Panthers looking to build off banner season

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 17, 2013
There's one last order of business to complete before the Florida Panthers can finally get this season started. It comes Saturday night, not long before the first dropped puck of this new and condensed season, and it's a moment 12 years in the making. The Panthers will pay homage to last season one more time, with the hoisting of the banner to commemorate their first Southeast Division title. And Panthers coach Kevin Dineen doesn't think the added pomp and circumstance will in any way create a distraction. ''We waited seven months to get going,'' Dineen said. ''I think an extra 15 minutes for a really special night will be good for us.'' In some ways, it'll be both a reminder of good times and bad for the Panthers, when that banner gets displayed before Florida's season begins against the Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, the Panthers had their long-awaited breakout season. And no, winning the Southeast isn't exactly the franchise's ultimate goal, either. ''It's not a Stanley Cup banner,'' Panthers forward Stephen Weiss said. ''And those are the only ones that really matter at the end of the day. But certainly, it was a good year for us last year. We're proud of winning the Southeast. It'll be nice to see the banner go up, but I'm sure it'll be out of our minds pretty quickly and we'll be on to the next challenge.'' Florida's ride ended last season on home ice, in a double-overtime, Game 7 thriller against New Jersey. The Devils wound up going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. The Panthers have been waiting to pick up where they left off ever since, first through the summer and then through the lockout that turned this season into what will be a 48-game battle of wills. And to get back to the playoffs, there might not be much room for error. Florida earned the No. 3 seed in the East last season by winning the division, but only finished with 94 points - just two more than Washington and Ottawa, who took the last two spots in the conference playoff bracket with 92. ''Our guys are a great group of guys,'' Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. ''There's a lot of character in our locker room and we've added some more. We're adding more skill as well. It's not going to be easy. Teams are going to be prepared for us. But the second half, we weren't a surprise in the second half. This is a group of guys that want to win ... and want to prove to the world that they can get better and go deeper in the playoffs.'' Florida returns its top four scorers in Tomas Fleischmann, Weiss, Kris Versteeg and defenseman Brian Campbell, as well as much of the core from the usual lines that Dineen sent out last season. Jose Theodore started 51 games last season in goal, and has been tabbed to be the opening-night starter for the Panthers once again. Theodore's goals-against average last season was 2.46, his best in four years. ''We built something last year,'' Theodore said. ''We're still far away from the ultimate goal. But last year was a start.'' But were they really that far from the ultimate goal? Consider the head-to-head series with the Devils a season ago. The teams met 11 times, including playoffs, with New Jersey winning the series 6-5 and outscoring Florida 29-28. And remember, the Devils won the Eastern Conference title. ''Last year was a big step,'' Theodore said. ''Now we're in the playoffs. We lost in Game 7, double-overtime. So you're right, it was a bounce here or there. But still, you've got to learn from your mistakes. Last year was a solid year, but we want to be better.'' To do that, the Panthers are going to likely look at a couple of new faces. Well, one new, and one older face, to be more specific. One of the things that held Florida back at times last season was a lack of scoring depth, which the Panthers are hoping might be addressed by highly talented rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and veteran Alexei Kovalev. Huberdeau was born in 1993 - two years after Kovalev was taken No. 15 overall in the 1991 draft - but they've been paired together at times in training camp. Kovalev's spot on the roster isn't guaranteed, but teammates are raving about what a player of his skill and resume could add to the Panthers' locker room. ''This team already has everything,'' Kovalev said. ''There's just little things missing. It's always easier when you score more goals.''
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

DeMarcus Cousins traded to Pelicans for players, picks

Report: Kings engaging in trade talks for Cousins

Report: Romo willing to rework contract to facilitate trade

Lonzo Ball's father says son is better than Curry right now

Report: Rams could have interest in Cousins if Goff flops

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Butler to Celtics talk will loom over All-Star week

Report: Carmelo expects to remain with Knicks

James Harden: ‘For sure’ I’m the best player in the world

Report: Pats expected to make good effort to keep Bennett

Glenn Robinson III dunks over three people to win Slam Dunk Contest

Kevin Durant booed at All-Star introductions in New Orleans

Is the NBA All-Star Game worth saving?

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki

The Rewind: Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game

Best of Yardbarker: NBA All-Star Games past, present and future

Eat, Drink, Watch: Everything goes better with a side of New Orleans

Box Score 2/17: Happy birthday, Michael Jordan (and welcome to 1000 point club, Sid!)

The 'Michael Jordan might still win the Dunk contest if he entered' quiz

How to reboot NBA All-Star Weekend

Second-year NBA stars who can salvage the season

Observations from a day at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Box Score 2/16: Getting ready for the ASG

Too much to Process: Can Simmons match the Embiid hype?

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Best of YB: NBA All-Star Games past, present and future

Who will break these NBA All-Star Game records?

Is the NBA All-Star Game worth saving?

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki

The Rewind: Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game

Eat, Drink, Watch: Everything goes better with a side of New Orleans

How to reboot NBA All-Star Weekend

Baseball movies you can stream now to hold you over until Opening Day

Second-year NBA stars who can salvage the season

Observations from a day at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker