Sports Outside the Beltway

Are we ready for some Florida Panthers hockey?

Tonight they play their first game of the 2008-09 NHL season at Carolina. Florida has little success when playing at Carolina, but did manage to beat a late season win at Carolina last April. It marked Florida’s first road win against the Hurricanes since 2002.

I predicted Florida would make the playoffs last year and conceivably win the division. To say I was disappointed by the underachieving Panthers was an understatement. Florida has done little to make me confident this year, as the team tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Greg Stoda at the Palm Beach Post wrote-

The Panthers epitomize the old saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. And as their new season dawns – Florida opens tonight at Carolina, and begins its home schedule Saturday night against Atlanta in BankAtlantic Center – the outlook for the Panthers remains numbingly familiar.

They’ve changed coaches again, but there’s no reason to assume the Panthers will be appreciably different under Peter DeBoer than they were for three years under Jacques Martin, now solely the team’s general manager.

Florida won 37, 35 and 38 games while accumulating 85, 86 and 85 points with Martin behind the bench, and it always had difficulty scoring goals.


Well, the man who led the Panthers in goals scored and points produced each of the past five seasons now plays for Phoenix, which seems an odd fix despite Olli Jokinen’s horrendous minus-19 rating last year. But the loquacious Jokinen wasn’t much appreciated in the locker room or, quite frankly, as a formidable big-game player.

With Jokinen no longer wearing their sweater, the Panthers, predictably enough, are pushing a scoring-by-committee solution to any question about who’ll put the puck into the net. Except there doesn’t appear to be any committee, and already there’s more than a little pressure on Nathan Horton to increase his output from 27 goals and 62 points last season as he moves from wing to center.

The Jokinen deal shored up the defense, but at the cost of the team’s leading scorer. Who Florida has left to put goals in the net is hardly inspiring. Journeyman Cory Stillman isn’t the answer.

As for a offense by committee.

“It has to be by committee,” said Hall of Famer and Florida television analyst Denis Potvin. “It’ll work if you have six or seven guys scoring 20 goals.”

The Panthers had exactly three players – Booth, Jokinen and Horton – who did that last season.

Florida just sent its best scoring prospect, Shawn Matthias, to their affiliate in Rochester. Matthias won’t be down for long, but the move is more symptomatic in regards to the mindset of Florida staying the same. The Southeast Division is better this year, Florida has no offense, The goaltending is excellent with star Tomas Vokoun and the unappreciated and underused Craig Anderson, the defense which allowed the fewest goals last year of any Southeast Division team, is going to allow even less this year if Florida wants to make the playoffs. I don’t see it happening.

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