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Defending The SouthEast – A 2013 Florida Panthers Preview

Panthers 13

48 – The number of games the Florida Panthers will play in a lockout shortened campaign.

99 – The length, in days, of the 2013 National Hockey League season.

Those two numbers combined leaves little to no room for error, especially when the Panthers are on a mission to prove that last year’s SouthEast Division Championship win, the first in team history, was not a fluke. Every game from opening night on will be important, and every single point will matter. Florida must find ways to win, more importantly, they must do so consistently if they want another shot at the playoffs.

Before breaking down the forward, defensive, and goaltending positions of the Panthers roster let’s look back at who departed and arrived during a lockout lengthened off-season.

Departures

Krystofer Barch – RW
Jason Garrison – D
Bracken Kearns – C
Jonathan Matsumoto – C
Mikael Samuelsson – RW
Sean Sullivan – D
Bill Thomas – RW
Wojtek Wolski – LW

Two names stick out on this list, Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson. There is no doubt that these two will be missed, especially on the powerplay. It will be up to the new comers, such as Filip Kuba, to fill the holes left by Garrison and Samuelsson.

Arrivals

Andre Deveaux – C
Jean-Francois Jacques – LW
Alex Kovalev – RW
Filip Kuba – D
Peter Mueller – C
George Parros – RW
Casey Wellman – C

The Panthers had two major issues last season, one of them being toughness. Erik Gudbranson tried to defend his teammates when needed but GM Dale Tallon and head coach Kevin Dineen probably did not like seeing their top defensive prospect put himself in danger on a nightly bases. The addition of George Parros will take the pressure off of Gudbranson and the other players not known as “tough guys” this year. Parros will also be a great protector for the rookies that earn roster spots, such as Johnathan Huberdeau.

Two other names on the arrivals list that deserve attention are Alex Kovalev and Peter Mueller. Both forwards, along with Johnathan Huberdeau, will make up Florida’s second line. Putting these three skilled players together could pay off big time for the Panthers and should take some of the offensive pressure off of their top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, and Kris Versteeg. Also, Kovalev should be a good mentor for Huberdeau, even if it is only for the 2013 campaign.

Florida Panthers 2013 Opening Night Roster

* Indicates players on IR.

Forwards

#9 Stephen Weiss “A” – C
#11 Johnathan Huberdeau – C/LW
#12 Jack Skille – RW
#13 Mike Santorelli – C
#14 Tomas Fleischmann – LW
#18 Shawn Matthias – C
#19 Scottie Upshall- LW
#20 Sean Bergenheim – LW *
#22 George Parros – RW
#25 Jerred Smithson – RW
#27 Alex Kovalev – RW
#32 Kris Versteeg – RW
#57 Marcel Goc – C *
#82 Tomas Kopecky – RW
#88 Peter Mueller – C

The weakest link from last season was clearly the offensive production from Florida’s forwards. In the span of an 82 game season the Cats lost 18 games in overtime and had a -24 goal differential. If the Panthers would have been able to score one extra goal during some of those 18 OT/SO losses they would have had more wins, a better differential, and they probably would have ran away with the SouthEast Division weeks before having to beat Carolina on the last night of the regular season to clinch. Thankfully Florida was able to do so, which means none of that really matters now, but that may not be the same case this season. The Panthers will need more offensive production from their forwards, especially the new comers and those who did not meet expectations last year. Isn’t that right Scottie Upshall and Mike Santorelli? Florida also needs to hope that their top line of Fleischmann, Weiss, and Versteeg produces as well as they did last season.

Defense

#4 Keaton Ellerby – D
#7 Dmitry Kulikov – D
#17 Filip Kuba – D
#23 Tyson Strachan – D
#43 Mike Weaver – D
#44 Erik Gudbranson – D *
#51 Brian Campbell “A” – D
#55 Ed Jovanovski “C” – D

Defense on most nights during the 2011-2012 season was not an issue for the Florida Panthers. Head coach Kevin Dineen put a system in place that worked well almost every game, making Florida’s defensive play their biggest strength last year. Florida also enjoyed some offensive production from their D group as they registered 151 points from the blue line in 2011-2012. The good news is that almost all of those point producing defensemen have returned. The bad news? Their biggest powerplay threat, Jason Garrison, left for Vancouver during the off-season. It will be up to the returning blueliners, as well as Filip Kuba, to fill the void left by Garrison on the PP.  This would be a perfect time for youngster Dmitry Kulikov to finally have a big breakout year and establish himself as a true top 4 defenseman.

Goaltenders

#30 Scott Clemmensen – G
#60 Jose Theodore – G

What is there to say that has not already been said about Florida’s goaltending last season? Jose Theodore exceeded expectations and proved to everyone that he still possesses the skills to be a starter in the National Hockey League while Scott Clemmensen did an admirable job as backup. These two goaltenders can clearly keep pucks out of the net until Jacob Markstrom is ready to take his rightful place between the pipes, which should be in the very near future.

Player to Watch: Johnathan Huberdeau

Does it really surprise anyone that Huberdeau is our player to watch this year? Florida’s top offensive prospect will finally make his debut in South Florida this season. The rookie will have to prove that he is ready for NHL hockey right from the start since he will lose a year off of his contract if he is not returned to his junior team after just six games instead of the usual ten. Thank the lockout shortened season for that rule. Hopefully being on a line with three-time National Hockey League all-star Alex Kovalev and highly skilled forward Peter Mueller will jump start Huberdeau’s offensive production as soon as possible.

Prediction

This shortened season is a tough one to predict for any team, including the Florida Panthers. Personally I think a 48 game schedule will help the Cats, especially considering the fact that during the second half of last season they looked burned out and struggled to produce offense on a nightly bases. With that said, I see Florida having another successful year but I do not see them winning the SouthEast Division in 2013. The Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals have all made significant improvements, and the Winnipeg Jets will be just as competitive as before. Who do I think will win the SE? That will be revealed in a different article later today. Even though I do not think the Panthers will win their division I do believe they will make the playoffs again, but it will take a complete team effort, just like last season.

We hope that everyone enjoyed our 2013 Florida Panthers preview. Thankfully, the time for talk, and all of the guessing games, ends tonight when Florida plays host to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. Good luck to all 30 National Hockey League teams, and most importantly, let’s go Panthers.

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Free Agency Fallout: Panthers Sign Kuba And Parros

Day one of the 2012 NHL free agency period has passed and surprisingly all of the top players on the market remain unsigned. Fans and their favorite teams are still waiting to see where free agents like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Martin Brodeur will end up. Of course the first day of free agency did see its fair share of players signed to new clubs, with 40 men signing the dotted line with different organizations, but the majority of moves made were to improve depth.

The two biggest names removed from the free agent market on Sunday both have ties with the Florida Panthers. Ray Whitney, who played for the Panthers from 1998 to 2001, left Phoenix after signing a two year contract worth $9 million with the Dallas Stars. In an interview with TSN the 40 year old winger stated that the reason he joined the Stars was because “they were the only team to offer me a two year contract”. That statement, if true, is surprising considering Whitney’s production last year with the Coyotes, no matter his age.

Jason Garrison, Florida’s biggest weapon on the power play last season, was the other big name on the move Sunday as he signed a six year deal with the Vancouver Canucks for a whopping $27.6 million. General manager Mike Gillis and his club are investing a lot of years and money in a player who had one good season with the Panthers. It is completely understandable why Tallon did not want to invest that many years in Garrison considering that top blueline prospects like Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic will be ready to step into the lineup within the next couple of years. With that said we wish Jason the best of luck in Vancouver and we hope he has great success in his hometown, except when he plays the Panthers.

After last year’s free agent frenzy for the Panthers it was no surprise that Tallon and Co. were busy on the first day of free agency once again. Florida’s GM all but knew that Garrison would not be returning to the Cats so he went out and signed defenseman, and former Panthers draft pick, Filip Kuba as his replacement. Kuba was given $4 million a season over the next two years for his services. “Filip is an experienced player who adds further depth to our blue line,” Tallon said. “He is a big, strong and responsible, shutdown defenseman who averaged more than 23 minutes of ice time per-game last season. We are confident that he will fit very well into our top six and help our power play. We look forward to his contributions to our team.”

Kuba was not the only new face joining the Panthers after day one of free agency. Tallon also addressed Florida’s toughness, or lack thereof, by signing George Parros and his mustache to a two year deal. We are willing to bet that Parros, who tweets frequently under the handle @Stache16, will become a fan favorite in South Florida just like he was in Anaheim.

The Panthers also added to the goalie drama surrounding the club by re-signing Scott Clemmensen for another two years. Adding Clemmensen back into the fold increases the confusion surrounding the team and their goaltending situation, especially since there are even more reports coming in that Florida is still interested in either Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur. If the Panthers were to still make a run at either all-star netminder they would most definitely have to trade Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen. All we can do at this point is wait and see what Tallon has planned and hope that he has not given up on Jacob Markstrom.

Sunshine State Hockey will have even more coverage for day two and beyond of the free agent frenzy. We will also be attending the Panthers development camp one day this week to see how Florida’s prospects look this time around. Be sure to keep checking back with SSH for updates all off-season long.

Source(s): Florida Panthers, TSN

Former Panthers Dominate Playoff Rosters

Aside from the actual Florida Panthers making the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs there are a lot of former Cats on the other teams participating in the post-season. What is the point of bringing this up? During the 12 year’s without playoff hockey Panthers fans would use this time of year as an excuse to cheer on former members of the organization. Thankfully that is not the case this season as fans in South Florida finally have their club to cheer for in the final 16. Of course that does not mean we should completely forget about our team’s history, especially the bright spots (David Booth) in the dark 12 year’s without playoff action. To help bring back some memories, good or bad, we have compiled a complete list of former Panthers players currently playing for the other organizations in the post-season.

Eastern Conference

#1 New York Rangers:

#44 Steve Eminger – D, played 9 games for Florida during the 2008-2009 season.

#2 Boston Bruins:

#11 Gregory Campbell – C, was a member of the Panthers from 2003 to 2010.

#18 Nathan Horton – RW **, drafted 3rd overall by Florida in 2003.

#44 Dennis Seidenberg – D, Traded to Boston from Florida on March 3rd, 2010.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins:

No former Panthers on Pittsburgh’s active roster.

#5 Philadelphia Flyers:

#6 Andreas Lilja – D, played in 135 games for the Panthers.

#6 New Jersey Devils:

#18 Steve Bernier – RW, spent the 2010-2011 season in South Florida, registering 15 points in 68 games.

#20 Ryan Carter – C, started this season with the Cats before being claimed off of waivers.

#7 Washington Capitals:

#29 Tomas Vokoun – G, was the Panthers #1 goaltender for four seasons before signing with Washington.

#6 Dennis Wideman – D, picked up 9 goals in one season with Florida.

#8 Ottawa Senators:

#41 Craig Anderson – G, a definite fan favorite during three year’s in Sunrise, FL.

#35 Alex Auld – G, part of the blockbuster trade that sent Luongo to the Canucks.

#17 Filip Kuba – D, played only 18 games in two year’s with the Panthers.

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver Canucks:

#4 Keith Ballard – D, still famous in South Florida for his hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

#34 Byron Bitz – RW, was injured during the majority of his time with Florida.

#7 David Booth – LW, spent six year’s with the Panthers before being traded at the start of this season.

#20 Chris Higgins – LW, another member of the 2010-2011 “blueprint” squad.

#1 Roberto Luongo – G, a member of the Cats for five seasons before being dealt to Vancouver.

#2 St. Louis Blues:

No former Panthers on St. Louis’ active roster.

#3 Phoenix Coyotes:

#13 Ray Whitney – LW, was on Florida’s roster the last time the team made the playoffs.

#4 Nashville Predators:

No former Florida players on the Predators active roster.

#5 Detroit Red Wings

#44 Todd Bertuzzi – RW, traded to Detroit for Shawn Matthias in 2007.

#6 Chicago Blackhawks:

#67 Michael Frolik – RW, drafted by Florida in the 2006 entry draft.

#5 Steve Montador – D, played as a d-man and forward during his three year’s with the Panthers.

#7 San Jose Sharks:

#22 Dan Boyle – D, stayed in South Florida for four seasons and played in 129 games for the Cats.

#18 Dominic Moore – C, NHL journeyman that spent one season in Florida.

#8 Los Angeles Kings

LA does not have any former Panthers on their active roster.

** indicates currently injured players

That makes for a total of 23 players that played for the Florida Panthers at one time during their careers. Some, like Roberto Luongo and David Booth, had a bigger impact on the Panthers history than others, but the fans in South Florida still appreciate the time those men gave to their favorite hockey team.

Do not forget to tune into game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals match-up between the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. Tonight’s game will be a good one, especially since the series in now tied 1-1 after Florida’s win on Sunday, their first in 15 year’s. Coverage begins at 7:00 PM EST on the NHL Network.