We’re now something like 26 days out from the start of the NHL season so I figure this is as good a time as any to start doing the season previews. This is mainly for two reasons: 1) I am lazy and there’s no way I’ll do one of these every day, and 2) This is early enough that if I just stop doing them entirely you’ll have forgotten by October anyway. Oh and I guess also to show off my near-infinite knowledge of the National Hockey League. I’ll be previewing the teams in reverse order of finish in the 2007-08 season. Please note, though, that this is the opinion of one man, however smart and handsome he may be.
Florida Panthers, you’re on the clock.
Oh man is this going to be a bad team.
Bryan McCabe is the big offseason pickup is proof enough of that. The Panthers franchise is one with a complete lack of direction right now. It just traded its best player, malcontent though he was, and replaced his offensive production with almost literally nothing.
Not that being bad is an unknown situation in Florida, or anything, but this is going to get ugly even by Florida Panthers standards.
On offense, there’s.. well, there’s Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss who are pretty good and after that.. umm.. I guess David Booth. After that, there’s a bunch of guys who scored less than 40 points. Repeat: less than 40.
More after the jump.
This is unquestionably the worst offense in hockey. Absolutely, no question, the worst. Horton and Weiss are good, young players and they can’t shoulder the offensive load by themselves, but they’ll be asked to do so alongside the only other signee of any consequence: Cory Stillman. The words “Cory Stillman: top-line player” should not have to be uttered in public, but they will be down in Sunrise this year. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice player. He’s just not Olli Jokinen, even though he’s been brought in to do so in some form.
The problem is the team is full of players that are best described as “complimentary.” Some forwards would do well with absolutely no one around them, and the Panthers have exactly zero of those on the roster. I counted. Twice. Even Stillman, who’s carved out a nice little career for himself alongside players like Brad Richards and Eric Staal. He’s fine, but he’s also never had a linemate that wasn’t anything less than good.
So that’s a problem.
However, the defense will be improved, even with the addition of McCabe. The Jokinen trade, after all, yielded Keith Ballard, who’s a pretty good shutdown defenseman, and a well-past-his-prime Nick Boynton, whose career has been derailed by injuries but is still an upgrade over the Bryan Allens and Jassen Cullimores that played for Florida last year. They join soon-to-be ex-Panther Jay Bouwmeester, who is among the league’s best, if unappreciated, star defensemen. The Panthers were 17th in the league in goals against last year, but when you’re 20th in offense, that’s not good enough.
In net, well, Tomas Vokoun is in for another long season. His stats were pretty good last year, and Florida would have been a bottom-three team were it not for the efforts of both he and backup Craig Anderson, but it could have been Ken Dryden out there and the Panthers would have been sub-.500 anyway.
The pall that the Bouwmeester situation casts over the whole season is going to be, err, troublesome. His trade date’s coming soon, and the question is when, not if. Florida has no chance of re-signing him, nor should they with the type of ship they run. This whole organization is awful, and they’re not even doing a very good job of blowing it all up and starting from scratch. Trade Bouwmeester, trade Vokoun, trade anyone you can lay hands to that will fetch an early-round pick from a middle-of-the-road team. The team is good enough to not be a lottery pick, and bad enough to be embarrassing to anyone that would dare put on a jersey and head out to a game. Bouwmeester will get some good talent back from whichever organization wants him the most, but it’s not going to be enough to get this team anywhere near where it needs to be to start all over.
And somehow, this team is costing Florida’s ownership FIFTY-TWO MILLION DOLLARS this year! How people haven’t lost their jobs over this is insane.
The Hero: Jay Bouwmeester until he’s traded, then Tomas Vokoun. Lost causes, both. Why care about the good things Bouwmeester does when he’s gone by the end of January? Why care about what Vokoun does when the offense gives him no run support whatsoever? It all adds up to a hell of a losing season.
The Darkhorse: Wade Belak. No, not really. I just love Wade Belak.
The New Guy: Cory Stillman. He and Weiss and Horton will do well together. Not great or anything, but in the mid-50-to-low-60-point range for all three. I mean, you’d take that if you’re the Panthers, right?
The Big Question: What can they get for Jay Bouwmeester that won’t seem like pennies on the dollar?
Acquired D Keith Ballard, D Nick Boynton and a 2008 second-round pick (used on D Colby Robak) from the Phoenix Coyotes
Acquired D Bryan McCabe from the Toronto Maple Leafs
LW Cory Stillman
D Rory Fitzpatrick
G Chris Beckford-Tseu
C Janis Sprukts
C Olli Jokinen (Ballard/Boynton deal)
D Mike Van Ryn (McCabe deal)
D Steve Montador (to Anaheim)
C Garth Murray (to Phoenix)
Apropos-of-nothing TLP predicted finish: Fourth in the division, 12th in the East, 27th in the league