Week after week, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon denied that his team would sell off center Stephen Weiss (and his expiring contract) and other assets before the trade deadline.
Then Weiss suffered a season-ending wrist injury, the Panthers continued struggling and reality set in for the franchise. This season was just not to be.
As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel notes, the Panthers have lost 95 man games to injuries. Those casualties included three key defensemen, four of their top forwards and their starting goaltender. As a result, five players have played their first NHL game this season and the team has run a constant shuttle to the American Hockey League.
Defensemen Brian Campbell (minus-14) and Filip Kuba (minus-13) have played disastrously at even strength. Florida has the NHL’s worst penalty-killing unit. The team has lost six times in overtime, most in the league.
Injuries eradicated last season’s top line of Weiss flanked by Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. This team’s tale of woe goes on and on.
So Tallon needs to hit the reset button. The Ottawa Sun reported that the list of untouchable Panthers is short: Center Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman Erik Gudbranson, goalie Jakob Markstrom and forward Drew Shore.
Those cornerstone players aren’t going anywhere. Everybody else on the roster can be had for the right offer.
So what’s wrong with the Florida Panthers? Plenty, as it turns out.
Rookie center Jonathan Huberdeau has lived up to all his hype, but it’s tough to find anybody else meeting their preseason expectations.
After starting the season 1-5, the Panthers improved, slightly, to 3-1-4 during their next eight games. They lost three straight overtime games, all at home. Those single points won’t help them catch up during this shortened 48-game season.
“We're not finishing,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen told reporters. “It's finishing the game, giving a complete game, whether it's 60 or 65 minutes. We're not complete right now . . . You're not going to get in the playoffs with 48 points. You can't try to get a point a game, it's just not going to work.”
Here are some of the issues:
Florida’s minus-18 goal differential is worst in the league. At last check the team ranked the Panthers ranked 26th in goals scored and 29th at even-strength scoring.
Winger Kris Versteeg has missed time with groin and chest injuries after recovering from offseason hip surgery. After scoring 54 points last season, Versteeg has scored just three points with a minus-7 rating in seven games.
Center Stephen Weiss has been slowed by a strained groin muscle. He has scored just four points with a minus-9 rating in 10 games. Given his looming free agency and his team’s tough financial straits, Weiss has been the subject of many trade rumors.
Winger Tomas Fleischmann, who flanks Weiss on the top line, has 10 points in 14 games. But he, too, has a minus-9 rating.
The aging Jovocop, Ed Jovanovski, is sidelined by a significant knee injury. Fellow defensemen Brian Campbell (minus-9) and Filip Kuba (minus-9) have been awful at even strength.
Goaltenders Jose Theodore (3.41 goals-against average and Scott Clemmensen (4.43 GAA) have paid the price for their team’s poor defensive play. How long before top prospect Jacob Markstrom gets his chance to man the nets?
The Ottawa Senators are in an odd spot. Their spirited playoff run suggested they weren’t far off from Stanley Cup contention.
Yet the franchise is in the midst of rebuilding with youth, a process that could accelerate should Daniel Alfredsson retire.
So what is general manager Bryan Murray to do? Experts have weighed in with plenty of ideas, including:
Add offensive help in free agency. Some handy mid-level players like Bruins center (and former Senator) Chris Kelly and Islanders winger P-A Parenteau could hit the market.
Trade veteran goaltender Craig Anderson for offensive help and let youngsters Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop fight out for the starting job. Both appear to be NHL-ready based on their brief trials this season.
Decide whether veteran defenseman Filp Kuba, 35, merits further investment. He worked well with Erik Karlsson, but this IS a team that has been cycling in younger players.
Add a defensive-minded defenseman to stabilize the blue line. The Ottawa Sun suggested Barret Jackman, Bryan Allen and Kent Huskins as viable options.
Mix more youngsters into the lineup. Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Stone are two more prospects ready to get their shot.
Decide whether to move defenseman Sergei Gonchar and the final $5.5 million on his contract.
Several elite NHL defensemen were merely so-so during the first half of the NHL season. And some of them are picking up their pace:
Alex Pietrangelo, Blues: His 43 points in 79 games last season were just a starting point. He possesses 50- to 60-point potential. He scored just five goals and added just eight assists in his first 38 games. After scoring two points in 14 December games, he scored eight points in his first five games of January.
Dan Boyle, Sharks: He has a steady 50- to 60-point scorer, great on the power play. He averaged a team-high 26:14 per game last year, including a team-high 4:17 with the man advantage. The addition of hard-shooting Brent Burns should have made him even better this season. But scored just two goals and dished 14 assists in his first 35 games this season. Then he scored seven points during a five-game span.
Jack Johnson, Kings: He broke out with 25 power-play assists for the talented LA squad last season. But he remains a plus-minus liability; he was minus-57 in his first 200 games. In his first 38 games he scored just five goals with eight assists with a minus-9 rating. Then he scored seven points in his last six games.
Lubomir Visnovsky, Ducks: He is coming off a career-high 68-point season for a strong offensive team and a REALLY strong power play. His plus-18 rating, 11.8 percent shooting percentage and 13 even strength goals were also career highs. He scored 15 goals the year before. But he scored just five points in his first 19 games. Since then he has scored eight points in 11 games.
Drew Doughty, Kings: LA caved and gave him the money that he wanted. Now he needs do MUCH better than his 40 points in 76 games last season. He scored 59 points the year before. The reduction was due in large part to his power-play scoring rate falling from 4.31 points per 60 minutes to just 2.57 points/60. He scored just 15 points in his first 35 games this season with a minus-3 rating. But he scored eight points during a span of 12 games.
Brent Burns, Sharks: He brought 15- to 20-goal potential to an already potent power play. This guy can shoot the puck and San Jose should take advantage of that. But he had six goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating in his first 37 games. Then he had a goal and two assists during his last three games.
Alex Goligoski, Stars: Last season he scored 15 points in 23 games after moving over from Pittsburgh. But then the Dallas power lost Brad Richards to free agency and Goligoski scored just 10 points with a minus-4 rating in his first 29 games this season. Then he scored goals in back-to-back games and added an assist.
Filip Kuba, Senators: He posted a 3-6-9 line in his first 30 games. He earned a plus-9 rating and scored twice on the power play. After scoring just four points during a 19-game span, he scored four points with a plus-8 rating in his next six games.
Mark Streit, Islanders: He offers 60-point skill on an emerging offensive team. If his repaired shoulder holds up, he’ll be an elite weapon. He scored just two goals to go with 17 assists in 37 games. He scored just 11 points during a 28-game span. In his first five January game he had four points and a minus-1 rating.
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