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Season Preview 2019-20: Florida Panthers

A new coach, new No. 1 goaltender and new hope in Florida brings with it a certain level of expectation. The Panthers will be seeking a step forward.

Can the Panthers avoid another terrible October?
The Panthers have a hideous 6-10-4 record their past two Octobers. It cost them a playoff spot in 2017-18, when they missed by a single point, and while they missed by 12 points last season, a stronger start might’ve given them a different fate. Theoretically, all their off-season improvements should prevent another ugly start, but they open the season with a home-and-home against 62-win Tampa Bay, face nine 2019 playoff teams in 13 October games and play nine of 13 October games on the road. Gulp.

Is Sergei Bobrovsky the franchise’s savior?
The Panthers posted the NHL’s second-worst team save percentage last season, as Roberto Luongo forgivably didn’t have it anymore in his age-39 season. Signing two-time Vezina-winner Bobrovsky, arguably the best UFA goalie since Ed Belfour in 1997, will make a gargantuan impact. Historically, though, October is Bobrovsky’s weakest month, so they have to hope he bucks that trend. Even if he doesn’t, he brings true star power to the crease. He could endure a down year and still qualify as a major upgrade to Florida’s goaltending. That’s how bad it was in 2018-19.

How significant will Joel Quenneville’s influence be?
He’s a three-time Cup champ and sits No. 2 all-time in coaching wins. Before he won his titles, he took over an underachieving Chicago team that boasted a great two-way center, some Clydesdale defensemen and a deadly scoring winger. In Florida, Aleksander Barkov can be Quenneville’s Jonathan Toews. Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson can be the Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook equivalent. Can Jonathan Huberdeau be Patrick Kane? OK, so the comparisons aren’t perfect, but the point is Quenneville has a lot of high-end talent to work with. These Panthers might be deeper than the 2008-09 Blackhawks with Bobrovsky in net, Mike Hoffman, Vincent Trocheck and Evgenii Dadonov up front, and Keith Yandle on defense. There’s little doubt this team can score after it posted the league’s No. 9 offense and No. 2 power play last season. The question is whether Quenneville can tighten up the defensive scheming.

Stanley Cup Odds: 30/1

Rookie Watch
The knock on Owen Tippett was his play away from the puck. He spent a year working on it in major junior, and if he’s improved it enough, he’ll make a major impact on the second or third line, as the offensive side of his game has never been in doubt. He’s a pure goal-scorer with a first-round draft pedigree.

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