Sports Outside the Beltway

Puck Drop- Florida Panthers start the 2011-12 NHL season

Tonight I’ll be back to watching my favorite hockey team. The cats open the year against the New York Islanders on Long Island.

Florida is almost a brand new team from last year. Considering that the Panthers were 30-40-12=72 last year and last in the Eastern Conference, the turnover should be for the better.

The new faces include Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann, and Brian Campbell. Departing players- Cory Stillman, Tomas Vokoun, Rostislav Olesz, Darci Hordichuk, and others. I think the new additions are for the better with one exception.

Hockey pundits have weighed in on Florida. With one exception, none have picked the Panthers to make the playoffs. That would be 11 straight years without a post season appearance if they’re right.

I think Florida won’t make the playoffs. My prediction for them this year- 36-33-13=85 or 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Florida has the makings of a good offense. David Booth and Kris Versteeg have scored 25 goals before and I expect them to do so this year. Mike Santorelli had 20 goals last year but had little support. I expect him to up it to 25 at least. One of these players will get it 30, and I expect it to be Booth who did score 31 goals in 08-09 before he suffered a serious concussion the next season. Booth started slow last year, but looked back to his prior form at the end of the season. Stephen Weiss should be in the low 20′s in the goals scored department.

Besides those four players, Evgeny Dadonov, Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and Scott Mathias should be more than solid contributors. Dadonov is the sleeper, he being one of the few Panthers to impress me last year. He could be up in Santorelli-Versteeg territory on a full season.

Florida I think is in good shape Defensemen wise. They’re a mixture of youngsters (Dmitri Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. Florida’s first round selections in 2009 and 2010 respectively) and veterans (Mike Weaver and 2nd time around Panther Canada Ed Jovanovski.)

The biggest problem Florida faces right now is their goaltending situation. Vokoun was one of the best goalies, but he is gone. In his place is Theodore who I have derided on multiple occasions. My opinion on Theodore hasn’t changed now that he is wearing a Florida uniform. He played poorly in the preseason and I’m not expecting good things from him in the regular season.

Florida’s #2 Goalie was supposed to be Scott Clemmensen. Who I used to deride on a scale similar to Theodore but I warmed up to him based on his play last year. That said, Clem isn’t more than a serviceable #1 Goalie and to make matters worse he will be out the first month of the season due to injury. So instead of Clem being on the opening day roster, Florida Panther Goalie of the future Jacob Markstrom, will be in the NHL rather than the AHL to start the season. I think Markstrom still needs minor league time, but Theodore has the potential to be an absolute bomb(He played poorly in the preseason, including a 7-goal disaster against Dallas) as starting goalie and that could cause the Swede to get the starting job earlier than anticipated and while he is still in need of more pro experience. The Florida Goalie situation is questionable at best and could be terrible this year.

Florida has a new head coach in Kevin Dineen. He and General Manager Dale Tallon look to have the Panthers going in the right direction. There are the usual skeptics, but hardcore Panther fans for the most part are more optimistic about the team than they have been for 5 years at least.

I’m being optimistic in predicting a 36-33-13=85 finish for the Panthers because I expect them to start poorly unless someone steps up at Goalie. The Panthers should get better as the year goes on and finish the year with a rosy future ahead of them as Jonathan Huberdeau, Quinton Howden, and others make it to the NHL. In a few minutes, we’ll begin seeing how my predictions will work out. Go Florida!

Hat tip- John at The Litter Box from whom I borrowed the above photo from.

Related Stories:
Recent Stories:

Comments are Closed


Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.