Why not love the month of October. It includes baseball playoffs, NFL, NBA and the drop of the puck in the NHL.
The state of Florida has two NHL hockey teams that play in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, and they are really good, boys and girls.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. This brief lecture will focus on the preview of the Florida Panthers 2016-17 season.
The Panthers are coming off their best finish in franchise history (103 points) and were one of the busiest teams during the offseason. Even the team logo is new; the old one does have a place in my heart adding a sense of nostalgia.
The Panthers will build on last season’s success, and now that their core of young talent has emerged as bona fide NHLers, they will again earn a postseason berth. I predict them finishing second in the Atlantic behind the Lightning.
Take a deep breath and follow along. The Panthers acquired veteran defenseman Keith Yandle from the New York Rangers and then signed him to a seven-year deal worth $44.45 million. Florida also traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defensive prospect Mark Pysyk, and acquired goaltender Reto Berra from the Colorado Avalanche for center Rocco Grimaldi. The Panthers also signed goalie James Reimer, center Colton Sceviour, center Jonathan Marchessault and defenseman Jason Demers. All these moves should help them build off last season’s success, but it will be interesting to see how all the changes play out in Florida.
Jaromir Jagr, at age 44, led the Panthers in scoring last season. He enters this season 20 points away from passing Mark Messier for No. 2 on the NHL’s all-time list. The future Hall of Famer surpassed Gordie Howe to rank third on the NHL’s all-time scoring list when he reached 1,851 points last season. There is no sign of him stopping with the game getting younger and faster. The tank is running low but it is not empty.
The fresh faces for the Panthers will only keep this team in the hunt in the Atlantic. Yandle’s presence no doubt will help the team’s power play. Demers registered 23 or more points in each of the past three seasons while playing for the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars. He adds fresh legs and defense. Reimer will serve as a reliable backup to starter Roberto Luongo.
There is no clear answer to how the Panthers will fill in the gaps to injuries. Forward Nick Bjugstad, dealt with an upper-body injury during the playoffs and is now out with a broken hand for four weeks. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad suffered whiplash while playing for Team North America before inking a new deal.
Get your tickets. One thing for sure is Aleksander Barkov, 21, proved during the World Cup while playing for Team Finland that he’s worth the price of admission. During the 2015-16 season, he registered 28 goals and 31 assists for 59 points in 66 games for the Panthers. Entering his fourth season in the NHL, Barkov could be one of the most dynamic players in the league. Reily Smith, second-line center Vincent Trocheck and forward Jonathan Huberdeau help make an argument this team could put up a fight with Tampa Bay for the Atlantic.