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After breaking a 10-year playoff drought in 2012, the Florida Panthers slid back into mediocrity last season by missing the postseason in the lockout-shortened campaign. Once again, they found themselves back in the basement, finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference.
Biggest Offseason Loss: Stephen Weiss
Weiss was the career leader in Florida in terms of assists and games played, but after one playoff appearance in 11 seasons, the 30-year-old decided it was time to leave. He was courted by a number of teams but eventually signed with the Detroit Red Wings for $24 million over five years. This actually turned out to be a double loss for the Panthers because they were trying to trade Weiss before last year’s deadline as he was in the final year of his contract but a wrist injury meant that nobody wanted their damaged goods.
Weiss was a team leader for the Panthers, which is valuable to point out as the Panthers are constantly bringing in and developing young players. He was a consummate professional and never complained about the team’s fortunes: he stuck with them for 11 years and that has to say something about his loyalty. This loss won’t just be felt in the box score; it will be felt more in the locker room.
Biggest Offseason Gain: Scott Gomez
As recently as 2010, Gomez was a dependable scorer for the Montreal Canadiens after moving from the New Jersey Devils (where he won two Stanley Cups) and the New York Rangers. However, people making their sports picks know that something happened while he was playing for the Habs (mostly a complete loss of his offensive skills) that led to a stretch where he didn’t score a single goal for over a year. He went back home to Alaska during the lockout and rejoined the NHL with San Jose last season, registering two goals and 15 points in 39 games. That’s not great but it was a definite improvement.
At 33, Gomez’s best years are obviously behind him but with a one-year deal worth $900,000 on the table, he could provide some leadership along with a few points for a team that desperately needs them.
State of the Franchise:
According to the NHL odds, the Panthers are going to need a lot of luck to do anything of note this season. There is some talent on the roster with Jonathan Huberdeau and the excitement he brings to the team. Shawn Mattias moves up to the first line between Huberdeau and Kris Versteeg, and while that’s a decent first unit, the Panthers don’t have a lot of reliable scoring beyond that.
Their success or failure in the 2013-14 season will lie on the shoulders of young goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who showed some glimpses last season when Jose Theodore got hurt. The Panthers tried hard to acquire Roberto Luongo in the offseason, so that might give people experts who make their NHL picks the indication that they don’t believe Markstrom can be a true No. 1 just yet. Markstrom has a bright future and is only 23 years old but he has a subpar defensive corps in front of him.
It’ll probably be another long season in Florida and one that ends without any postseason play. Their fans should be used to that by now.
2013 Odds to Win the Stanley Cup at Bovada: 150/1
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