Fans of the Florida Panthers should be used to mediocrity now as they missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons. Can they surprise on the NHL odds after an offseason of spending?
What Went Wrong Last Season?
The Panthers finished with 66 points last season, which was only better than the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference. Head coach Kevin Dineen only lasted until November and was then served a pink slip. After that, Peter Horacek was handed the reins, but to be fair to either coach, the Panthers simply didn’t have the talent to compete – even in the Eastern Conference.
The highlight of the season was reacquiring goaltender Roberto Luongo. Although he’s not an All-Star like he once was, he’s a big upgrade over what they had. He steadied the situation between the pipes and gave this team a bit of a foundation to work off of.
The Panthers still ended the season 29th in both goals allowed and against, and they were 30th on the power play and the penalty kill. They have plenty of work to do.
The Panthers were quite busy in the offseason as they gave Gerard Gallant a shot behind the bench and the former Detroit Red Wing will be making his second stint as a head coach after two-plus unsuccessful seasons in Columbus (around a decade ago). They also flashed some cash to land forwards Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen to help out up front, and Willie Mitchell at the back end. Al Montoya was signed to give the team a trio of goaltenders that might make this Florida’s strength this season, alongside Luongo and Dan Ellis. The Panthers did lose Tom Gilbert to free agency, but that should give playing time to No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad, who looks like he will be with the Panthers to start the season.
It isn’t like the Panthers don’t have talent. They have a group of decent goaltenders at the back with Luongo likely coming in as the starter and that’s an important part. The Panthers also re-signed Erik Gudbranson and along with Ekblad, the Panthers could have their top defensive pairing of the future…but there could be some growing pains along the way. Up front, the Panthers probably overpaid for Bolland and Jokinen, but money aside, it should make them a better team in the short term. When you combine that with core that includes Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Brad Boyes and Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers might actually be a decent team.
On defense, the Panthers bring back Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov, and if Mitchell and Ekblad play as expected, they’ll be solid in this realm as well.
When making your NHL picks note the Panthers are now good enough to sneak into the playoffs – especially in the weak Eastern Conference. They’re by no means a Stanley Cup contender but take a long, hard look at their regular season point totals as this should be a good bet to go over. They could be one of the most improved teams in terms of points this season and might surprise NHL odds.
NHL Picks: Will Make The Playoffs.