Quick, without looking at the particulars of their roster – how many points do you think the Florida Panthers will finish with this season? The measly (and second-worst in the NHL) 66 points they scraped together in 2013-14? The 94 points that helped them win the Southeast Division and secure the third seed in the playoffs in 2011-12?
But more to the point – regardless of how you think the Panthers will do this year, would you be confident enough to bet a notable amount of money on them? And if so, has your confidence level been surgically enhanced, or were you always this unfoundedly self-assured?
Because if there’s one thing I’m sure about this season, it’s that nobody quite knows what to make of Florida. Granted, that’s true to one degree or another of all but four or five teams at the top of the NHL’s echelon, and maybe one or two at the bottom. But whether it’s the THN editorial department or the hockey world at large, there’s no consensus on how the Panthers will perform.
Case in point: when THN staffers got together over the summer to debate and discuss our collective picks for our annual Yearbook, some of us saw Florida as a playoff team – enough of us to slot them in fourth overall in the Atlantic Division.
To be honest, I’m as shocked as you probably are.
I made my skepticism of Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon’s off-season (and overall plan) known in that editorial meeting. While I’m perfectly willing to concede bringing in veterans (in this case, David Bolland, Willie Mitchell and Jussi Jokinen) to accentuate the organization’s promising youngsters (in this case, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and No. 1 overall 2014 draft pick Aaron Ekblad) might mirror the success Tallon had when he brought together a mix of B-level veterans and youth in 2011-12, there’s no guarantee Florida will greatly improve simply because of the additions they’ve made.
Yes, the presence of Roberto Luongo might tilt the odds of making the playoffs in the Panthers’ favor, but for every positive like that, I can point to a potential negative. In this instance, I’d probably ask you if you think Luongo alone – or anyone Tallon has acquired to play on this team – is going to take them from having the worst special teams in the league (a 10 percent power play and a 76.0 percent penalty kill), the 29th-ranked offense (2.29 goals per game), and the 29th-best defense (3.20 goals-per-game) to the point they need to be at to make the playoffs.
Sorry, but I’m just not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt just yet. They may very well earn that playoff spot, but there’s also every possibility it all falls flat in Florida as it has so often before.
In the end, THN picked the Panthers to finish ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who have made the playoffs for 23 straight seasons. I think we erred, but we’ll see if Florida can prove (a) me wrong and (b) us right.