plays and Penalty Kills were as bad as the Panthers were your not going to win a few if any games. The defense failed to show up in some of the games altogether and with the squad littered with injures and putting together a patchwork team there wasn’t much that Tallon or anyone else could do. Peter Horachek was fired and after a long hunt for a new coach Gerrard Gallant was named head coach in late July. Gallant was at one time coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and for the last few years was the assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens. A nice little side note is that Jonathan Huberdeau was actually once a player under Gallant when he was coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Fortunes changed though when the Panthers ended up scoring the first pick in the draft for the first time since their inauguration year, 20 years ago. After many calls from many different teams Tallon decided to go ahead and keep the pick and pick Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad is revered by scouts for being a big physical threat and has excelled at just about everything he has been asked to do. He is just the second defensive player ever picked with the first pick in the draft and we hope that he’s worth it. He has had 116 points in 175 career games and while the NHL will be much harder to push around then the OHL, barring any setbacks from the concussion he suffered the other day we look to him to be a big part of the team.
The Panthers also selected Jayce Hawryluck a WHL player who could be an absolute steal scoring 64 points (24 goals and 40 assists) . Juho Lammikko a RW from Finland who played very good for the Fins under 18 championship team. Joe Wegwerth a RW from USA’s under 18 team who will be playing at Notre Dame next year. Also selected was Miguel Fidler who will be playing for Ohio State next year and goalie Hugo Fagerblom from Sweden.
Highlights from the 2013-2014 Season:
Why the Florida Panthers Will Win the Cup This Year:
This is the year that it all comes together. All of the draft picks, all of the prospect it finally all gels together and everyone begins to live up to the expectations. The young Cats are finally able to play a whole season together without any injuries. Barkov continues his form that he showed before he got hurt during the Winter Break.
Jonathan Huberdeau finds the form that made him the rookie of the year. Gudbranson and Ekblad turn into the best young defensemen in the NHL. Roberto Luongo is revitalized being back at the franchise that it all began at and starts playing like the Luongo that we all knew and loved. Those long black locks catch fire heading into the playoffs and we roll in as a number 2 seed.
At this point the Panthers have lost their first 2 games against the fiery Blue Jackets team. But Barkov suddenly sees something out of the corner of his eye before game 3. Could it POSSIBLY BE?! YES IT IS!!! It’s a Rat!!! Barkov takes his ultimate stick of death and kills the rat. The locker room is stunned. But it’s game time and it’s time to hit the ice. Barkov plays the game of his life with 4 goals and 2 assists it’s a game for the ages. Suddenly the team catches fire and wins out the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs with Scott Mellanby dropping the puck just before game 1 of the finals against the Minnesota Wild. What quite possibly could be the two teams NO ONE wants to see in the finals the Panthers come out on top winning the series 4-0 and Barkov being hoisted on the shoulders of every Panther player that has ever played for the franchise.
Why the Florida Panthers Won’t Win the Cup This Year:
Too many questions marks, and too many expectations that have to happen. The Panthers are a very young team, and if everything doesn’t go right things fall apart very quickly (see 2013-2014 season).
The core of the Panthers is just a little too young to be able to meet all of the expectations that are set for them. Aleksander Barkov suffers a sophomore slump. Jonathan Huberdeau doesn’t live up to the form he showed his rookie season. Eric Gudbranson takes a step back instead of another one forward and the concussion that Aaron Ekblad suffered yesterday only derails his rookie season and keeps him off the ice ala Sydney Crosby.
The signings for the Panthers don’t work out at all, Thronton can’t accept life away from the Bruins. Jussi doesn’t show any of the flashes of brilliance that he had before, and Luongo plays more like Tim Thomas than Luongo of past Florida years. This is a nightmare scenario… it’s there and it’s always in the back of our minds…